EL SEGUNDO, CA — One day after arriving in Los Angeles, left wing Dustin Penner was hard at work, trying to get to know his new teammates, along with the system his new team plays.
Penner, 28, was acquired by the Los Angeles Kings from the Edmonton Oilers on February 28 in a trade deadline deal that sent defenseman prospect Colten Teubert, a first round selection in the 2012 National Hockey League Entry Draft, and a conditional third round pick in the 2012 draft (the pick becomes a second round pick in 2012 should the Kings win the Stanley Cup this season).
“Good guy, big body,” said defenseman Matt Greene, who played with Penner when they were both with the Oilers. “He’s got a lot of skill for a guy with his frame. He’s got a great touch around the net.”
“I think the big thing, too, is that he’s young, he’s getting better, and he’s got a great personality,” added Greene. “He works hard, I think he’s going to fit in real well with this team on the ice and off the ice, too.”
Penner arrived in Los Angeles on March 1, and spent some quality time with head coach Terry Murray.
“He made it in yesterday afternoon,” Murray said. “We spent some time with him in the afternoon yesterday, just reviewing some of the special teams play, and just getting to know him, getting to talk a little bit.”
“I’ll do the same here a little later this afternoon, when things settle down, to start to review the team play,” Murray added following practice on March 2.
As it turned out, talking, and a lot of it, was also a big part of his first practice with the Kings, as he tries to learn the Kings’ system.
“I’m comfortable with it,” said the 6-4, 245-pound native of Winkler, Manitoba. “A lot of NHL [teams] have the base, the pyramid, to use a metaphor. Everything branches out differently, but they all start with the same building blocks and move up from there. I’ll learn it quickly. It might not happen the first day or two. After a week, I’ll probably know it as well as I can.”
“There was a lot of conversation,” added Penner. “It was exciting for me to get here, and be a part of a playoff drive. Everybody has welcomed me with open arms. It’s been a good first day of practice. I’m just trying to figure out the system. A lot of the talking you saw out there, for myself, was just, ‘what do you want from me,’ stuff like that.”
What the Kings want and expect from Penner is goal scoring.
“He’s going to play top six, top three minutes, and he’s a guy that we needed, also,” said center Jarret Stoll. “Some more scoring to add to our lineup, which helps. We’ve had stretches this year where scoring has kind of dipped. He’s going to help us in that area. It’s great to have him in the locker room and on our team.”
“Anytime you have a guy that big, the tendency is that maybe they can’t skate as well, maybe they can’t handle the puck as well,” added Stoll. “But he’s got that offensive side of his game where he’s got that skill and the hockey sense, too. He makes some good plays, but, on the other side of it, he can keep it very simple, just drive the net hard, and get goals that way. That is, a lot of times, how you [score] goals in this league. They’re tough to come by. I’ve seen him score some real nice goals in tight, when you don’t think anything can come of it, he makes something of it, and [scores] a nice goal.”
Penner will make his Kings debut on March 3 when the Kings host the Phoenix Coyotes, and will play on a line with center Anze Kopitar and right wing Wayne Simmonds.
“It’s an opportunity for him, coming to the LA Kings, playing on the top line with Kopitar,” Murray noted. “He’s in the prime of his career, in my opinion, at 27 years old, with a lot of great hockey ahead of him. I just want to see him keep pushing it up, keep becoming a good player, and be a good player for the LA Kings.”
“I think Simmonds has played very well [on the first line],” Murray added. “He’s a young guy who, when he plays his game, is a very good player. As a young player, sometimes you have a tendency to back off from that hard work, intensity, and doing things the right way. You want to get a little creative, get away from something that’s working for you, and try something that you think would be a little bit better. The consistency is something I’m talking to Simmonds about on a consistent basis. But when he plays his game, I like it a lot. He’s a great guy, a gritty guy, a tough guy, and can play a skilled game.”
“We’ll see how it fits, we’ll see how it goes over the next few games.”
That line was together during his first practice with his new team.
“I played a lot today with Kopitar and Simmonds,” said Penner. “I’ll play a lot down low. With [Kopitar] and Simmonds, it should be an easy game where we all share the puck, and just play the position where we’re on the ice at the time. If Simmonds is the drive guy, or I am, the way we throw it around, it’s going to be an easy game.”
Easy? Perhaps that requires a bit of clarification.
“I’m just saying that for having the big bodies like that who can control the puck, it just boils down to the lowest common denominator, puck protection and cycling,” Penner explained. “The game can expand from there, and I think that’s what those two guys do well—cycle the puck and hold onto it.”
The Kings also need Penner to give their anemic power play a lift.
“We’re going to use him right away, as you saw in practice, that’s the look we’ll go with,” said Murray. “We want to get him into his role, get some chemistry developed. We’ll keep him with Kopitar on the special team, and let those two guys figure it out together as they get through it.”
