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Doughty, Lucic give Kings reasons for optimism

by Curtis Zupke

LOS ANGELES -- The 2014-15 NHL season was one to forget for the Los Angeles Kings, who were shorthanded at the start, beset by injuries, and didn't have the depth or energy to stay afloat in the Western Conference. They were the first defending Stanley Cup champion to miss the playoffs since 2007.

But the Kings remain one of the more feared teams in the West because of their mettle, style of play, and goalie Jonathan Quick. They have lost some of the pieces from their two championship teams, but remain a team no opponent wants to face in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Here are four reasons for optimism this season:

Drew Doughty just gets better: Doughty, 25, was saddled with huge responsibility and seized the opportunity to become a Norris Trophy finalist for the second time.

The past five Cup champions have been driven by elite No.1 defensemen who can control the game (Doughty, Duncan Keith of the Chicago Blackhawks and Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins), and with Doughty the Kings are set for years to come.

The Kings are rested: Forward Justin Williams, who signed with the Washington Capitals this summer as a free agent, wasn't happy with the early offseason but said his body thanked him. That's what 64 playoff games in three seasons will do.

Los Angeles typically plays a hard-nosed style that is physically demanding, so a few months' extra rest should be beneficial. Mentally, the Kings should be humbled and learn to take the regular season more seriously.

Milan Lucic has arrived: The former Boston Bruins left wing seems like a great fit for the Kings, who could use a physical presence beside center Anze Kopitar and a scoring threat from that side. Lucic will provide some much-needed enthusiasm and a good storyline after a disappointing season; his affable personality will work well off the ice.

If Lucic can regain his scoring touch on an offensively average team, it might ease the scoring burdens of right wing Tyler Toffoli and left wing Tanner Pearson, who were prone to slumps last season.

The championship window is open: Although the Kings lost Williams, Mike Richards and Jarrett Stoll, they have Doughty, Kopitar, Quick, Toffoli, Pearson, Jeff Carter and Dustin Brown, all 30 or younger.

That's a group that includes a Norris Trophy finalist, a Selke Trophy finalist, and one of the best goalies in the world, a solid foundation most other teams can only dream of having.

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