LA Kings 2011 Training Camp: Time To Start Thinking About The Stanley Cup

EL SEGUNDO, CA — Day Four of the Los Angeles Kings’ 2011 Training Camp came and went with nothing new in the Drew Doughty Saga, as the 21-year-old defenseman continues to be a contract holdout, with no end to the standoff in sight.

LA Kings center Jarret Stoll (left), shown here during a drill at
the Kings’ 2011 Training Camp.
Photo: David Sheehan
What was new at training camp was preparations for the team’s first pre-season games—split-squad affairs on Wednesday, September 21, at Arena in Glendale, Arizona, and at Staples Center in Los Angeles, both games against the Phoenix Coyotes.

Forward Scott Parse will play on a line with Kyle Clifford on left wing and Jarret Stoll at center in the game at Staples Center, and head coach Terry Murray will be watching him with great interest since Parse missed virtually all of last year due to a hip injury that required surgery.

“I think it’s a big training camp for him,” said Murray. “Missing all of last year, and just getting his feet wet the previous season, impressed us enough to really get excited about him. But, unfortunately, he got injured, so this is a great opportunity right now for him to show us, in the training camp, after coming through some surgery in the off-season—he spent the summer here, worked very hard. He looks good, so it starts tomorrow.”

“I’m really trying to put him under the microscope when I’m watching him on the ice in practice,” added Murray. “That skate you saw [a conditioning skate] was a pretty demanding skate, and if there’s any hitch or any hesitation, it’s clearly going to come out in that kind of a skate because of the burst that’s demanded. But everything looked good to me.”

Parse, who rarely says much, acknowledged the importance of not only showing off his skills, but that he has no residual effects of his injury.

“My hip is great,” said Parse. “I’m ready to go. I’m excited, I know that I’ve got to have a good year, and prove myself. I’m just looking forward to getting out there. I just have to be confident in myself, and go out there and play.”

Watching from the sidelines last season had to be tough, but Parse knows that it is time to move on.

“It’s over with,” he said. “It’s a new year. I know that I’ve got to show what I can do, and I’m confident that I’ll be able to do that.”

In Wednesday’s pre-season game, and for the rest of training camp, Parse will get a long look from Murray.

“With Parse, I think it’s very important that I get him exposed to a lot of playing minutes, a lot of situations in training camp so I can make an evaluation of him.”

Jarret Stoll: It’s Time To Start Thinking About The Stanley Cup

With the acquisition of center Mike Richards over the summer, and with Anze Kopitar returning from his broken right ankle and torn ligaments that he suffered late last season, the Kings now have legitimate first and second line centers, a one-two punch they have not had since Wayne Gretzky and Bernie Nicholls centered their top two lines in 1988-89 and for a little more than half of the 1989-90 season.

That means Stoll, who centered the second line for most of last season, moves into the third line center role this year.

The move is certainly not a demotion.

“With Richards added to the lineup, we can move Stoll into the third [line center] position, a very responsible position,” said Murray. “I think he can handle it, I think he’s going to embrace it, and it suits his style of game.”

“He matches up against the top lines, he’s got speed, he’s a great face-off guy, and he’s got strength to battle in those tight areas, so I feel very good about what we have down the middle right now.”

“I’m excited about it,” said Stoll. “It’s a role. It’s a role on any team. We’ve got a great team. We feel that we’ve got a team that can go deep [into the playoffs], and hopefully, win the Stanley Cup.”

“Any role that’s important, I’m going to take a lot of pride in it,” added Stoll. “It doesn’t mean that you’re just a checker. I feel that I can play [well] on both sides of the puck, and you have to if you want to be out there playing, getting ice time, and be in those key situations, which I want to play in. You’ve got to play well, no matter what. I’m just looking forward to it.”

Stoll goes into the new season with something new…eye protection.

“I’ve been wearing [a visor on his helmet] all summer,” Stoll noted. “I don’t expect any changes back to just the helmet.”

“The game is so fast, and it can be dangerous, at times, if you don’t protect yourself, and there’s been a lot of situations lately—[Vancouver Canucks forward] Manny Malhotra, [who suffered a severe eye injury last season], for one,” Stoll added. “Last year, I had a couple of times where I had some scares.”

Stoll did not consider making the change last season.

“It’s tough to change anything during the year—equipment, skates, stuff like that,” said Stoll. “But, in the summer, if you start right away with it, and stick to it, I think it’s an easy switch.”

“I don’t even think about [wearing the visor]. Even now, some people [mention] the fog, or the water on it, and I’m pretty picky sometimes. But it doesn’t bother me.”

On the eve of the Kings’ first pre-season games, Stoll is raring to go.