“Whether it’s him in front of the net, him taking it to the net, or getting the puck back—puck retrievals, puck battles, he’s going to hold guys off with one hand, and get pucks over to Kopitar,” said Stoll. “It’s all about communication now, getting to know certain plays, certain tendencies.”
“He’s going to have to find out what Kopitar likes to do, what [left wing Ryan] Smyth likes to do, where we like to get the puck, and, usually, that’s into Kopitar’s hands,” added Stoll. “But you get him in front of the net, too—we’ve got great guys to get in front of the net now. We always did, but we’ve added another one.”
Penner expressed excitement about playing with Kopitar, not to mention the rest of his new teammates.
“I remember when Kopitar first came here,” Penner noted. “He’s excelled, he’s improved tremendously as a player.”
Even though the Kings need Penner to be one of their top players, they will not pile all of their expectations on him.
“This is an opportunity to come in and be a good hockey player,” Murray stressed. “We’re not looking for him to be the savior of the franchise. Don’t put things on your own shoulders.”
“As far as expectations [go], I’ve never based mine on what people said to me, or the media,” said Penner. “I usually listen to my bosses, so whatever the general manager and the coaches wanted from me, that’s who I tried to be as a player. The same thing will happen here. I’m listening to what my coaches tell me to do, and how to do it, what they want from me, and the same with the general manager. I’m here to fit in, help the team make the playoffs and push far into [them].”
“We just want him to be a good player, fit in with everybody else, and if there’s some high quality leadership that does come out, down the road, as he gets more comfortable, that’s a real benefit,” said Murray.
On top of that, Murray knows that he cannot put too much on Penner’s plate after just one practice session with the team.
“There’s a lot of new looks here for him on the first day,” Murray explained. “It’s been pretty hectic [for him], probably going back two or three weeks. I know his name has been out there in the media for quite awhile, so it’s been hectic.”
“[He had] a busy day yesterday, and he’s kind of comfortable coming immediately here because he spend his summers here and has a home here,” Murray elaborated. “That’s a really good benefit from our side of it. He’ll be able to get settled in and be a player probably a little bit faster than checking in and out of a hotel all the time.”
Indeed, Penner owns a home in Newport Beach, about a forty-minute drive heading north on the San Diego Freeway (Interstate 405) from the Kings’ El Segundo practice facility.
“Drove up this morning, just to see how long it took,” he said. “It wasn’t bad. It was a lot shorter than some of the drives I’ve had from my place to Rexall Centre [the Edmonton Oilers’ home arena].”
Also helping him make the adjustment will be Penner’s family, who will be joining him in the coming weeks.
“They’re coming down shortly,” said Penner. “I can’t wait for them to get down here. It’s tough when you move, because it’s easier on you than it is on them. [The kids] have to get out of school, and they have to pack up the house while you’re down here, already working.”
“It’s a lot of work at the beginning, but coming back down here, we both have familiarity with the area,” added Penner. “It should be an easy move.”
During practice, Penner noticed a significant difference between the Oilers, who are out of playoff contention, and the Kings, who are right in the thick of the playoff race—the difference should sound familiar to those who follow the Kings.
“It’s a big difference, you can tell,” Penner noted. “It’s nothing against them [the Oilers]. It’s just that when you get to the rink, the demeanor in the meetings, the players—there’s still some joking around, but when the puck drops, it’s down to business, as far as when the drills start, how intense each drill is, and how quickly you move from drill to drill. It’s a high intensity practice [with the Kings].”
Indeed, it was not so long ago that the Kings were the team on the wrong end of such comments. But now the Kings are on the upswing and could be right on the verge of becoming one of the NHL’s upper echelon teams.
“Now, the team, as a whole, is physical, they’re really good defensively, they have a lot of key pieces to make a run,” said Penner. “They’re well coached, they have great goaltending. I really like what I see here, as far as the big bodies cycling the puck, playing down low.”
“A lot of offense comes from second and third chances, not just the one-and-done [chances],” added Penner. “With the people we have here, the skill we have on the defensive side of the puck to get it out [of the defensive zone] and keep it in [the offensive zone], it should be good.”
“I can’t wait to get started. The first game is Thursday. It’s a tight race in the Western Conference, as everybody knows. [The Coyotes are] a team that’s in the hunt, too. It should be intense, and it’ll be fun to be on the other side of it.”
Raw audio interviews
(Edited to remove extraneous material and dead air)
Matt Greene (1:11)
Jarret Stoll (3:53)
Dustin Penner (11:36)
Terry Murray (10:11)
Frozen Royalty by Gann Matsuda is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. You may copy, distribute and/or transmit any story or audio content published on this site under the terms of this license, but only if proper attribution is indicated. The full name of the author and a link back to the original article on this site are required. Photographs, graphic images, and other content not specified are subject to additional restrictions. Additional information is available at: Frozen Royalty – Licensing and Copyright Information.