Today is reporting day for Kings players, and they’ll be on the ice tomorrow morning in El Segundo. I’m excited for the start of camp, and I intend to be out there all day tomorrow to get a bunch of stuff for the blog.
Below, I’ll post the training-camp preview that I wrote for today’s paper. How would you answer the questions? What are you most excited, eager and/or anxious to see/hear about in training camp?
Kings training camp: 5 burning questions
1. WHO’S ON FIRST?
The first line, that is. Anze Kopitar is the incumbent first-line center, and won’t lose that role, but the Kings have two left wingers (Alexander Frolov and Ryan Smyth) and two right wingers (Dustin Brown and Justin Williams) who are each capable of scoring 30 goals. It could come down to a blending of playing styles. Brown and Smyth are known for their ability to play hard at the net, while Frolov and Williams are known as more natural scorers. When penciling in his top two lines, coach Terry Murray will likely consider not only who fits best with Kopitar – a scorer with great playmaking abilities – but how the wingers’ styles might mesh.
2. CAN DOUGHTY IMPROVE?
Drew Doughty, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2008 draft, exceeded most expectations last season when he played 81 games and thrived as a defenseman in even-strength, power-play and penalty-kill situations. Doughty was regularly the Kings’ best defenseman and arguably the most valuable player of the entire team. Still only 19 years old, Doughty has the ability to reach another level. His intelligence and conditioning are already top notch, but he can improve upon the 27 points he scored last season and continue to play his way into a leadership role among a group of young defensemen that also includes Jack Johnson and Davis Drewiske.
3. IS QUICK READY?
This time last year, Jonathan Quick was no better than fourth on the Kings’ goaltending depth chart, behind Jason LaBarbera, Erik Ersberg and Jonathan Bernier. By the end of last season, Quick led the Kings’ goalies in games (44), wins (21), goals-against average (2.48) and save percentage (.910). The goalie competition is open going into training camp, but 23-year-old Quick, entering his second season, has the edge. Ersberg can serve as a solid 20- to 25-game backup, and don’t count out Bernier, the Kings’ 2006 first-round pick, who got slowed by a groin injury during training camp last year but could push Quick for the No. 1 job this month.
4. WILL THE RUMORS END?
Don’t count on it. In June, “confirmed” reports had the Kings trading for defenseman Chris Pronger. This week, they supposedly acquired forward Patrick Marleau. Both reports turned out to be little more than rumor babble, but given that the Kings have a deep pool of talented prospects, it’s no surprise to hear them attached to every wacky trade rumor. The rumors are unlikely to die down unless Alexander Frolov, due to be an unrestricted free agent next summer, signs a contract extension during training camp. If the Kings add anything before the start of this season, it’s likely to be a veteran defenseman, not a forward.
5. IS THIS THE YEAR?
Since the end of the 2002 season, Kings fans have waited to see a playoff game. Dean Lombardi is entering his fourth season as the Kings’ general manager, and while the pieces of his plan seem to be falling in place – the Kings have an ever-improving young defense and a stable of talented young goalies – the Western Conference is tough, deep and balanced, and the Kings need to show that they have enough offense to make a big jump from last season’s 14th-place finish in the West. Given their talent, the Kings should at least be in the conversation for a playoff spot. A six-game road trip in mid-October will set an early tone.