“Now the fun begins,” he said. “We have a little bit of a break after the first pre-season game, then we have a busy week with games. It’s going to be fun to get out there, and start playing games, getting the feel with your teammates, snapping the puck around, making some plays, scoring some goals, and hopefully, getting our team shaped up.”

Stoll also pointed out that the time has come to not only raise expectations, but to start thinking and talking about the ultimate goal.

“Going into every training camp, your goal is to make the playoffs, no matter what,” Stoll explained. “Let’s not kid ourselves. But this year, we feel that making the playoffs isn’t enough. Losing in the first round, or even the second round, that’s not enough this year.”

“We’ve got to have a good, solid season,” Stoll elaborated. “Making the playoffs is tough, it’s not easy. We want to set a goal of having home ice [advantage] in the first round, and start talking about the Stanley Cup. I know it’s a long ways away, but if you’re not talking about it, if you’re not thinking about it, then you’re far, far away from it.”

“We’ve got to be confident. We can’t be arrogant, or big-headed, but we have to be confident with the players we have, and the team that we have.”

What To Do With Loktionov?

With the top three center positions locked up, the only remaining question is who will fill the fourth line center spot, which is, typically, a role filled best by a physical player who can provide energy and play a solid defensive game.

LA Kings center prospect Andrei Loktionov, shown here during
a drill at the Kings’ 2011 Training Camp.
Photo: David Sheehan
But center prospect Andrei Loktionov is not that type of player, as he is just 5-10, and weighs only 180 pounds. Instead, he is a skilled center with good ice vision who can make plays and score.

Even Murray says that Loktionov has exceptional skills.

“Loktionov has looked very good,” said Murray. “He’s a great kid. He works so hard, he comes into the training camp, and his [physical] testing is outstanding. He’s one of the elite guys out of the whole group, and his game just keeps getting better.”

Although one might be tempted to try Loktionov on left wing just to find a spot in the lineup for his talent, that experiment did not work well last season.

“We put him into a situation last year on left wing with Kopitar,” Murray noted. “It was a great opportunity to play with a premier player, but, in reality, that’s not the best position that he’s suited for. But, back at center now, with some veteran players, he’s really looking good.”

“I feel good,” said Loktionov, in his very much broken English. “Everything’s going well.”

The problem is that Kopitar, Richards and Stoll have the top three center positions locked up, and the fourth line center position is not the best place for a skilled, talent center to play, especially one as young as the 21-year-old native of Voskresensk, Russia.

Complicating matters further is the fact that the Kings also have experienced forwards in Brad Richardson, along with speedy, and defensively gifted center/right wing Trevor Lewis, to fill the fourth line center spot.

Both would be better suited to fourth line duty compared to the skilled Loktionov.

Despite all that, like all young prospects, Loktionov has his sights set firmly on making the Kings’ lineup to start the 2011-12 season.

“I want to stay here,” he stressed. “I have to prove [myself] to the coaches and the [general manager]. My job is only to play hockey. That’s it.”

But what if he ends up being assigned to the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League (the Kings’ primary minor league affiliate) to start the season instead?

“I will be so mad,” he said. “We’ll see.”

“I’m not thinking about Manchester,” he added. “My plan is to play here.”

One look at those comments, and you immediately worry about him leaving the Kings organization and heading back home to play in the Kontinental Hockey League, where he could earn much more money than he would in the AHL, if he does not make the Kings’ lineup.

But before anyone sounds the alarm, raises red flags and starts ranting about the Kings, given Loktionov’s poor command of the English language, his comments cannot necessarily be interpreted to mean that he will be mad at Kings management and coaches if he does not make the big club’s lineup to start the season. Rather, he could just as easily have meant that he will be mad at himself.

Indeed, his lack of English language skills, not to mention the fact that he is obviously uncomfortable talking to the media because of that, makes it very tough to get him to answer any question, let alone clarify or elaborate on a comment he has already made.

That was exactly the case in this situation, as yours truly, who asked the question in the first place, along with the rest of the gathered media, chose to not to pursue the question further, instead allowing Loktionov to give us a toothy smile, as if he was embarrassed. He then turned, and quickly disappeared back into the dressing room area.

Although getting to the bottom of the story is normally the correct course of action, in some cases, you just have to go with what you have and cut your losses. This was one of those instances.

I hope to talk with Loktionov and Murray again soon, and will make the necessary inquiries…stay tuned.

Raw audio interviews from Day Four of the Kings’ 2011 Training Camp

(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed)

Jarret Stoll (3:39)

Scott Parse (1:05)

Andrei Loktionov (2:02)

Terry Murray (9:14)

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