A first look at…Williams

By a fairly significant margin, you selected Justin Williams as the Kings’ first-line right wing.

Since the beginning of this blog, perhaps no single incident sparked more discussion than the O’Sullivan/Williams trade (although Juraj Mikus is getting close). That’s two-pronged. One, O’Sullivan seemed to be a polarizing figure for fans and two, the trade was arguably the most significant in Dean Lombardi’s tenure, as he traded one potential top-six winger for another.

It’s not a stretch to say that Williams is the single most important player to the Kings’ success or failure this season, based on one simple evaluation. What was the Kings’ biggest problem last season? Scoring goals. If Williams does end up being the first-line right wing — and I think that’s a good assumption — who is he going to be? Will he be the two-time 30-goal scorer, or the guy who played a combined 81 games in the past two seasons? If it’s the former, the playoffs start to seem much more realistic.

By all accounts, Williams is healthy and ready to go. Those looking for another point of optimism can look at Michal Handzus, who was mostly dreadful in 2007-08, his first year back after ACL surgery, then mostly fantastic in 2008-09. Players typically take a big step forward in their second season back after ACL surgery, and Williams will be in that position this coming season.

What do you think? Will Williams be the answer to the Kings’ offensive woes?

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Hockey Fest coming up

For those planning to attend the Kings’ Hockey Fest this coming weekend, it really looks to be shaping up to be a nice event. In particular, I’m looking forward to the “kick-off party” on Friday night, and I hope to get a chance to meet some of you. Saturday’s highlight figures to be the reunion of the Triple Crown Line, and I’m also looking forward to the “experts panel” hosted by Jim Fox and John Buccigross. Sunday is my birthday, so I don’t know how much I’ll be around, but Bob Miller’s “one-man show” should be worth the price of admission alone. If Bob takes requests, ask him about the interview he did that upset Jack Kent Cooke. Anyway, for more information, you can check out lakings.com/hockeyfest.

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A first look at…Kopitar

The poll results are close at wing, but it seems that Anze Kopitar is your overwhelming favorite to be the Kings’ first-line center. So for that reason, and because today is Kopitar’s 22nd birthday, let’s start with him.

Perhaps no Kings forward had a more difficult-to-figure 2008-09 season than Kopitar. Some fans wondered where the offense went. Terry Murray demanded better defense. Dean Lombardi wanted him to eat fewer of those famous Kopitar pancakes and get in better shape. Quite a bit for a 21-year-old third-year player to take in.

The reality, whether it’s completely fair or not, is that Kopitar, as the Kings’ highest-paid player, is going to have to be all things to all people. Murray is a defense-first coach, and has to feel comfortable using Kopitar in all situations, but as a first-line center, Kopitar must contribute more than the 66 points he totaled last season (down from 77 the previous season).

Did Kopitar feel pressure, in his first season with the big contract and as an alternative captain? Perhaps, and perhaps he was hampered by Murray’s season-long quest to find satisfactory lines, which might have impacted Kopitar’s ability to develop chemistry with teammates.

Kopitar’s talents, particularly his strength on the puck and vision, are tremendous. Lombardi publicly called out Kopitar at the end of last season, and during the summer, about being in better shape. If Kopitar shows that improvement, will it take him over the hump and help him become an elite player?

What do you think? Is there any concern about Kopitar, or is his development right on schedule?

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Pick the first line

In thinking about the upcoming season, it occured to me that before we start analyzing individual players, it might be wise to establish some sort of expectation level. For instance, do you see Dustin Brown as a first-line winger or a second-line winger? That’s an important question to answer before you start to address what you should expect from Brown this season.

So let’s start there, and since we’re all about interactivity here, a poll is in order. Select who you believe should be the three forwards on the first line. Keep in mind, as a coach must, position and which players you believe might fit well together. Then we’ll start the breakdown of the theoretical lines…


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USA camp recaps

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A sampling of thoughts and opinions from around the continent at the end of the Team USA Olympic orientation camp…

Pierre LeBrun of ESPN.com has come up with the nickname of “The Nasty Boys” for the American trio of Dustin Brown, David Backes and Ryan Kesler. He also quotes Team USA general manager Brian Burke as saying of Brown, “I got to watch way too much of Dustin Brown the last few years in Anaheim. He’s a pain in the ass. He’s a good player and he’s a big body that hits and plays with a high level of belligerence, which I like. And so, to me, there’s a guy who can play up and down and play on the fourth line or he can play on the first line.”

