The 2009-10 Los Angeles Kings took a large step in the right direction. A solid nucleus of rising stars in Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar, Jack Johnson, Jon Quick and Dustin Brown along with some key veteran acquisitions in Ryan Smyth and Justin Williams turned out to be the right mix in qualifying for the playoffs for the first time since 2001-02. Although they were ousted by the Canucks in the first round, the Kings easily could have won the series and been a contender in a highly competitive Western conference.
Leading the team upfront was Anze Kopitar who led all Kings scorers with a career high 81 points. Kopitar was the NHL’s early season MVP leading the scoring race for the first several weeks of the season. It was career highs across the board for Kopitar in 2009-10 with 34 goals, 47 assists, and for the first time in his NHL career he was on the right side of zero in the plus/minus department. He won’t contribute much in the PIMs column, but Kopitar has emerged as a solid fantasy center. As the Kings continue to grow and improve so will Kopitar’s offensive production.
Though his determination, grit and his ability to throw big hits won’t show up in your weekly fantasy match-ups, Kings captain Dustin Brown is still a solid fantasy option especially at a shallow position like right wing. Brown was second among Kings’ forwards in scoring with 24 goals and 32 assists. His PIMs were lower than you would expect for they style of game he plays (down to 41 from 64), but the real downside is that he has yet to have a season with a positive plus/minus. Remember though Brown is only 25 years old and there is still plenty of room to grow in his game both offensively and defensively.
Ryan Smyth was one of those key veteran acquisitions made by the Kings. Only Detroit’s Tomas Holmstrom can rival Smyth’s ability to score around the net, a skill that really shows up on the powerplay where Smyth netted 11. Injuries kept him to just 67 games but he was still able to put up 22 goals and 31 assists for 53 points. At 34 years young Smyth has a lot left in the tank and with the young talent surrounding him in LA he is poised for a 60+ point season.
Alexander Frolov and his ever declining season point totals fled to LA leaving the Kings able to sign free agent left winger Alexei Ponikarovsky. Poni spent last season with Toronto before being shipped to Pittsburgh at the trade deadline. In 16 games with the Pens he put up just 2 goals and 7 assists playing with a couple of the world’s best in Malkin and Crosby. He did have 41 points in 61 games on a very bad Toronto team however. There seems to be more value in his name than his point production, maybe its the Toronto media who knows, but his career high is 61 points.
20 years old and a Norris finalist. Yes, if you drafted Drew Doughty you couldn’t help but be smiling most of last season. His 16 goals were second among d-men behind Mike Green’s 19 and his 9 powerplay goals put him just one of Green’s league leading total. He finished the season 3rd in points and 5th in assists among all defencemen and to go along with that was plus 20 and added 54 PIMS. Did I mention he is 20?
Doughty isn’t the only promising young defencemen in LA. Jack Johnson had somewhat of a breakout season offensively with 8 goals and 36 points and though his progression may not be as quick as Doughty’s he is definitely a player I’m going to keep my eye on next season.
Johnathan Quick’s back must be sore, he carried the load for the Kings last season starting 72 games. As the season went on coach Terry Murray seemed to lose any confidence he had in backup Erik Ersberg. Quick handled the workload well putting up 39 wins, a 2.54 GAA, and .907 save percentage. He’s not gonna be one of the goalies to go in the first couple rounds of your draft and he likely won’t see as much playing time with Jonathan Bernier waiting in the wings but now that we all know he is a proven starter in the NHL he is definitely worth taking as your second our third goalie.
On the Bench:
After leading the team to the postseason for the first time in 8 seasons Kings management wasted no time in extending head coach Terry Murray. Murray signed a 2 year extension in June through the 2012-13 season. With a 80-64-20 record coaching the Kings and leading them to their third highest point total (101) in franchise history Murray’s job is exactly that, his job. He has done a tremendous job developing his team’s young talent and has been able to get the most out of veteran players like Smyth, Williams, Modin, O’Donnell, etc.
The Kings also brought in former Flyers coach John Stevens ,on a three-year contract, to serve as an assistant to Murray. Stevens spent four seasons in Philly taking the Flyers from the NHL’s worst record in 2006-07 to the Eastern Conference Finals in 2007-08.
The Bottom Line:
If the Kings can find a way to lock up their young stars without compromising their ability to have a roster deep in NHL talent they are going to be a legitimate contender for the Stanley Cup within the next couple of seasons. As for the immediate future in LA, it also looks bright. Next season should bring forth another set of career years for the likes of Doughty, Kopitar, and Johnson. Playoffs look inevitable and beyond that anything could happen.