Los Angeles Kings: Are The Young Players Ready To Bear The Burden?

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: PART 3 – In the third and final installment of this series, Los Angeles Kings head coach Terry Murray talks about some of his young players, their performance in the 2008-09 season and what he’s looking for from them in the coming year.

LOS ANGELES — The 2008-09 Los Angeles Kings placed a heavy load of responsibility on a roster laden with young talent at key positions. Predictably, the results were somewhat mixed and Kings head coach Terry Murray talked about a few of his key, young players in a recent interview.

Starting on the upside, goaltender Jonathan Quick did not start the season with the Kings, but after being recalled on December 16, 2008 and then winning the starting goaltender job after Jason LaBarbera was sent packing to the Vancouver Canucks on December 30, he showed that he just might be the answer in goal that has, outside of Rogie Vachon and Mario Lessard, eluded the Kings for most of their existence.

Quick (photo at left) played in 44 games, earning a 21-18-2 record, a 2.48 goals-against average, a .914 save percentage and four shutouts—all impressive numbers on a team that ended the season three games below the .500 mark.

“I thought Jason played good for us, but at the end, I think he wishes he had played better for us,” said Murray. “That certainly was a comment he made to me as he was on his way to Vancouver [on the day he was traded]. We talked in the office. He certainly wanted to have contributed more and be a better player for the LA Kings and it just didn’t seem to work out. Unfortunately, that’s kind of the way things go sometimes.”

“When [Quick] came in, he had an impact on our hockey club,” added Murray. “He played very well and gave us an opportunity every night to have a good end result.”

Indeed, Quick played so well that it makes one wonder what might have been if he had started the season with the Kings.

“I think the way we played in that early part of the season, with looking back to how Quick played, I think our position in the standings would’ve been better,” said Murray. “Of course, that’s wishing, could have, should have.”

“I’m looking forward to Jonathan Quick and what he brings to our hockey club as we get going next year,” added Murray. “Hopefully, we can have good things established right from the beginning of the year.”

The Kings improved in a big way on defense in 2008-09 as well and a big reason was the play of rookie Drew Doughty and 23-year-old defenseman Kyle Quincey.

Doughty, who was selected by the Kings in the first round (second overall) in the 2008 National Hockey League Entry Draft, was a wet-behind-the-ears eighteen-year-old when the Kings began their 2008-09 training camp, but it was already clear that he belonged in the NHL and his play throughout the season, both in the defensive zone and on offense, moved him to the top of the Kings’ depth chart among the blue liners.

Quincey, who, through a big stroke of luck, was claimed off of waivers from the Detroit Red Wings on October 13 after defenseman Jack Johnson went down with a torn labrum in his left shoulder, also made a major and immediate impact, most notably, with his ability to get the puck to the net from the blue line.

The strong play of Doughty and Quincey certainly bodes well for the future.

“I think on our back end you have to have what I call secondary scoring and that’s from your blue line corps,” Murray explained. “We added Quincey as we got going early in the season. He started to put some points up and showed ability to get the puck to the net on a pretty consistent basis, especially on the power play.”

“I think Drew Doughty, coming in as an eighteen-year-old, and what he’s going to bring as he matures and gets established in the game is going to be really good things on the offensive part of the game as well as his play without the puck. That’s all going to come over time and [as] they play more games together.” Murray elaborated.

Jack Johnson. Courtesy Los Angeles Kings/NHLOn the downside, Johnson’s development was stunted due to his injury, which forced the 22-year-old defenseman to miss 41 games.

Murray wondered what kind of player Johnson (photo at right) would be today had he not missed so much time.

“That’s the toughest thing that happened to Jack this year, missing [41] games after the second game,” said Murray. “That was incredibly hard for a young player, especially a young defenseman who needed to play and practice so much at the start of the year like we were able to do because of our schedule.”

“We spent a lot of time up until Christmas at home,” added Murray. “Every day we were able to get out on the ice when we weren’t playing the games and have good, hard, intense practices with a big push again on the checking and the detail part of the game in your defensive zone and he missed all that.”

Indeed, Johnson’s development came to a screeching halt due to the injury, and the pace was still very slow after he returned to the lineup.