NHL.com looks at Rob Scuderi and Brooks Orpik, former teammates in Pittsburgh who were back together at the camp. Incidentally, Orpik was a strong target of Dean Lombardi last summer, before Orpik chose to remain with the Penguins.

Burke gives his further thoughts on the team in this Canadian Press story.

Kevin Allen of USA Today sums up the camp, and notes that the selection committee (which includes Dean Lombardi) will meet in early October and that the team is expected to be named in late December.

Finally, the Canadian Press offered its opinion on which 14 players are most assured of spots on Team USA at the moment. Dustin Brown, Jonathan Quick and Rob Scuderi made the “cut,” but Jack Johnson did not.

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Quick gets oriented with Team USA

Kings goalie Jonathan Quick is spending this week in Illinois at an Olympic orientation camp for Team USA. Quick is one of three goalie at the camp (along with Ryan Miller and Tim Thomas), and as the following story from the Canadian Press points out, Quick would seem to be in a good spot, given that three goalies will make team USA.

Only three goaltenders taking part in American Olympic orientation workouts

Dustin Brown, also at the orientation camp, had this to say about Quick: “He came in last year and stood on his head for us. I think this is a huge confidence booster for him to be invited here. He came in last year in L.A. and nobody knew who he was. He’s a pretty good goalie and I think he’s going to surprise some people.”

The question for Quick might become: will getting a spot on Team USA be easier than holding off Jonathan Bernier and/or Erik Ersberg?

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How Bruce Boudreau survived 9/11

A reader sent along a fascinating excerpt from the new book by Washington coach Bruce Boudreau, who previously served as coach of the Manchester Monarchs. In this excerpt, Boudreau discusses how he was originally booked on the flight that claimed the lives of scouts Ace Bailey and Mark Bavis on Sept. 11, 2001, and how a decision by then-coach Andy Murray essentially saved Boudreau’s life…

Excerpts from “Gabby – Confessions of a Hockey Lifer”

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Rookie camp schedule, roster

Here’s the roster and schedule for the upcoming rookie camp. Most importantly, Juraj Mikus will be there…

PRACTICE AND GAME SCHEDULE FOR KINGS ROOKIE CAMP

(Subject to change):

Sun., Sept. 6: On-ice practices from 10-noon and 4:30-5:30 p.m.
Mon., Sept. 7: On-ice practices from 10-noon and 4:30-5:30 p.m.
Tue., Sept 8: On-ice practices from 10-noon and 4:30-5:30 p.m.
Wed., Sept. 9: Pregame skate from 9-10:30 a.m.; Game vs. Phoenix at 6 p.m.
Thu., Sept. 10: Pregame skate from 9-10 a.m.; Game vs. Phoenix at 2 p.m.

KINGS ROOKIE CAMP ROSTER
(Subject to change):

Forwards:
Justin Azevedo
Kyle Clifford
Corey Elkins
Bud Holloway
Dwight King
Brandon Kozun
Andrei Loktionov
Tyler Maxwell^
Juraj Mikus
Jordan Nolan
Michael Pelech
Brayden Schenn
Linden Vey
Geoff Walker*
Geordie Wudrick

Defensemen:

Andrew Campbell
Nicolas Deslauriers
Radko Gudas*
Thomas Hickey
David Kolomatis
Alec Martinez
Patrick Mullen
Colten Teubert
Viatcheslav Voynov

Goaltenders:
Jean-Francois Berube
Martin Jones
Jeff Zatkoff

* On tryout

As previously announced, the two rookie games against Phoenix will be played in El Segundo on Wednesday, Sept. 9 (6 p.m.) and Thursday, Sept. 10 (2 p.m.) Ticket information for those games has not yet been announced.

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Boyle’s fresh start

The Patriot Ledger newspaper of Quincey, Mass., did a feature story today on Brian Boyle, hometown boy and former Kings forward who was traded to the New York Rangers on June 27. Boyle signed a two-year contract with the Rangers after the trade and will contend for a spot on the NHL team during training camp.

In the story, Boyle said about his time with the Kings, “It could have gone better, obviously. I put a ton of pressure on myself. It wasn’t that I was lethargic, or thought I’d earned a spot (in Los Angeles). It was kind of the opposite. I let things get to me a little too much … but I think that’s going to be beneficial, as a learning experience.”

Hingham’s Brian Boyle eager to start new season with new team

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