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Gagne injury opens up chance for Loktionov

by Brian Hedger /
CHICAGO -- The Los Angeles Kings are already struggling to put the puck in the net, but now they'll be trying to solve those issues without one of their top-six forwards.

The Kings put Simon Gagne on the injured reserve list on Wednesday morning with an upper-body injury that is suspected to be a concussion -- something Gagne has dealt with in the past. He was injured in the first period of a 4-3 win on Monday against the Phoenix Coyotes and wasn't able to finish the game.

Now, Gagne could be sidelined for an extended period and his team will need to fill the void. Gagne scored 7 goals and added 10 assists in 34 games, but recently-named Kings coach Darryl Sutter said the answer will likely come down to young players seizing the opportunity to shine.

"You know what, to be perfectly honest some of our veteran players haven't been productive in terms of offense anyways," Sutter said after his team's morning skate at the United Center on Wednesday. "So, it's an opportunity for a younger player, simple. It's not that hard to figure out. The game is about depth and there are injuries and you move on in a hurry."

In this case, it appears that 21-year old center Andrei Loktionov will get the first chance at filling in for Gagne on the left wing of the second line with Mike Richards -- who recently returned from an injury -- at center.

Loktionov, a fifth-round pick in the 2008 NHL Draft, has 2 assists in 15 games with Los Angeles this season. He has 4 goals and 9 points in 35 career NHL games and put up some impressive numbers in the American Hockey League over parts of the last two seasons.

Now, he's got a shot to show what he can do in the NHL -- even if it's not at his preferred position of center.

"I've seen him play in the American League last year and I've seen him in the world championships," Sutter said. "I know he's a skilled kid and he'd prefer to play center, but we're pretty strong at that position."

Sutter then ticked off the Kings centermen -- Anze Kopitar, Richards, Jarret Stoll and former Blackhawk Colin Fraser -- as evidence of the challenge a youngster like Loktionov has in cracking the lineup in the middle of the ice.

"If you want to play and get into the lineup, you're going to have to move out of position," Sutter said of Loktionov. "He's a talented enough kid that he should be able to adjust to that."

His teammates agree. They're trying not to focus on Gagne's absence, but rather on the presence of guys like Loktionov, Trevor Lewis and Kyle Clifford.

"We have other guys that can jump in and they can get the points and stuff like that," defenseman Drew Doughty said. "A lot of our scoring comes from our big guys, but it also comes through how our team's playing. When we stick to the system and we're working hard -- not giving the puck up and getting traffic and screens -- that's how our pucks are going in these days. So, even though (Gagne is) a big part of our lineup, I think the guys who are taking his spot are doing a great job."

Gagne's injury is also being looked at by the Kings as just a fact of life playing in the NHL -- where injuries to key players can be fairly common each season.

"(Gagne) is a top-six forward for us and we just got (Richards) back, but that's kind of how the season goes," Kings captain Dustin Brown said. "It's always the same every year. You always have guys go down and it's just an opportunity. We have some young guys in here and it's obviously time for them to step up and fill a bigger role. They've got to be excited about that, and as a team we've just got to pull together. We've been through it this year and last year. It seems like every year you always have injuries throughout."
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