Name: Mike Richards, Los Angeles Kings
Height/Weight: 5 feet 11, 195 pounds.
Seasons with the Kings: 1
What’s his role? High on the Kings’ wish list heading into last offseason was a proven center, one who could seamlessly slide on to the second line and give the team a 1-2 punch up the middle. Not only did they land a youthful 26-year-old who averaged 28 goals and 71 points the previous four seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers, missing just 13 games in that span, but one who was just as skillful and tenacious on the defensive end. He’s a premier set-up man, a capable finisher and, with 27 shorthanded goals in his career, a master at making something out of nothing. A former team captain with the Flyers, he earned loads of respect for his willingness to drop his gloves and seek redemption when he feels an opponent has taken liberties with a teammate.
What has he done lately? No doubt about it, Richards’ offensive numbers took a tumble this season, down to 18 goals and 44 points in 74 games. Sure, he was playing for a new team, in a new conference, under a different system, but what really threw him off track was the concussion he suffered Dec. 1 against the Florida Panthers, putting him on the shelf for three weeks. After scoring nine goals in November, he managed just three over the next three months. Some believe he may have rushed himself back after the Kings fired Terry Murray on Dec. 12 and brought in Darryl Sutter a week later. Richards started to regain his old form in mid-March, scoring nine points in the final 12 regular-season games. He may have set the tone for this playoff run with a goal and two assists in Game 1 of the opening-round series against the Vancouver Canucks. He has 11 points overall in the playoffs, including eight in the last nine games.
Where you’ll find him on the ice? Richards is the ultimate rover. During 5-on-5 play, he’ll set up between the faceoff circles, stick blade on ice, waiting for a crisp pass from behind the net. He’ll plunge into corners and fight for pucks against players 30 pounds heavier, or crash the crease, mining for a loose rebound to deposit in the net. When on the power play, Richards alternates between playing on the perimeter and dipping down on the goal line. Twice in the postseason, he has scored from a 180-degree angle, banking the puck off the far skate of the goalie.
What he does best? A second career as a psychic wouldn’t be a bad idea for Richards. He seems to see things before they happen, giving him a jump on the competition. A prime example came in Game 3 of the second-round series against the St. Louis Blues. Less than four minutes after the Blues had cut the deficit to one early in the third period, Richards collected the puck in his defensive end and raced down the right side. With room to work, he suddenly slid to a stop just above the right faceoff circle, waited a long second and then made a perfect centering pass to defenseman Drew Doughty, who was just skating into the offensive zone. The pass caught everyone off guard but Richards and Doughty, who fired the puck into the net to put all the momentum back on L.A.'s side.
Another comparable athlete: Clippers point guard Chris Paul has taken over as the city's most clutch player down the stretch, but Richards might not be far behind. If there were one player the Kings could keep on the ice in the closing minutes of a tied game, it’s safe to say it would be Richards. Because he comes up big in the most important moments, many believe he’ll make the difference in the Stanley Cup finals.