The fact that the Kings could use some scoring help was no secret last year. The Kings took a big swing at the biggest free agent out there last year, Ilya Kovalchuk, after his contract demands forced the Atlanta Thrashers to trade him to the New Jersey Devils, but the Kings soon found out why the Thrashers gave up on signing him, and weren’t able to match his contract demands as he eventually re-signed in New Jersey. Since Kovalchuk took his sweet time deciding on where to go, the Kings’ own unrestricted free agent Russian left winger, Alexander Frolov, had gone to the New York Rangers, so their backup plan was gone, and suddenly the Kings were left with a big, black hole on the left side. They signed winger Alexei Ponikarovsky who they hoped would help fill the void, but injuries and poor performances that resulted in being a healthy scratch at times, including Games 5 and 6 against the Sharks, limited Ponikarovsky to just 65 games including playoffs last year, and he recorded just 6 goals and 10 assists. It was easily the worst season of Ponikarovsky’s career, and it’s safe to say that he didn’t help fill the scoring void, and, shockingly enough, the Kings made no attempt to re-sign him and he went on to sign a one-year deal for $1.5 million with the Carolina Hurricanes during the summer. The Kings also hoped that talented winger Scott Parse could break out and fill that void. Injuries limited Parse to just 5 regular season games last season, and he didn’t return until Game 5 against San Jose, and as we approach the new season, appears destined for the waiver wire if he doesn’t turn things around quickly.
So, knowing the Kings needed major help on the left side, and with scoring in general, Kings general manager Dean Lombardi swung a deal at the trade deadline that saw the Kings send defense prospect Colten Teubert, who the Kings took in the 1st round, 13th overall back in 2008, the Kings’ 1st round pick this year (that ended up being 19th overall, the Oilers selected defensemen Oscar Klefbom), and the Kings’ 3rd round pick in 2012 (it was a conditional pick that would have been the Kings’ 2nd round pick in 2012 had the Kings won the Stanley Cup last year) to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for Dustin Penner. So essentially, the Kings gave up two 1st rounders and a 3rd rounder for Penner. Interestingly enough, the Kings had earlier acquired the pick from the Ducks, that the Ducks got from the Oilers for Edmonton signing Penner away on an offer sheet, in a three-way trade that saw Mike Cammalleri go to the Flames, and the Kings then traded that pick to Buffalo for the pick they used on Teubert. So in a way, Penner ended up being traded for the pick the Ducks got for him going to Edmonton on an offer sheet. And in another way, the Kings essentially traded Cammalleri for Penner (ouch).
What did Penner provide for the Kings after the trade? Penner was coming off a career year where he scored 32 goals and 31 assists, and was having another solid season for the Oilers, scoring 21 goals and 18 assists in 62 games before the trade. The Oilers’ leading scorer came to Los Angeles, and, well, pooped the bed, scoring just 3 goals and 5 assists in 25 games including playoffs. Certainly not the offensive punch the Kings were hoping for/expecting when they made the trade. Penner actually got off to a good start in LA. His first game was a 1-0 win over the Phoenix Coyotes, and he used his big body to provide the screen on the goal off a one-time power play blast from the point by Jarret Stoll. In Penner’s next game, he recorded his first goal as a King, as he literally carried Canucks defenders on him behind the net before throwing it in front and having it go in off Luongo. That started a six-game point streak for Penner in which he scored 2 goals and 4 assists. However, Penner didn’t record another point until Game 3 against the Sharks when he assisted on a Michal Handzus goal. He went the final 12 regular season games, and the first two playoff games, without recording a single point. Yikes. His only other point in the series was a goal in Game 5 in San Jose.
Needless to say, the Kings expected much more from Penner, and will expect much more from Penner this season, who enters the final year of his contract, and is going to have go have a big year in order to get another contract, especially if he wants another one that matches the $4.25 million annual salary he currently makes. The Kings made it clear to Penner that he needed to be much better, that he needed to care a lot more, and that he needed to be in much better shape. Dean Lombardi made that clear with this gem of a quote: “Dustin is at the crossroads of his career. He can either use his athletic ability to become a dominant power forward in the National Hockey League or be a dominant number four hitter in a El Cid Lounge in a men’s softball league – the choice is his.”
Penner heard the message loud and clear, and worked incredibly hard all summer long. He has dropped approximately 20 pounds since the Kings acquired him and has lost body fat while gaining muscle mass. There is no doubting Penner’s talent. The only questions about him are his motivation, his commitment, his will to win, and his physical conditioning. Penner proved this summer that he is very committed, and got himself in good physical condition, while his poor run with the Kings leaves him with a lot of people questioning how much he cares, and leaves him with a lot to prove, and being in a contract year on a contending team should provide plenty of motivation for him. And although he already has a Stanley Cup, you can bet that after being on the cellar-dwelling Oilers for the last number of years, now being on a team that has a real shot to win it all should give him that hunger to win. He’s on a team that does not lack for talent, and playing on a line with guys like Anze Kopitar or Mike Richards, and Justin Williams or Dustin Brown, should all add up to a monster year for Penner. Dustin Penner is a big piece of what the Kings hope will be a championship puzzle this year. After a very disappointing start to his tenure as an LA King, will the Kings now get the player they thought they were getting at the trade deadline?