Saturday, October 1, 2011
Kings: Season Preview (Act II)
By Dan Arritt
Each day heading into their season openers Oct. 7 in Europe, ESPNLosAngeles will take a closer look at the Kings and Ducks. Where are their strengths, their weaknesses? Which star player will continue to shine, and which might struggle to maintain their previous levels? We put the Kings back under the microscope today and attempt to answer a few key questions regarding their forwards.
The forward with the most to prove this season? If there was ever motivation for a forward to pile up the points, Dustin Penner has a few good reasons. Outside of his first two weeks with the Kings, the 6-foot-4, 242-pound left wing wasn’t impressive after he was dealt to L.A. at the trade deadline in late February. He registered two goals and four points in 19 games and one point and an assist in the six-game playoff loss to San Jose. Penner, who turned 29 this week, made a concentrated effort in the offseason to get himself in better shape, reporting to camp at 242 pounds, about 18 less than when he was traded to the Kings. If pride isn’t enough to push him back to the level that saw him score 32 goals and register 63 points two seasons ago, then his wallet might. Penner is in a contract year and his totals this season will go a long way toward determining what type of price tag he'll wear in the offseason. Throw in the fact that he’s penciled in to play on the top line with one of the league’s top playmakers in Anze Kopitar, and Penner has every reason to take a big step forward this season.
The forward with the least to prove? Kopitar has already answered what a lot of folks questioned heading into the season, whether his right ankle was fully healed after a season-ending injury last March. He announced he was fit at the start of training camp and went out and proved it on the ice, scoring four goals in the last two preseason games. The key for Kopitar this season is setting up his linemates for high-percentage scoring chances, namely Penner. With the skill around him this season, there’s no reason why he shouldn’t hit 30-plus goals and 50-plus assists.
The forward in the best position for a breakout season? The Kings gave Trevor Lewis a big vote of confidence Friday when they sent more offensively skilled center Andrei Loktionov down to Manchester, essentially awarding Lewis the fourth-line center role. Lewis, the 17th overall pick in 2006, has been somewhat slow to live up to expectations, considering every other forward taken in the first round that year has more NHL career goals than Lewis. After appearing in just 11 games the previous two years, the 24-year-old from Salt Lake City, Utah emerged as a regular in the lineup last season, suiting up for 72 regular-season games and all six playoff contests. He finished the season with four goals and 13 assists. Lewis has always been a dynamic skater and heady defender, but this could be the year his hands finally catch up with his feet and he gets into the scoring column more often.
The forward most likely to take a step back in production? Coming off his first 20-goal season since 2005-06 and the most efficient shootout performance in league history, this season will mark a new role for veteran Jarret Stoll. With the addition of Mike Richards and the return of Kopitar, Stoll has been penciled in as the third-line center to start the season, meaning he’ll be used more in a checking role than as a scorer. He was on the second line with Ryan Smyth and Justin Williams for most oflast season, and they partnered to form one of the team’s most consistent scoring lines. But with Smyth back in Edmonton and Williams moved up to the top line with Kopitar and Penner, Stoll will now likely have Kyle Clifford on his left and either Scott Parse or Trent Hunter on his right. That likely means he'll likely get far fewer chances to hit the back of the net.