EL SEGUNDO, CA — Since the earliest days of the Los Angeles Kings 2013 training camp, head coach Darryl Sutter has been singing the praises of left wing Dwight King, referring to the 24-year-old native of Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan as his best player during training camp, and he has continued to speak highly of the much-maligned forward, to the chagrin of the considerable number of detractors he has gained since last season.
In the lockout-shortened 2013 season, his play left just about everyone wondering where the Dwight King from the 2011-12 playoffs was. In fact, in 47 regular season games last season, he scored just four goals and added six assists for ten points, with a -3 plus/minus rating, and eleven penalty minutes while averaging 12:45 of ice time per game.
The 6-4, 230-pound forward was better in the 2013 playoffs, scoring two goals and tallying three assists for five points, with a -4 plus/minus rating and two penalty minutes, with an average of 14:46 in ice time in 18 games.
But overall, King’s play in 2013 paled in comparison to his performance during the Kings’ run to the first Stanley Cup Championship in the history of the franchise in 2012, when he scored five goals and added three assists for eight points, with a +3 plus/minus rating, 13 penalty minutes, and an average of 12:53 of ice time in twenty games.
King admitted that he had a poor 2013 season, and in exit interviews at the end of last year, he indicated that player, coaching staff and management were all focused on the same thing.
“We realized, me, as a player, and them, as management and coaches, that I could provide a little more for our team,” he noted. “It was just going over things and refreshing. [Last] season was a little different for most.”
King also pointed to the off-season as a key to his play this season.
“Taking a step away [from the game] for a couple of months was nice,” said King. “To get the proper time to focus yourself and to get what you need to come into the season prepared was big for me.”
Although King is never going to be one of the top goal scorers or playmakers in the National Hockey League, through 27 games this season, he has already scored seven goals and has contributed four assists for eleven points, with a +4 plus/minus rating, and ten penalty minutes in 14:39 of ice time per game.
King has also come up with the big goal or the timely assist in games several times this season.
Although you might expect to read that King is doing a lot of things differently this year, that is not the case at all.
“[King is] not [doing] much different,” said Sutter. “I would say the results are different. I’d say that’s the only difference.”
“I don’t know if he’s a different player,” said center Anze Kopitar. “He’s definitely contributed more. He’s getting to the net, and he’s creating space for himself. When the puck is on his stick he’s bearing down and scoring goals for us. In order to play with [center] Mike [Richards] and [forward] Jeff [Carter], he’s going to have to do that. He’s definitely been up to the task, so far.”
If King is not a different player, could it be that the way he thinks the game has changed?
“I don’t think it’s a different mindset,” Kopitar observed. “Maybe it’s a little more comfort, a little more confidence. You add those two up, they’re two pretty significant things to have when you go on the ice.”
“Every year you play in the league, you get a little bit more comfortable,” said King. “You know what works for you, and what doesn’t. [Earlier], I was still pretty young, trying to [develop] my game, and learn what I need to do every night to be effective. I think that’s slowly coming along.”
“I have a little more poise and patience with the puck,” added King. “I’ve been playing with guys who can control the puck now. It’s a little bit different when you get the opportunity to play with guys like that. You don’t want to throw it away and chase it. You try to make the plays you can, and hold onto it while you’re buying time for them to get open.”
“When you feel comfortable on the ice, it’s definitely easier. With more comfort, you make more plays. There’s certain things that I wouldn’t see myself doing, even last year, that maybe this year—you get a little better look at the game. It slows down for a half second, here and there.”
King’s added confidence and comfort has helped him to remain focused on what he has to do on every shift.
“A lot of my opportunities come from being around the net, in front of the net, on the forecheck, [forcing turnovers],” he explained. “When I’m doing that, that’s when I’m effective.”
“When you get to the front of the net, you find more ways to get sticks on pucks, and I think half of my goals have been tip-in goals from just being around there, and getting my stick on things,” he elaborated.
Although he is currently playing on the second line with Richards and Carter, King has also played on the third and fourth lines this season, but has found ways to contribute no matter what line he has played on, and in all situations.
“Everybody wants to contribute, no matter where you’re playing,” he noted. “You usually get bigger minutes [in a top six left wing role compared to playing on the third or fourth line]. The only thing that changes is that you usually get better looks.”
“Wherever they place me, or anybody else on this team, we go out there, and we try to play a similar game, from top to bottom, which is puck possession, hard forecheck, and things like that,” he added. “When you can do that, and they move you up and down the lineup, it keeps you on your toes.”
King’s impact this season cannot be denied, as his numbers don’t lie. He has played well on a consistent basis this season, and has earned the praise Sutter has given him since training camp.
“It’s nice when the coach gives you a vote of confidence,” said King. “I just try to go out there, and prove him right in every game, by playing a strong, consistent game. Hopefully, I can keep that going here.”
Video Interview with Dwight King via FrozenRoyaltyNHL on YouTube
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