Drew Doughty, the No. 2 pick in the June entry draft, is thriving for the Kings, but other top picks haven’t been so fortunate. No. 1 pick Steven Stamkos has one assist in eight games with Tampa Bay. No. 4 pick Alex Pietrangelo has been hurt and has appeared in only three games for St. Louis. Then today, Atlanta placed No. 3 pick Zach Bogosian on injured reserve with a broken left leg. Don’t walk under any ladders, Drew.
Drew Doughty is arguably the Kings’ best defenseman at 18 years old, and Oscar Moller, who seems likely to remain with the Kings this year, is just 19. Of course, the Kings are young overall, but Terry Murray was asked why so many players are doing so well in the NHL at such a young age.
“Since ’04, the demands and the importance of managing your cap the right way is bringing lots of young players into the game today,” Murray said. “The young guys today are good players. They’re coming through programs where they’re young kids and highly skilled. They play a lot of games and play 12 months a year up in Canada now or even in Europe and the U.S. There’s plenty of experience, and we’re welcoming these young players. We have 30 teams in the league and we need to keep bringing these young guys in the game. It’s a high-skilled, fast-paced game and they can bring it every night.”
It sounds like Oscar Moller would have to have a horrendous game tonight not to remain with the Kings. Asked if he’s made the decision on whether Moller will go back to juniors or stay, Terry Murray said “No, but he’s going to have to have two real duds here in (games) 9 and 10. He’s played real well. We have confidence in him. He’s showing composure and the ability to play at a level that’s necessary to play in the NHL. Averaging 15 minutes a night. He’s been an important part of our team to this point.”
(Edit: Murray seems to be under the impression that the Kings have until AFTER the 10th game, but the rule actually kicks in when the player plays his 10th game)
Here’s what center Jarret Stoll had to say about linemate Oscar Moller, who be all accounts has been impressive as a 19-year-old rookie winger…
Question: Oscar seems to be getting a lot of praise from the coaches. What have been your experiences playing with him?
STOLL: “He’s very confident, for how young he is. For the experience he has, which isn’t much, he’s definitely confident. He’s learned a lot of things since the first day of training camp, and even since the first day of the season. You can see improvement, and he’s contributing to our team too. With guys that young, sometimes it takes a little while, but with him, it seems like he’s soaking it in. He’s learning, he’s playing well and he’s helping the team win. He’s doing what he should be doing.”
Question: Can he play here the whole year, or might he run into problems at some point?
STOLL: “It is a long year. As of now, yeah, he’s looking great. He has that consistency. There’s a level you have to be at, for an 82-game schedule, and hopefully more. That’s the tough part, even for guys who have been in the league a while. That’s a decision they have to make, and I’m sure they will make the right one for the organization and for Oscar.”
The Kings spent all summer, and a big chunk of training camp, trying to find a veteran left-shot defenseman to pair with Drew Doughty, and they eventually traded with the Ducks to acquire Sean O’Donnell. By all accounts, the trade has worked out well for the Kings. O’Donnell has been a responsible defender and penalty-killer and has been a reliable mentor for Doughty, the Kings’ 18-year-old rookie. O’Donnell talked about Doughty’s progress and his role in helping Doughty develop…
Question: Have you ever been partnered with an 18-year-old before?
O’DONNELL: “I had Aki Berg when he first came to L.A., but I think Drew is mentally more mature, and Aki had to deal with the language barrier too, which was tough, being away from home and being in a different country and stuff. Drew is 18 going on 25 out there, maturity wise.”
Question: This might be a tough question for you to answer, but do you feel like you’ve been good for him?
O’DONNELL: “I don’t know if he needs much calming down. He’s a pretty poised guy. I think there’s been some times when we’ve talked about some things, and I’d like to think I’ve helped a little bit. I can’t take a lot of credit, when you have a guy who has that much talent and who is that level-headed, but if I can even give him a little bit of direction, it makes me feel pretty good.”
Question: What’s the biggest surprise with him? What should he be struggling with that he’s not?
O’DONNELL: “Thinking through the game, and the poise. We played Detroit the other day and Detroit, not only are they good, but they’re smart and they can pick apart a player who overcommits to a play or runs around too much. I thought he did a real good job of just letting the play come to him. He gets the game. He understands what the other teams are trying to do, and when you do that you’re able to anticipate what they’re trying to do and your positioning is a lot better. I think that’s one of the things that Drew is lucky with. Not only does he have the physical ability, he also gets the game, and that’s a great combination. Not too many people can do that.”
Question: Is there still some significant room for improvement there?
O’DONNELL: “Oh yeah. I think he’s still very raw. I think maybe sometimes he tries to do too much at times. He’s been head and shoulders above everyone else, for the last two or three years, at his level, and maybe he tries to do a little bit too much. I try to talk to him a little bit, but you don’t want to crush that. You don’t want him to think that every time he gets the puck, he should just throw it off the glass and make the safe play, but there are also certain times in a game, and with certain lines, where you want to keep it simple. That’s just part of growing in the game, and part of the maturity that comes with the more games you play in this league.”