“He comes back, we’re halfway through the season, we’re getting out on the road, we’re cutting back on the length of practices and you’re touching on different areas of the defensive and checking part of the game, but the time spent—you can’t do it because now you’re traveling a lot more, the games are getting more condensed and you always have to be heads up as a coach about fatigue and the level of energy your team has,” Murray lamented.

“That really was a very difficult time for Jack,” Murray noted. “I think he understands what we need from him. He made a commitment to the checking part of the game, to keeping it very simple, making the good first pass. We’re pretty pleased with that at the end of the day.”

“We see what he can do with the puck in the offensive zone. He’s got pretty good vision with the puck, he passes hard and he’s got a great shot and as a result, the puck ends up in the net or he’s putting numbers up on the board and he’s carried through. He showed a big part of that at the World Championships with Team USA. A young guy, 21, we’re excited about it and real happy about the way he played in the second half of the year.”

2008-09 was also a struggle for 21-year-old center Anze Kopitar, who saw his numbers drop a bit from his 2007-08 season totals when he scored 32 goals and contributed 45 assists for 77 points in 82 games.

This season, Kopitar scored 27 goals and added 39 assists for 66 points in 82 games.

Murray noted that Kopitar sacrificed some offense in order to learn and commit to the defensive side of the puck.

“I really liked the way Kopitar committed to the other side of the game without the puck,” Murray emphasized. “This is a young player, 21 years old, who was a first round draft pick. Young players like this are drafted high because they have an incredible amount of talent, skill and ability to make a difference in a game in the offensive part of the game. They make it look easy at times in pressure situations and end up making a big play or score the goal and I see that in his game.”

“He’s a very elite, a very special guy,” Murray elaborated. “But again, I go back to the checking part of the game, that’s normally a part of the game that’s missing with young players and I think it holds true in this case with Kopitar. That total commitment to the 200 feet of the ice certainly wasn’t where I wanted it to be. But he bought in right from the first day of training camp and worked extremely hard at understanding what it was we were asking him to do.”

Indeed, Kopitar struggled with learning to play both ends of the ice, but seemed to “get it” in the second half of the season.

“At the end of the season, I’m looking at a player who played extremely well the full length of the ice and sacrificed some stuff in the offensive part of the game—his numbers—in order to be a team player and play for his teammates on the checking side of things,” said Murray.

“That’s a team player and that’s the kind of guy we want to build this thing around,” added Murray. “I know that when we start [the new season], now we have a sound foundation in place. We’ll continue to work at it, but that offensive part of the game now can become more instinctive again so I’m looking for him to grow in the offensive part.”

Photos courtesy Los Angeles Kings/National Hockey League.

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8 thoughts on “Los Angeles Kings: Are The Young Players Ready To Bear The Burden?

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  1. Another great article. After careful consideration and thought though, the answer to the big question as to whether they are ready to bear the burden is…………Nope.

  2. I have a feeling that unless Moller has a phenomenal camp he’s going to get sent to Manchester, because the top-six is pretty crowded. And that would be the best move for his development. I hope that Quick shows his play wasn’t a fluke. It happens all the time with goalies. Kopitar I’m not worried about – he has world-class skill, and more importantly he cares about improving and winning. It’d be different if he were the type to coast on his ability. He’s only going to be 22 this coming season. I think we’ll see another 75-85 point year before he breaks out.

    Even if all the young players improve it’ll probably only lead to another modest improvement, like this past season. They still need outside help. But it does say something about the team’s progress that we’re now talking about only needing one or two players to put them into the playoffs. That wasn’t the case last year, when we didn’t know whether they’d have 4 NHL defensemen.

  3. Did anyone else notice that we were unable to sign one of our better 2007 Draft Picks Byran Cameron 1.25 points per game in Juniors? Then there’s the rumors of Jack Johnson father/agent contacting a Russian Team (BLUFF). Until we start signing 90+% of the better players in the Kings system to long term contracts we may have troubles getting into the playoffs. If we do have to trade good players ask yourself did we get good value in the Visnovsky trade? Did we in short contracts Cammarrelli or O’Sullivan?

    Not to say Justin Williams is not a great player when 100%, but it has been awhile since that has been the case.

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