Previously, I mentioned that Dean Lombardi’s vision of his Kings are slowly coming into focus. And with his defense and his goaltenders pretty much squared away, the real fuzzy part of the picture concerns the Kings’ offense.
You see, the Kings’ offensive machine took a hit from the defense-first scheme. They dropped from 14th (2.76 GFA) to27th (2.42) last season.It doesn’t take a mathematician to figure out you need to put the biscuit in the basket to truly be successful.
Lombardi’s pick-ups of forwards Ryan Smyth and Justin Williams should compliment the Slovenian Stunner, Anze Kopitar. Williams has been paired withKopitar at the end of last season and for most of training camp, while Smyth gives the top line some real grit. Brown has been paired with TedPurcell and Jarrett Stoll.
This is Purcell’s season to take that next step and solidify himself as a Top Six player. Alexander Frolov should play with Michal Handzus and Wayne Simmonds, giving the Kings three genuine scoring lines. And scoring is what they need to do.
However,some of the offensive pieces they have now are showing signs of wear.Frolov and Stoll have missed some time during training camp, and Williams has a history of being plagued by the injury bug. This teammight be deep on potential, but if any of their veterans pull up lame,it’ll affect the squad adversely. If those players continue to getdinged, that’s going to put more pressure on the kids to step it up.
Onekid in particular, Ted Purcell, is positioned to do one of two things:1) he’ll emerge from the protective nest of the minors himself and takeflight or 2) He’ll get pushed out of the nest and plummet toward the rocks below. The average NHL player scored 10 goals last season and tallied 23 points. Can Purcell reach that plateau? My projection, basedon sharing that line with Brown and Stoll/Smyth and my skewed viewpoint, is 50 points: 20 goals, 30 assists. That’s a pretty big bump from last season, but he’s got the tools and supporting cast to do that. And early in training camp, he’s looking like he’s planning on spreading his wings this season. If he doesn’t quite pan out, Oscar Moller is waiting in the wings down in Manchester.
It’s also time for Anze Kopitar to step up and become the superstar center he’s being paid for. Kopitar needs to leapfrog players like Shane Doan,Corey Perry and Mike Ribeiro, and take his place among the other80-point scorers of the league. Put it to you this way, the Kings need Kopitar to lead the way this season if they hope to advance in the crowded Pacific.
Dustin Brown comes in as the face of thefranchise, and the Kings’ captain is poised to make a significant jump offensively. With more quality players around him and an improved blueline, Brown no longer has to focus on being the muscle and can lend his hard-nosed attack on the offense. How many goals? Gee, I don’tk now… I don’t want to be that guy: “This guy must score 23.7 percent of the time for the Kings to contend…” Pffffft. I have a hard enough time balancing the checkbook. I do know that Brown is also going to need to pick up his scoring if the Kings hope to rise in the standings.
Alexander Frolov is in the last year of his deal, and is poised to be extra-focused on his new contract. But I’m not sure we’ll be seeing career highs from Frolov this season. I believe we’ve seen the ceiling for Frolov, and he’s been Mr. Consistency. Plus, he’s really hard to hit off the puck. My guess is he might be moved by the trade deadline if the Kings are in contention.
Ryan Smyth, Justin Williams and Jarret Stoll are all cut from the same cloth, in my opinion:quality veterans with a nose for the net. These three are tagged with double duty: improve their game while elevating the game of their younger linemates. Each of these players have proven with the irrespective clubs that they should flourish in this role. But the one player from this group that really needs to step it up from this group is Williams. He needs to revert to his 30+ goal scoring ways this season, or the Patrick O’Sullivan trade will look ill-advised.
Wayne Simmonds is another player that could continue to surprise a lot of people this season. (Grant, two of those were empty-netters, but that also speaks volumes of Simmonds, being out on the ice when the game’s on the line.) The kid can flat out play, and he’s tallied two multi-goal games already this preseason. Sure, he made his bones being a scrapper last season, but he can score. Putting him on a line with Handzus and Frolov could prove to be the right combination.
I’m also not going to differentiate between the second and third line. The pieces are interchangable, and could very well alternate in its success. The only line that I will say is the top line is the Kopitar/Williams/Smyth line. The other two lines gives Murray quite the opportunity to keep the pressure on other teams, so neither can really be considered more important than the other.
Lombardi’s vision of the team is almost in focus. Almost. Will the Kings make the playoffs? My guess (which I know will make some fans upset) is no. This team has taken baby steps throughout Lombardi’s rebuilding process.They played meaningful games into March last season, and their core players have now experienced of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. But their offense still has too many questions revolving around it. A lull is to be expected, especially when a team is learning a new system like’s Murray’s D-first game plan.
Logic says that when the defense comes, the offense will soon follow after. This team has an overabundance of potential, but that and $5will get you an iced mocha. I hope I’m wrong, I hope the players rise to the expectation of the playoffs. But I just don’t see the Kings making full strides just yet, so Kings fans will have to wait another season.
All we’ve heard this preseason is how different everything feels like,and I’m it does. But I’ve felt the same way every season since the lockout. The pundits all claim the Kings are the team to come out of nowhere to be the surprise team this year. But if people are already saying that, how much of a surprise can they be?
Whether they continue on their snail’s pace or leap several teams in asingle bound, the Kings season looks to be an exciting one.
More notable previews:
• Yahoo! Sports’ Ross McKeon: Kings’ rebuilding must leave ground floor
Los Angeles has to take advantage of a team that slips – Dallas?Minnesota?Edmonton? St. Louis? Will the Kings be in a position to do that? Itsays no here.
• NHL.com: Kings make no secret of playoff aspirations
Afterseven years of hoping and dreaming and ultimately disappointing, it’st ime to make some big plans and follow through with them.
• SI.com: 2009-10 Pacific Division preview
BOTTOM LINE: The young Kings are getting closer, but a rebuild this intensiveis a patience-testing process. They’re not a playoff team yet, but they’ll make plenty of noise before this season’s through.
• CBS Sportsline: Five things: Offense holding back rebuilding Kings
With any luck, Frolov will give the Kings the breakout season t
hey have been waiting for. A first-round draft pick in 2000, Frolov has shown flashes of being an elite level scorer, although he has surpassed the 30-goal mark only twice in his career, including last season when he had 32.