Jill should have stuff from the morning skate a bit later, but here’s something from yesterday about John Zeiler, who has been skating for a while after his groin strain. A good bet would be Zeiler being sent to Manchester, at least for a while, sometime in the next week…
MURRAY: “Zeiler is getting closer to getting some ice time, some playing time. He’s got the green light from the medical side of things. The groin is fine and he’s doing a lot of heavy skating after practice. We have to decide, as an organization, is it best for him to get started with the Kings or is it best for him to go play some games? Missing as much time as he has, that’s going to probably be the focal point of the conversation, whenever it takes place with management.”
Brian Boyle played in three of the Kings’ first four games — he had zero points and a minus-4 rating in a fourth-line center role — but has been a healthy scratch for the last four games. Boyle has spent practices in the green jersey signifying players who are out of the lineup. The Kings have asked 6-foot-6 Boyle to play a tougher game, and I talked to Boyle today about the challenge of getting back into the lineup…
Question: It’s been a while now since you got in a game. Have they given you any indication about when that might change?
BOYLE: “No, I haven’t heard much lately. It’s tough right now, and guys are playing pretty well too. It’s a tough spot. You’ve just got to come to work every single day, as hard as you can. That’s what I’ve got to do, just be harder in everything that I do. Be more physical with puck possession and stuff like that. (Murray) has pointed out specific things in games, and I have clips from all my games so far and the preseason games, and I’m just watching them over and over, just to get a better idea. Like I said, you want the team to do well, so it’s tough, because you want to get back in it and be a contributor to it.”
Question: The stuff that they’re asking you to do and show, is that easy to accomplish in practice, rather than a game situation?
BOYLE: “It’s more just a mentality that you have to take. It’s kind of an attitude that I have to have more of in my game. It’s been stated to me, and people have told me that at a few different points in past years, and I have to do a better job of being more consistent with it. I know I have that part of the game; I just have to bring it out. Sometimes unfortunately it takes a little kick in the butt, but I have to bring it up again. I have to bring it up a couple levels to be a contributor on this team, which is what I really want to do. But I’m still here, and this is where I want to be.”
Tomorrow night is the Kings’ ninth game, meaning they have a decision to make after the game. If they keep Oscar Moller beyond that, he’s officially a NHL player and a year is taken off his entry-level contract. So the Kings have to make a decision. Do they keep him here, or send him back to Chilliwack and retain all three years of his entry-level contract? The Kings haven’t made an official decision, but it seems unlikely that Moller will be going back, as his play has justified a stay in the NHL and he’s well-liked by teammates already. There’s no question that Drew Doughty, the other King with junior eligibility, will be staying. Here’s what Terry Murray said about Moller (and try to ignore the part where he gets the 10-game situation incorrect…)
Question: A couple weeks ago, you said you hadn’t really even considered that Moller might go back to junior. Has that thought changed at all?
MURRAY: “No, his play has been pretty good. The only way, as a coach anyway, that you would think about it is if things are inconsistent and he’s not playing well. I’m seeing a young player that’s staying very hungry and his level of play actually, in my mind, has gone up. He’s playing on the No. 2 line and on the power play, getting 15 minutes a night. I know there’s a decision to be made and it doesn’t have to be made until the 10th, after the 10th game. So we’ll leave it at that, and that’s also a meeting that involves people upstairs, and not strictly or solely a coaching decision. So we’ll see, when it comes, what decision we’re going to make.”
Question: Are you pretty confident that he could hold up for an entire season here?
MURRAY: “All I can answer is based on what I’ve seen. Through the training camp and the games so far, he has held up physically, he’s been staying with the pace of the game. He’s been looking at a lot of minutes and NHL play, against top players, and he’s fine. He’s comfortable, he’s confident with the puck and he’s making good things happen. Now I know it’s early. We haven’t traveled a lot and had the wear and tear in the early going, so I think that’s part of the conversation whenever we get to that time.”
Question: I guess I don’t even need to ask about Doughty, right?
MURRAY: “No, Doughty has played very well. He’s really handled himself extremely well for an 18 year old.”
Jason LaBarbera will be back in goal for the start of tomorrow night’s game, at which point he will have started all nine Kings games. The last Kings goalie to do that was Felix Potvin, who started the first nine games of 2001-02. I’ve have to consult with unofficial team historian Nick Nickson, who gave me that stat, to see the last time a Kings goalie started the first 10 games of a season. Here’s what Murray said about sticking with LaBarbera…
MURRAY: “Yes, Barbs will go back in. It’s that kind of a schedule right now, when we’re playing every second day, that clearly your No. 1 goalie is able to handle the workload. The game that he played back-to-back, at Nashville, I thought he was, as far as being alert and strong and moving and doing all the right stuff, he was fine that way. So physically, he’s in good shape. He’s ready to play and wants to play.”