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Depth at center question Kings need to answer

by Curtis Zupke

LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Kings' first early postseason in six years understandably brought a lot of questions. After two Stanley Cup championships and three trips to the Western Conference Final in four seasons, cracks are visible in their mini-dynasty.

The good news is the Kings are used to adjusting and dealing with adversity, having proven to be one the NHL's most resilient teams the past few seasons. And if they get back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, they remain a dangerous and imposing team.

Here are three questions the Kings must answer:

Do they have enough depth at center? The Kings did not fully address this position after they didn't re-sign Jarret Stoll and terminated the contract of Mike Richards, whose ineffectiveness facilitated his departure, although he had proven NHL experience.

So what was once a strength is now a question. Nick Shore filled in for 34 games, and Andy Andreoff saw time there too, but they have played 52 games in the NHL combined.

Some of their prospects will get a look, or the Kings could acquire a center.

Can they ease Drew Doughty's workload? Doughty often says he would play the whole game if he could, and at times last season it seemed like he would, when he led the NHL in total ice time. His per-game average of nearly 29 minutes trailed only Ryan Suter of the Minnesota Wild.

But the Kings need to monitor his mileage to keep him sharp late in the season, particularly with the loss of veteran defensemen Andrej Sekera and Robyn Regehr.

Jamie McBain and Brayden McNabb fill out the defensive unit. Slava Voynov spent most of last season under suspension and his future is unclear.

How much tougher will it be in the Western Conference? The Kings have not put much stock into regular-season success, having finished better than third in the Pacific Division once in the past six seasons.

They've vowed to make this a point of emphasis, but the West is even tougher because the Calgary Flames, Dallas Stars, Edmonton Oilers and San Jose Sharks improved this offseason.

In other words, the Kings' usual path of squeaking into the postseason and making a deep run closed last season, and it just gets harder from here.

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