EL SEGUNDO, CA — With left wing Dustin Penner looking strong and fit, with center Anze Kopitar and right wing Justin Williams experiencing no difficulties coming off late-season injuries, and with little concern about chemistry developing between forwards Dustin Brown, Simon Gagne and Mike Richards, the microscope has now focused on the Los Angeles Kings’ third and fourth lines during their 2011 Training Camp, which is entering its twelfth day on the ice.
Although center Jarret Stoll has a lock on the third line center position, and Kyle Clifford is a virtual lock for the left wing spot, Ethan Moreau, Scott Parse, and Trevor Lewis are being considered for the right wing spot on that line, leaving positions on the fourth line open.
The Kings have Lewis, Moreau, Parse, enforcer Kevin Westgarth and veteran Trent Hunter competing for the two open right wing spots.
Lewis also has a shot at the center position on the fourth line, competing with Brad Richardson, who could also play on left wing.
Westgarth’s position as the team’s enforcer is secure, and since he does not play in every game, others will also fill the fourth line right wing spot.
Moreau just signed a one-year, unrestricted free agent deal over the summer, Lewis has proven to be valuable defensively and on the penalty-kill, and Richardson’s versatility is valued by the organization. Given all that, it is difficult to fathom any of them failing to make the Kings’ roster.
Against the Anaheim Ducks on September 25, Richardson got some shifts on the third line with Stoll and Clifford.
“It was nice to get up there, and play a bit with Stoll last night,” said Richardson. “I had a few shifts with him and Clifford. That was fun, and we had a few good shifts. It’s tough, when you’re moved around, to find that quick chemistry, but it’s always nice when you’re moved up, and play a bit more.”
“I’m just trying to work hard, and get better every game,” added Richardson. “It’s tough, in a couple of exhibition games—you’re trying to get your timing back, and know your spots again. It’s a long off-season, so that’s what you’re trying to do—get yourself ready for the way you want to play. The first couple of games, I thought I did that. I got my legs going a little bit. There’s still some things I need to work on.”
“I’d like to play on that third line, no doubt about it. But whereever [Murray is] going to use me, I’m going to try to do my best in that role.”
Richardson is a center, but he can play all three forward positions.
“To be honest, I do [have a preference], I like center,” he noted. “That’s my natural position. But it’s pretty tough to be a center on this team, unless someone’s injured. I’m comfortable on the right side, the left side—the wing positions don’t matter to me. Any forward position is fine with me.”
Parse, who played just four regular season games last season after suffering a hip injury that required surgery, has been given a chance to win the third line right wing position. But in two pre-season games, he looked slow and tentative, and his decision-making was poor.
“There’s always competition for those positions, and I’m putting him in a situation with Stoll and Clifford, trying to give him an opportunity, and giving him some time with the understanding that he missed the whole year last year, playing four games, and a couple of games in the playoffs,” said head coach Terry Murray. “I’m trying to give him a lot of time, a little more compassion with what I’m looking at. But, at the same time, after a couple of games, I need more.”
“I need more work, I need more skating, I need to see him moving his feet, just to show that it’s starting to come, that he’s starting to get his confidence down, that he wants to handle the puck, and wants to do the right things and solidify his position on that line,” added Murray. “But he’s reluctant to grab ahold of it right now.”
Murray is concerned enough to want to meet with Parse prior to the team departing for Kansas City, Missouri, where they will host the Pittsburgh Penguins in a pre-season game on September 27.
“I want to talk to him here today before he gets away,” said Murray. “There’s something going on, and I just want to hear what he has to say. Those plays that are happening, and he’s not finishing right now, are ones he’s been able to make with ease in the past.”
“He’s a skilled player, he’s got good hands, good vision,” added Murray. “He’s always [been] able to make that five or six-foot pass, but right now, it’s coming right back down into our zone, and we’re spending more time recovering pucks again, so I just want to have a conversation, and see where he’s at.”
Parse, who is in the final year of a contract that will pay him $900,000 this season, seems more likely to be headed for the waiver wire, and then, assuming no team claims him, to the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League, the Kings’ primary minor league affiliate.
“I’ve got to be better, I know that,” he said. “I’ve got to skate, I’ve got to move my feet, play with more jam, more energy, just get that game [momentum] going.”
But it may be too late for that.
“[Parse is] not going to play in the game tomorrow, as we move into Kansas City,” Murray noted. “There will be a couple of other guys getting some opportunities, and that is what our training camp is about, to see where all the other guys are going to fit.”
One of those other guys is Hunter, a rugged right wing who has placed Parse’s position on the Kings roster in serious jeopardy.
The 6-3, 210-pound, 31-year-old native of Red Deer, Alberta, played last season with the New York Islanders, but a Grade 3 tear of the medial collateral ligament in his left knee limited him to just 17 games last season.
“Trent’s here on a PTO [professional tryout agreement], and I want to play him,” said Murray. “I want to give him some more games, and give him a fair opportunity at moving him up in the lineup [tonight at Kansas City].”
