Mike Richards

Mike Richards: Thanks to yahoosports.com

It’s that time of year again! In just four days, the NHL regular season gets under way. In five days, the Los Angeles Kings begin their regular season in Stockholm against the New York Rangers. Both teams will be debuting their new Richards. Mike, for the Kings, was acquired from the Philadelphia Flyers during the summer in exchange for Wayne Simmonds, Brayden Schenn, and LA’s 2nd round pick in 2012. Brad, who was targeted as an unrestricted free agent by the Kings, ended up signing in New York. The Kings have a much different looking roster than last year. Coming in are forwards Mike Richards, Simon Gagne, Ethan Moreau, Trent Hunter, and Colin Fraser. Trade deadline acquisition Dustin Penner also begins his first full season as a King. Out are Wayne Simmonds, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Michal Handzus, Ryan Smyth, utility man Peter Harrold, top prospect Brayden Schenn, AHL fodder John Zeiler, and prospects Oscar Moller, Bud Holloway, and Corey Elkins decided to go play in Europe also, rather than in Manchester, but the Kings still hold their rights. The Kings are a young team that in the last two seasons have been able to reach the playoffs, but that’s all, as they were eliminated in the 1st round in both years. But with a young team, you expect the team to continue to improve, and with some of the major acquisitions the Kings have made this summer, have they gone from playoff contender, to Stanley Cup contender? Let’s take a look at what the Kings’ projected lines are:

 

Forwards:

Dustin Penner-Anze Kopitar-Justin Williams

Simon Gagne-Mike Richards-Dustin Brown

Kyle Clifford-Jarret Stoll-Brad Richardson

Ethan Moreau-Trevor Lewis-Trent Hunter

Spares: Kevin Westgarth, Colin Fraser

 

Defense:

Willie Mitchell-Drew Doughty

Rob Scuderi-Jack Johnson

Alec Martinez-Matt Greene

Spare: Davis Drewiske

 

Goalies:

Jonathan Quick

Jonathan Bernier

 

Looks pretty good on paper, doesn’t it? The next step will be for that to translate on the ice. The Kings also have some options for call ups in the case of injury. Viatcheslav Voynov has been turning heads in the preseason, although because of the Kings’ defensive depth, he’s likely Manchester-bound when the Kings return from Europe. They also have top prospects Thomas Hickey and Jake Muzzin on the blue line waiting in Manchester. Up front, look for blue chip prospect center Andrei Loktionov to get the call when there’s an injury, or perhaps power forward Dwight King if there’s an injury to winger, since Loktionov is more suited to be a center. Or look for enforcer Kevin Westgarth or defensive forward Colin Fraser to check into the lineup. Although the Kings added a lot, they also lost some players this summer. Simmonds, Smyth, Handzus, Ponikarovsky, and Harrold combined for 55 goals last year. However, with a full season of Penner, and the additions of Gagne and Richards, the Kings are bringing in three guys who could all potentially score 30+ goals. They definitely lost some significant veteran presence in Smyth and Handzus, which is important on a young team, but this team has matured a lot, and they’re also bringing in guys like Ethan Moreau, Colin Fraser, and Trent Hunter who will help make up for it.  The Kings lacked in three areas last season: speed, offense, and powerplay, and the acquisitions of Richards and Gagne will help in all of those categories, and hopefully better seasons from Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson, and suddenly there isn’t really a weak point on this team, especially since the Kings made their additions without taking away from their strengths from last season: defense, penalty kill, and goaltending. Goaltending may actually be the most interesting spot to watch this season. Jonathan Quick spent all of last summer listening to pundits predict that he would lose his job Jonathan Bernier. However, Quick came out to start the season on fire, leading the Kings to a 12-3-0 start, and that combined with Bernier’s rough play to start the year, silenced all of those who were suggesting Quick was going to lose his job. But Bernier settled in, and was on a tear after the All-Star Break, going 8-0-3 and had some big shutouts over Phoenix, Edmonton, and Minnesota. In the playoffs, Quick was spectacular in the Kings’ two wins over the Sharks, but in the Kings’ four losses, gave up a combined 19 goals. Although it’s not completely his fault, the Kings were missing Anze Kopitar and were terrible in front of him, whether it’s fair or not, he didn’t bail them out, and that combined with Bernier’s strong play down the stretch, once again has people wondering if Quick can handle a full season as a #1 goalie and if it’s only a matter of time before Bernier takes over as the #1 in LA. So, is this team capable of contending for the Cup? Absolutely. The only thing the Kings needed is offense, and now with six forwards who have scored 30 or more goals at least once in the NHL, it doesn’t appear that scoring is going to be a big problem for the Kings anymore. For the regular season, expect the Kings to contend with the San Jose Sharks for the Pacific Divison title. So, Kings fans, that begs one question: Is this the year? Will the Kings finally bring home their first Stanley Cup? It’s going to be a very exciting year, and I, for one, can not wait to get it started!

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