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Examining the Los Angles Kings defense

by Evan Grossman / NHL.com

 
 
Complete Kings Analysis:
Intro | Goalies | Defense | Forwards
Feature | Numbers | Sked | Roster

The Big Four

Only three teams in the NHL allowed more goals last season than the 277 the Kings surrendered. So it’s no surprise Los Angeles was as active in picking up defensemen this summer as they were, signing free agents Brad Stuart, Tom Preissing and Jon  Klemm to bolster that phase of their game. Stuart was among the most sought-after defensemen on the open market, while Preissing had a breakout season last season with the Stanley Cup finalist Ottawa Senators. Klemm is a veteran who will likely push the young guys on the blue line, notably Jack Johnson, who has the potential to be a Dion Phaneuf-type wrecker back there.

NHL fans have been waiting two years for Johnson to turn pro and after a brilliant two-year career at the University of Michigan, the cult hero has only gained more of a following. People have described him as the second coming of Scott Stevens, while others are quick to compare his skating and offensive ability with Scott Niedermayer. Either way, the bar is extremely high for Johnson, a 20-year-old who is buddies with Sidney Crosby and who might be the most anticipated player to come around since No. 87 was taken first-overall in 2005.

Johnson was taken No. 3 in that draft, played in five games at the end of last season, and could be a difference-maker immediately this year for the Kings. He grew up idolizing teammate Rob Blake, who will likely locker near the kid and help to bring him along. The 37-year-old Blake is worthy of wearing the captain’s ‘C’ this season and is probably still the Kings’ best defenseman.

It’s a much deeper group this time around, with Stuart and Preissing in the mix, but also with holdovers like Jaroslav Modry and Lubomir Visnovsky rounding out a pretty solid defense corps

Get the point

Blake has a cannon shot from up top, Preissing saw significant minutes on Ottawa’s extra-man unit last season, and Modry is also a dependable quarterback if needed. But in the five-game cameo Johnson had at the end of last season, head coach Marc Crawford let him loose and he could find a home on the power-play point.

Johnson has a lethal shot from up high (maybe you’ve seen the YouTube clip of him de-masking a Boston College foe), he can skate just as well as any of his rearguard mates, but may need time to learn the finer points of the game before Crawford makes him a mainstay on the man-up unit

In the Wings

Thomas Hickey --Drafted fourth overall this year, Hickey may not have the size and strength yet to be a regular contributor, but the Kings have high hopes for the 18-year-old, as they’ve already signed him to a contract. A puck-moving whiz, Hickey racked up 41 assists last year with WHL Seattle in 70 games.

Patrik Hersley --  A fifth-rounder in 2005, the 6-foot-3 Swede played in the Elite League back home the last three seasons. Last year with Malmo he scored one goal and two points in 28 games, so he’s not going to be a power-play regular. But the Kings like what he can do in his own zone

Joe Piskula -- This 6-foot-3 American kid played in five games last season with the Kings. In that cameo, he had no points and six penalty minutes. The Wisconsin native has plenty of size and skill to extend that cameo to get a longer look this season, even with at least seven capable NHL defensemen already on the roster..

X Factor

Johnson is surrounded by hype. He’s a cult hero in Ann Arbor. He achieved legendary status at the World Juniors. But now he’s just a rookie again and he’s guaranteed to face some growing pains as he adapts to the NHL game. He’s not even guaranteed a roster spot, frankly. They say it takes the longest for defensemen to mature into pros than any other position, so Johnson may have a rough year as he gets his bearings. But Johnson’s upside is so enticing, so gigantic, that maybe, just maybe, he can surprise all the experts just like Jordan Staal did a year ago when people said he was too young. The sky’s the limit with Johnson, but before he proves himself, you just don’t know how he’ll be over the course of a full NHL season.
Jack Johnson
University of Michigan coach Red Berenson on Jack Johnson, who will play his first full NHL season this year:

"He’s going to be a Jack Johnson-type player. There’s a lot of guys you can take pieces of and say; ‘Jack plays like him.’ He’s going to be a fun player to watch. Now is he going to be a star in the NHL in September or October? No. But he’s going to be a young defenseman, who with some direction and mentoring and good experience, I think will grow into a star in the NHL."
FAST FACTS

Johnson
1. Jack Johnson is a work in progress, evidenced by the numbers he’s been putting up. Two years ago, he set a University of Michigan record for penalty minutes. The following year, he calmed down and set the record for goals by a defenseman.

2. Prior to signing Johnson, the only Kings defensemen playing over 20 minutes per game were Lubomir Visnovsky (24:27) and Rob Blake (24:23).

Modry
3. Despite all the goals they surrendered, Jaroslav Modry finished the season a plus-11 after playing in 76 games.


NHL.com's 2007-08 Kings Season Preview Package:
Intro | Goalies | Defense | Forwards | Feature | Numbers | Sked | Roster
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