“He might play two or three more games out of these four [pre-season] games that we have left,” added Murray. “I’ve liked what he’s done. He’s come in, he’s worked very hard. He’s coming off an injury that took away most of last year from him. He put a lot of time in during the off-season. His conditioning is good. He’s a big body guy who can establish himself in front of the net, he’s got good hands to score some goals, and that’s the reason we invited him to the training camp, to see how that might fit, and we’ll see how that is in the next few days.”
Heading into tonight’s action in Kansas City, Parse is teetering on the edge, about to fall off the Kings’ map, and his NHL career as a whole could be on the line as well. To say that things do not look good for him would be an incredible understatement.
The Kings looked slow and out of sync during their 3-1 loss to the Ducks junior varsity team (the vast majority of their best players did not play), but the Kings are not overly concerned.
“We had some meetings, we talked about it, pre-practice, [regarding] some areas of concern right now,” Murray noted. “With Anaheim coming in here, we thought they worked very hard. They were on top of us, they put a lot of pressure on us, and we were slow in moving the puck.”
“I looked at a lot of different situations—breakouts and counters, where the puck is on our sticks way too long,” added Murray. “As a result, there was too much time spent in certain areas of the game.”
Murray pointed to the fact that his team has a lot of new faces trying to fit in.
“I look at it as a lack of chemistry right now,” he stressed. “We’re looking at our top lines trying to get together and become good lines. With Kopitar, with Penner, with Williams, I’m looking at two players who were injured at the end of the year, and I’m looking at Dustin Penner, who came to us late in the season, and went through almost a complete makeover in the off-season. So I’m looking for something good to happen off of that look, and the same with Gagne, Richards and Brown.”
“These are three players who haven’t played together before,” he added. “Gagne and Richards have, but you’ve got to have the line going. You’ve got to see them play the game instinctively, and I think we’re really out of sorts right now, when it comes to those plays that have to happen with good lines.”
“You’ve got to work through it. You’ve got to go through difficult times and situations like last night, where you’re out of kilter a little bit.”
The Kings will build chemistry mostly by playing games.
“It’s pre-season,” said Gagne. “You’re trying to find your game, and you’re not quite sure where to go on the ice. It [was] only our second game, for some guys, it was their first game.”
“You need to play those games to get better,” added Gagne. “You can practice all you want, but there is nothing better than to go out and play [pre-season] games before the season starts.”
Against the Ducks, Westgarth duked it out with Ducks heavyweight Brian McGrattan. Although Westgarth landed a couple of early punches, McGrattan sent him crashing to the ice with two huge, right-hand bombs.
Westgarth immediately went to the dressing room and did not return.
After the game, Westgarth was seen in the Kings dressing room with a black eye already developing, and he did not participate in on-ice drills at their training camp on September 26.
“Westgarth is not going to skate for a couple of days,” said Murray. “He took that punch to the head. We’re just going to hold him off the ice, and let him settle down for a couple of days before getting him going again.”
Also seen in street clothes during drills was defenseman prospect Jake Muzzin, who continues to suffer from the effects of being hit from behind by Phoenix Coyotes forward Mikael Boedker.
“He’s not doing [well],” Murray stressed. “He took a pretty big hit on that play. He banged his head, and you can see the mark on his face where he went into the glass. Again, it’s a lot of precaution. We want to do the right thing to give the players an opportunity to recover, and be ready to go at the right time.”
Reading between the lines, both appear to be suffering from concussions.
“[Muzzin and Westgarth] won’t be going on this trip,” Murray added. “We’ll leave them behind, and let them stay with one of the trainers, who we’ll leave off this trip. They’re starting to ride the bike in the mornings, and they’ll do a little activity, but they have to be monitored.”
Roster Cuts, Signings
On September 26, the Kings signed forward Cam Paddock to a one-year contract, and they signed defenseman Alex Roach to a three-year, entry-level contract.
Paddock, 28, has bounced around the minor leagues, and spent last season in Germany.
Roach, 18, played with the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League last season. The 6-4, 219-pound native of Quensel, Quebec scored four goals and added twelve assists for 16 points with 77 penalty minutes in 61 regular season games.
Both were in the Kings’ training camp on tryout agreements.
The Kings also announced their third set of training camp roster cuts:
Assigned to Manchester
Jean-Francois Berube – G
Robert Czarnik – C
Justin Johnson – RW
Rob Mignardi – RW
Re-assigned to Junior Team
Michal Cajkovsky – D
Colin Miller – D
Alex Roach – D
Released from Pro Tryout Agreement
Shaun Heshka – D
Raw audio interviews from the 2011 LA Kings Training Camp
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed)
Anze Kopitar (3:23)
Ethan Moreau (1:24)
Scott Parse (0:23)
Mike Richards (0:47)
Brad Richardson (2:21)
Terry Murray (9:16)
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