EL SEGUNDO AND LOS ANGELES, CA — It doesn’t take more than a quick spin through the various forums and web sites where the Los Angeles Kings faithful congregate to talk about their favorite team to learn that left wing Dwight King has become this season’s Dustin Penner.
Indeed, Penner, who now plays for the Anaheim Ducks after more than two seasons with the Kings, helping them win the Stanley Cup in 2012, was the target of the fans’ ire for just about his entire time with the Kings. But even though the anger level is not what it often was with Penner, King frequently elicits similar reactions, drawing heavy criticism for his play.
But would you believe that there is some thought that King is capable of becoming more of a scorer for the Kings, one who could put in 15 goals per season, give or take a few?
I can hear it now…most would be chuckling to themselves, if not laughing uncontrollably (especially those who got the Get Smart! reference), while others might be shaking their heads in disgust.
But after the laughter and disgust subsided, that thought would still be there, and the person who recently expressed those thoughts knows just a little bit more than most about the game.
That person is none other than Jim Fox, now in his 24th season as the color commentator on Kings telecasts on Fox Sports West, and former right wing who played ten seasons for the Kings from 1979-80 to 1989-90, and is ninth on their all-time scoring list.
Fox indicated that King has already shown that he possesses the necessary skills.
“Like any player, we’ve seen spurts of it—playoff series a couple of years ago (2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs),” said Fox. “The release is what I’m looking at. That’s a pretty good release.”
That release Fox is referring to was surprisingly evident, if not totally shocking, on May 17, 2012, during Game 3 of the Western Conference Final against the Phoenix Coyotes (watch the video below).
Although no one can say that he is a world-class sniper, as Fox pointed out, King was able to score that goal because he absolutely ripped that wrist shot past Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith—it was a shot that was as good as any you might see from the top players in the league on any given night.
A lack of confidence could be holding King back.
“The Kings have talked about it, and rightly so, just based on the numbers, that the left wing production has not been there,” Fox noted. “I don’t want anyone to think that I believe Dwight King will lead the league in scoring. But I think that if any franchise is going to have success, you need someone to step outside their comfort zone, and I’m not saying do something special, but keep progressing.”
“He’s still relatively new to the NHL,” Fox added. “Just keep progressing, and one area where he probably doesn’t have a lot of confidence in himself is in pulling the trigger.”
While talking to King one day after he recorded his first NHL hat trick in a 7-4 win over the Coyotes at Staples Center in Los Angeles on October 24, one does indeed get the impression that his confidence probably isn’t quite where the Kings might want it to be, in terms of scoring goals from anywhere other than the front of the net.
“Everybody wants to contribute,” said King. “The competition is a lot higher here, and the goalies are elite, so when you get [great] opportunities, sometimes they go in, and other times, you’re just as close, and the goalie makes the save. For me, maybe it’s getting more shots on net. That would lead to more goals. Unfortunately, it’s not every game that all three [shots] go in. I was lucky.”
“There’s guys who the have great shots,” added King. “They can shoot from anywhere, and they expect to score. I think everybody in the league—when they have Grade A opportunities, they expect themselves to be able to put it in, and it’s no different for me. But more of my goals are [scored] from in tight. That’s a different style from a pure sniper. But when you do get those opportunities, you want to bury them.”
For most of us, it is difficult to understand exactly how confidence impacts a player. But as he so often does while providing analysis during a telecast, Fox provided a clear explanation.
“It’s one of the most difficult things to explain, as an athlete,” said Fox. “But I assume that people who aren’t athletes would have the same feeling when they go to work. When you believe, it happens. It’s the same thing on the ice. But on the ice, what it does is make you react quicker. That puts you into situations where you’re going to be there to score more.”
“I’ve talked to professionals—sports psychologists,” added Fox. “I just said that it makes you react quicker, but every athlete will tell you that when they’re confident, the game slows down. It slows down in your mind, not in the execution on the ice. That speeds up, but you’re really able to absorb everything that you’re taking in around you, and that confidence just leads you to pulling the trigger quicker, making the right pass, finding the open man, going to the right spot.”
Confidence also reduces or eliminates hesitation.
“It’s completely understanding the strategy that’s involved at the time—where you’re supposed to be, first-man pressure, where am I going,” Fox noted. “If there’s no hesitation in your mind, then you’re reacting quickly. That’s the difference between skating fast, and playing fast.”
“You’re don’t have to skate fast to play fast,” Fox added. “If you’re making those decisions because you completely understand your role, you completely understand the system that’s being [played] at that moment—a breakout, defending a two-on-one—anything. The less hesitation—and part of that, when it starts happening, time and time again, and in a positive manner, that turns into [more] confidence, something that becomes a part of you that is less sporadic every time.”
To this point in his NHL career, King has shown, as Fox noted, only in brief spurts, that he can do more than knock in a rebound from the crease.
“If we’re going to talk about Dwight, it would be doing what he’s not done yet, certainly at the NHL level, consistently,” said Fox. “But in the context of what the team needs, that’s something that would be a huge bonus—for someone unexpected to step out and provide a little more goals from the left side, and it’s in a ‘more-than-chip-in-offensive-production’ sense. Chip in is what? Five or six goals a year? Let’s get 12-15. Let’s get up to there.”
“He’s on pace for that, and the players he plays with will determine that, too,” added Fox. “If he’s going to play with [center Anze] Kopitar and [right wing Justin] Williams, he’s going to get 15. I think he will, and it’s not becoming more selfish. It’s not shooting more. It’s just the belief that he can score 15 goals a year.”
King said that 15 goals [per season] is a realistic number. But the big question is whether or not he really believes he can reach that number.
“When you come into a season, you look to put up numbers,” he said. “You can’t just be out there killing minutes. 15 is a pretty good number. Where I started the year, a third-line guy, that’s probably where you put yourself as what you want to achieve [by] the end of the year. But you just go game-to-game and try to capitalize on your opportunities.”
Fox pointed out that King has been challenged by management to give the team more.
“The reason I’m bringing it up now—it stems from a conversation [President/General Manager] Dean Lombardi had with him during the St. Louis playoff series last year, and [head coach] Darryl Sutter has brought it up,” said Fox. “Dwight can play an effective game by playing his normal, grind-you-down, up and down, heavy game. But they need more from that position, and Dean was challenging him [and right wing Jordan Nolan] to do more.”
“Maybe he wasn’t challenging them to bring more offense,” added Fox. “Maybe he was just saying that they needed more physicality. I don’t know what it was, specifically. But in the bigger picture of the franchise, that’s what has to happen. If everything went by the numbers, your first round pick would be your best player, every three years. But you need a Dwight King to come up and be an impact player, and again, I’m talking limited offensive impact.”
“In the context of what the team needs, if he was able to supply that, it would be a huge bonus.”
Video Interview with Los Angeles Kings Left Wing Dwight King via FrozenRoyaltyNHL on YouTube
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