Follow @frozenroyaltyLOS ANGELES AND EL SEGUNDO, CA — Playing in the National Hockey League, and in the 2012 Western Conference Finals, has to be beyond the wildest dreams of Los Angeles Kings left wing Dwight King.
After his first recall on November 16, 2010, the 6-3, 234-pound native of Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan, made his NHL debut the next night against the Columbus Blue Jackets. But he only lasted six games with the Kings before being sent back to the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League (Kings’ primary minor league affiliate).
During that six-game stint with the big club, King, was totally ineffective, and did not look like he belonged in the NHL. In fact, the 22-year-old barely looked like he could be a solid AHL player.
At the Kings 2011-12 training camp, King worked hard to make an impression, but he was never expected to make the Kings’ opening night roster.
“I thought I had a pretty decent training camp,” said King. “They made some moves in the off-season to get some older guys, so, going in, all you could really do was compete.”
“I’m still young, so going down [to Manchester]—I had been there before,” added King. “It was fun, and it’s a good team to play on, too. There’s a lot of great guys.”
But King was a different player from one season prior, and was having a very productive season for a player projected to be a third or fourth line checking forward, scoring eleven goals and adding 18 assists for 29 points in fifty games with the Monarchs.
Despite that, after his poor showing with the Kings last season, which was not unexpected for a prospect who was a fourth round draft pick (109th overall, 2007 NHL Entry Draft) and was never thought to be a highly-skilled sniper or playmaker, King had been written off by many as a prospect who would likely never be more than that…a prospect.
But after scoring five goals and tallying nine assists for 14 points in 27 regular season games after being recalled on February 10, along with rookie left wing Jordan Nolan, King has raised his game to a level way beyond expectations, scoring five goals in twelve playoff games, four of them in the Western Conference Finals against the Phoenix Coyotes.
Kings head coach Darryl Sutter made the cross country flight from Los Angeles to Manchester during the NHL All-Star break to take a look at the Kings’ prospects there, looking for players who might be able to help his then-struggling team.
Apparently, King (and Nolan) made an impression.
“I was familiar with him a little bit, so it wasn’t like I was seeing somebody new,” said Sutter. “So it was just seeing how he was into his first pro contract really. It’s really no different than what he is now. He’s a big kid who is strong on the puck, and has a good sense, a good feel for the game.”
Sutter wasted no time in seeing what King could do at the NHL level.
“We threw him right into it, because you know what, we played [King and Nolan] together with Mike Richards,” Sutter noted. “We were struggling on the wing with that whole dimension part of it, getting minutes and trying to get some scoring opportunities. It really wasn’t about trust. It was saying we were going to play those young guys and see what happens.”
“It helped him and [Nolan to] play with [Richards] when they came up,” said veteran center Jarret Stoll. “That probably helped his confidence a lot, and got him going a little bit, offensively, thinking the game that way. He’s playing really well for us.”
The two made an immediate impact, providing energy, solid forechecking, and good defensive play, not to mention some scoring. In fact, King and Nolan scored their first NHL goals just a couple of days after their recall in a 4-2 win at Dallas.
“It was great,” said King. “Couldn’t have happened [in a better way], with me and [Nolan] on the same night. It’ll be a memory forever, and to have an easy one was nice.”
To be sure, King looks nothing like the player he was during his first stint with the Kings.
“You grow as a player, but that was over a year ago,” he explained. “The mental aspect of the game…that was the biggest thing, knowing how to prepare myself for every game, every shift, and to focus more on the little intangibles. So far, that’s been working well for me.”
“In those six games, I kind of got my feet wet, knew what I had to work on,” he elaborated. “With the year that it took me to get back here, I feel I made pretty good strides in my game. When I got here, I was given a pretty good opportunity. My confidence grew in that. Coming into the playoffs, it’s been great.”
Playing on the Kings’ third line with Stoll and Trevor Lewis, King is doing it all, including scoring the game-winning goal in Game 3 on May 17, helping the Kings take a commanding 3-0 lead in their best-of-seven series over the Coyotes.
“He’s a big, strong body who controls the puck, and he can shoot the puck, like you saw tonight,” said Stoll. “Come playoff time, that kind of player is huge. He’s strong on the puck, he can get in on the forecheck, be physical, and he can control the puck down there.”
“[King and Lewis] are great at controlling the puck,” added Stoll. “You’ve seen it a lot down the stretch, late in third periods, where they’re controlling the puck in the corners. Then, you can see what [King] can do when he shoots the puck. He’s a very special player for us right now.”
“It’s awesome,” said Kings defenseman Matt Greene. “He’s clutch. He’s been scoring some good goals for us, and he continues to do it. We’ll take them any way we can get him.”
On that game-winning goal, King picked up a loose puck in the right corner. With his head up the entire time, he skated into the right circle, and ripped a perfect wrist shot past Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith, beating him over his left shoulder.
“That was a big goal for us, a great play out of the corner,” said Sutter. “Good hands, a little composure, and he put it right in the spot where he had to. That was a huge goal for us.”
“It was great,” said King. “I got the puck off the wall from [Lewis], and had a little more time than I expected. Once I got close enough to the middle I had a great chance to shoot, and that’s what I did.”
Although it is highly unlikely that he will become a sniper in the NHL, scoring is not unfamiliar to King.
“Yeah, once I have the opportunity, I feel comfortable,” he said. “In junior hockey, the AHL, it’s something you develop and get comfortable with. When you get in those situations, you want to bear down on [them]. Right now they’re going in, it feels pretty good.”
Despite being in the middle of a playoff scoring tear, King is humble enough to know that he is likely destined to be that big, tough checking forward, rather than that sniper, mentioned earlier. Despite that, he expects to contribute on the scoresheet.
“I wouldn’t say [that I’ll be] a high-number goal-scorer,” said King. “When I get my opportunity, I feel just as comfortable as anybody else in those situations to find a way to put them in.”
“I’ve got a pretty big frame,” added King. “For a big guy, that’s the type of game you have to play—physical, strong, and when you get your chances, put them in, too.”
One day after he scored that game-winning goal in Game 3 on May 17, I asked King about those wildest dreams.
“This is any kid’s dream, to be in this situation,” he beamed. “Having it all come true in this short amount of time has been great. I just hope to keep the good luck going. You want to be part of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.”
“To be a contributor is even better. Everything is coming around.”
If King continues to contribute the way he has, he will likely earn himself a tremendous opportunity to make the wildest of his wild dreams come true.
Raw Audio Interviews: Phoenix Coyotes vs. Los Angeles Kings, 2012 Western Conference Finals, Game 3, May 17, 2012
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed)
Dustin Brown (0:39)
Dwight King (0:57)
Jarret Stoll (2:47)
Darryl Sutter (6:15)
Phoenix Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett (6:32)
Raw Audio Interviews: Los Angeles Kings and Phoenix Coyotes Optional Skates, May 18, 2012
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed):
Rob Scuderi (5:58)
Mike Richards (3:13)
Jeff Carter (2:57)
Dwight King (5:24)
Darryl Sutter (7:42)
Phoenix Coyotes head coach Dave Tippett (7:50)
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Tickets for the Kings’ upcoming home playoff games against the Phoenix Coyotes – May 20, 12:00 PM PDT (Coyotes vs. Kings: Game 4); May 24, TBD (Coyotes vs. Kings: Game 6 – if necessary), are available from Barry’s Tickets, an official partner of the Los Angeles Kings. Use the code, “Royalty010” to get a 10 percent discount on their “Best Value” tickets.
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