TRAINING CAMP: Los Angeles Kings star center Anze Kopitar looks awfully good in practice. What are the chances of him returning to the lineup in time for Saturday’s season opener? That and more, including comments from Jake Muzzin and Darryl Sutter, can be found here. Raw audio interviews also available.
EL SEGUNDO, CA — Just two days away from raising the Stanley Cup banner against the Chicago Blackhawks in their season opener on January 19 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, injured center Anze Kopitar was skating hard in a full practice with no visible difficulty.
“I’m feeling pretty good,” said Kopitar, who suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee during his last game with Mora IK (Sweden). “I’ve had a couple of days of full practice with the team. It didn’t blow up on me, and it didn’t feel sore, so I guess I’m on the right track.”
“It’s a little uncomfortable because of my brace, but it’s just a matter of getting used to it, pretty much forgetting that I wear it,” added Kopitar. “Soreness or pain? There’s nothing there.”
“I’m not concerned about my stability. I actually got bumped a few times on the ice today, and I felt strong and stable, so it’s encouraging, and I think I’m on the right track.”
For now, Kopitar is still expected to sit out the Kings’ season opener.
“I was just talking with [head athletic trainer] Chris [Kingsley],” Kopitar explained. “The doors are still not completely shut, but we’d much rather see me playing 47 games or 46, [rather] than play [Saturday], and then have a major setback.”
“It’s not my call,” Kopitar added. “I think I’m ready, but we’ll see. It’s going to be a group decision between [head coach] Darryl [Sutter], Chris, and [myself]. We’ll go from there.”
Toffoli, Bodnarchuk Heading Back to Manchester
Forward prospect Tyler Toffoli made quite the impression on the Kings’ coaching staff, but not enough to make the roster…for now, anyway.
“We’re going to send Tyler down, to keep him playing, and Andrew [Bodnarchuk], so we’ll keep seven defensemen.”
Earlier in the week, Sutter raved about Toffoli, who was named (on January 17) to the Eastern Conference squad for the AHL All-Star Classic.
“He’s an impressive, young player,” said Sutter. “He’s got all the attributes to be a good NHL’er. He’s got great instincts, and the more you do game situations, the more you see where he’s going to play, at some point.”
“He’s a boy, a first-year pro,” added Sutter. “He’s got 18 goals in the American [Hockey] League, and he’s certainly not out of place here. He’s going to be a really good player. He’s a good player now.”
But there is no need to rush him to the NHL, especially if he cannot play on the top two lines.
“He’s right where he should be,” Sutter noted. “He’s a first-year pro. He’s a goal scorer. He’ll go down there, where he plays a lot, plays on the power play. It serves no purpose for him [to be a healthy scratch], or not to play on the top three lines. That has zero purpose for him.”
“He’s come a long way since he was drafted, not [just as a] player, but [also] in terms of learning how to train,” Sutter added. “Now he’s a first-year pro, [for] about four months. He probably needs at least that much.”
Bodnarchuk’s locker stall in the Kings dressing room was empty after the team’s January 17 practice, and the player who will benefit most by his absence sat right next to it.
“I didn’t really know what was going to happen, to be honest with you,” said defenseman Jake Muzzin. “But at the start of practice today, Bods wasn’t on the ice today, so I figured something had happened.”
Indeed, Bodnarchuk was placed on waivers on January 17, and will be assigned to the Manchester Monarchs of the AHL (Kings’ primary minor league affiliate), assuming he clears waivers.
That clears the way for Muzzin to remain with the Kings, at least until veteran defenseman Willie Mitchell returns from a knee injury.
“I’m excited,” said Muzzin. “I just want to keep working, and keep getting better. I want to stay. I feel really good right now. I have a lot more experience playing in Manchester for [over a year]. I understand what my job is, and I understand my game more.”
“I’m just looking forward to learning, getting better, and consistently improving,” added Muzzin. “As of now, I’m the seventh defenseman, so I’ll just rotate in and out. We’ll get a rotation going, and it’ll be good to practice with [different] guys, getting to know their tendencies.”
“Whereever they want me, that’s where I’ll go.”
As for Mitchell’s recovery, Sutter had little to say.
“He’s progressed to the point where he’s doing his rehab, he’s doing his off-ice work,” said Sutter. “He’s on the therapy part of it. He’s seven weeks post-surgery.”
Penner A No-Show On Practice Ice
A notable absence during the Kings on-ice session on January 17 was veteran left wing Dustin Penner, raising eyebrows among fans and media alike.
But Penner worked out earlier in the morning before leaving for an appointment—an excused absence.
“It was an appointment that he had that he couldn’t get out of,” Sutter explained. “Not a big deal. He was here. He worked out this morning. His appointment was mid-morning. It was something we’ve known about for a long time.”
Timing Coming Faster Than Expected
Earlier in the week, it was already apparent that conditioning was not going to be the problem it was the last time there was a partial season due to a lockout (1994-95). Indeed, the focus on off-season conditioning makes a huge difference now.
In fact, the one aspect of the game that looked like it would be slow to catch up was timing, as lots of passes missed their mark, and players seemed to be a bit slow to react, or hesitant, in some cases.
But now, five days into their short training camp, Sutter no longer sees timing as an issue.
“The game has changed so much [since the 1994-95 lockout],” said Sutter. “That was a long time ago. It’s changed so much, the way these guys train. I thought timing was going to be a big thing. But watching these guys now? It’s not an issue at all. They’re spot on.”
Simulating game situations as much as possible the last couple of days has helped.
“Everyday, we’ve been trying to simulate a lot of game stuff,” Sutter noted. “We’re getting there. It’s not easy for the players. It’s almost like it’s the second week of training camp, and you’re just waiting for the games.”
Raw Audio Interviews
(Extraneous material and dead air have been removed; click on the arrow to listen):
Anze Kopitar (2:23)
Jake Muzzin (1:16)
Darryl Sutter (11:12)
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- LA Kings Training Camp Update: Goaltender Jonathan Bernier Won’t Sulk Despite Trade Request
- LA Kings Training Camp Update – Day 2: Kopitar Tests His Knee, Stewart Arrives From Carolina
- LA Kings Open Short Training Camp Ahead of Abbreviated Season
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