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Kings aim to shore up defense

by Doug Ward

The Los Angeles Kings used the second overall pick in the 2008 Draft to select a defenseman to shore up their defense. Kings highlights
Sometimes it seems that the Los Angeles Kings can't win for losing.

After spending much of the season mired in the NHL's basement, the Kings scored two goals in the final 5:38 of their next-to-last game of the season to defeat powerful San Jose. In the process, they lost their best chance at securing the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 Entry Draft. The Kings' 71 points tied them with Tampa Bay for fewest in the League, but because Los Angeles had one more win than the Tampa Bay, the Draft Lottery was weighted in favor of the Lightning. Tampa Bay had a 48.2 percent chance of landing the top pick compared to the Kings' 18.8 percent chance.

Sure enough, the Lightning, not the Kings, got the No. 1 overall pick in the Draft, meaning Steven Stamkos.

"Everybody would like to win the lottery," Kings GM Dean Lombardi rationalized, "but there's no doubt in my mind that we're going to get a very good player at No. 2."

In Doughty, the Kings did just that. The 18-year-old has plenty of skill, scoring 13 goals and 50 points in 58 games for the OHL’s Guelph Storm. His point total was ninth among OHL defensemen and third on the Storm. He was named the top defenseman at the World Junior Championships, where he helped Canada to the gold medal.

"Doughty's hockey sense is off the charts," Lombardi said of the 6-foot, 219-pounder. "I think everyone has a handle of what type of player he is and the special player he could become."

Doughty is the Kings' highest pick since they chose Jimmy Carson with the No. 2 selection in 1986. He says he hopes to be in the NHL this season, though he may wind up returning to Guelph for another year.

With the 13th selection, the Kings took defenseman Colten Teubert from Regina of the Western Hockey League and Russian defenseman Vjateslav Voinov with the 32nd pick.

The trio of defensemen couldn't come at a better time for the Kings, who had the NHL's third-worst defensive team (3.21 goals per game) and ran a franchise-record six goalies through the last season under coach Marc Crawford, who was let go after two years following the Kings' sixth consecutive non-Playoff season

The first goaltender employed by the Kings last season, Jonathan Bernier, might be the ultimate solution. Bernier, still only 19, appeared in four games for Los Angeles before being returned to Lewiston of the Quebec Major Junior League, where he went 18-12-3 with a 2.73 goals against average and .908 save percentage.

Still, goaltending will once again be a question mark when the Kings open camp in September. Lombardi said the organization would have to find an answer from within, so if Bernier isn't ready, Jason LaBarbera (17-23-2, 3.00 GAA, .910 save percentage) or Erik Ersberg (6-5-3, 2.48 GAA, .927 save percentage) will have to step up.

The Kings accumulated three more points than they did a year ago, but they missed playoffs for the sixth consecutive season, and that makes it difficult to see much progress in Los Angeles. Watching their local rival, the Anaheim Ducks, and the division rival San Jose Sharks enter the postseason with realistic visions of the Stanley Cup can't make it any easier to be a Kings fan.

But as painful as the playoff drought has been, it looks like there are better days ahead in Los Angeles.

Offensively, the Kings were respectable last season, finishing 13th in the league with 2.76 goals per game. Better yet, most of those goals were scored by young players who are still improving. Young talent, most of it up front, is clearly the Kings' best asset.

In his second NHL season, Anze Kopitar, 20, scored 32 goals, up from 20 as a rookie. Dustin Brown, 23, had a career year with 33 goals and 60 points while leading the NHL in hits. Patrick O'Sullivan, 23, enjoyed a breakout season with 22 goals and 53 points, while Alexander Frolov, 25, had his third straight 20-goal season. Also, 21-year-old Jack Johnson was named the team's top defenseman.

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