EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: In part 2 of a series of stories based on an interview with Los Angeles Kings head coach Terry Murray, we look at the Kings’ defense and goaltending as their 2010 training camp approaches. Look for the third and final installment of this series on Thursday, September 9.
EL SEGUNDO, CA — As the saying goes in hockey, defense and goaltending is what wins championships and for the Los Angeles Kings, while their goaltending looks to be on the rise, there may be a question or two on defense, despite the presence of James Norris Trophy finalist Drew Doughty and the increasingly confident Jack Johnson.
In the case of Jones, conventional wisdom dictates that his departure actually improved the Kings defense—call it addition by subtraction. In the case of the 38-year-old O’Donnell (he will be 39 in early October), time has taken its toll, which became quite evident during the playoffs against the Vancouver Canucks.
Nevertheless, add in the loss of veteran blue liner Matt Greene to a shoulder injury for at least the first month of the season, suddenly, the Kings defenseman corps looks rather thin, even with the signing of unrestricted free agent defenseman Willie Mitchell, 32, to a two-year contract on August 26.
But head coach Terry Murray does not seem worried, at least, not yet, pointing out that one option to fill a spot on the blue line will be defenseman Davis Drewiske, who suffered what was believed to be a dislocated shoulder on January 4, 2010, and was never able to work his way back into the lineup.
“Drewiske is going to be ready to go,” said Murray. “He had a very unfortunate injury last year and I think it really had a big effect on him emotionally because of other injuries he’s been through.”
“He’s hungry, he looks great, he’s been working out hard,” added Murray. “He’s going to be a player we’re going to rely on to get going.”
One other defenseman with experience will also be available to fill in.
“We have Peter Harrold, who’s been with us the past couple of years, and when I’ve put him into games he’s played extremely well,” Murray noted.
But that still leaves a spot open and, barring a trade or free agent acquisition, the Kings have young prospects who could earn a promotion.
“Other players who’ve been around [the Kings’ training facility in El Segundo, California], working out very hard all summer, I’m looking forward to seeing them,” said Murray. “We’ve got [Thomas] Hickey, [Andrew] Campbell, [Alec] Martinez, [and Johan] Fransson, who I don’t know. I saw him for a week only at Development Camp [in late June-early July]. I’m looking forward to seeing him.”
“[Jacob] Muzzin…I went to see [the Manchester Monarchs, the Kings’ primary minor league affiliate], play at the end of the year in the playoffs against [the] Hershey [Bears],” added Murray. “I saw three games and he played real well.”
“The opportunity is there for someone, coming out of that training camp, to step in and play some important minutes. That’ll be the competitive position that we’re going to be looking at very closely. There’s a great opportunity here.”
In case you are wondering why Murray did not mention defenseman prospect Viatcheslav Voynov, who was a standout with the Monarchs last season, he is recovering from injury and is not expected to be back on the ice until sometime after training camp.
In goal, the expectation is that the Kings will be stronger in goal in 2010-11.
Last season, Jonathan Quick was a workhorse, winning 39 games in 72 starts, playing over 4,200 minutes, while Erik Ersberg pretty much just gathered dust on the bench.
This year, 22-year-old Jonathan Bernier is a virtual lock to be the Kings’ number two netminder to start the 2010-11 season, leaving Ersberg as the odd man out.
But Murray, who is always careful to be encouraging to all of his players, will not count Ersberg out…at least, not publicly.
“I feel good about our goaltending in this organization,” Murray emphasized. “We have some real good players, talented players at that position. With our season getting ready to get going with Quick, Bernier and Ersberg, we have to make a decision with those three to take two.”
Indeed, the Kings will not keep three goalies on their roster.
“Jonathan Quick is our number one goaltender,” said Murray. “As a staff, as an organization, we have to decide who that number two goaltender is. We’re not going to have three and we’ve got to make the decision and we’re going to have to make the right decision.”
“That’s exciting,” added Murray. “For Bernier and Ersberg, it’s going to be a very competitive camp, and when we come out of it, when it’s all said and done, we’re going to be in pretty good shape in that position.”
“It’s going to be a fun time to watch these goaltenders play as we get through the training camp.”
Bernier (or Ersberg) will not be gathering dust this season in the number two spot.
“Coming into this year, playing seventy-plus games is a lot of hockey for a young goaltender,” he said. “I’m looking at [moving] Quick back into that high-fifties, sixty…whether it’s 57 to sixty games, and whomever the number two goaltender is going to be is going to play more hockey this year than what Ersberg did last year.”
It would be a huge shock and disappointment for the Kings if Bernier does not earn a promotion from the AHL to start the new season. Indeed, Murray knows that he has a special player coming in Bernier, who already appears to have elite-level skills despite his youth.
“I liked Bernier a lot when he played last year,” Murray explained. “He’s a very talented guy. I thought going to Manchester and playing the way he did was a great decision. He had a great year. He was one of the better players in the American Hockey League.”
“He has grown a lot in his game, in his physical game, and in his emotional game, and that’s what it’s all about,” Murray explained. “He’s going to come into camp, he’s definitely hungry, and he’s going to compete very hard.”
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