JIM FOX GRADES THE KINGS PLAYERS
The Kings have just moved past the quarter pole of the season, so I thought it would be a good time to offer up a quarter-season report card for each player.
Coming into the season the Kings felt they were a team that would be competing for a playoff spot in the tough Western Conference, and after 22 games, they have the second-most points in the West, so they have exceeded expectations so far.
Grades are based on my expectations for each player as they entered this season.
Up and down start to the season that has included more shaky performances than solid ones. Lapses in concentration have hurt him and he is trying to find a comfortable balance between his increased workload in games and finding time to still work on the finer points of his game. Of late he has appeared to find his game and is getting back to being a big presence, which along with his athleticism is a good combination for any goalie. Bottom line, he has 12 wins and he is getting the job done. Grade: B
Has only started two games and has not had the opportunity to earn the confidence of his teammates or coaching staff. His next one or two starts will be very important for him to prove that he can pick up a win every once in a while. His small stature is a negative and he has to rely on being extremely sharp to be effective. Must get back to crisp, decisive movement and get back on his game. Grade: Incomplete or D
Leads the entire league in hits by defensemen and can be difficult to play against most nights which is exactly what he has to do. Not a highly skilled player but he makes up for that deficiency with a grind-it-out mentality. The coaching staff likes to use him in penalty-kill situations and his shot blocking helps him there, but the penalty-kill numbers have to get better as a team, and he is a big part of that unit. Grade: B
His skill is never in questions as he can skate, pass, stickhandle and shoot with or better than most defensemen in the league. His power-play numbers should be better and if he can improve in getting his shot through to the net, he will become even more valuable. Unfortunately, he still has not figured out how to settle things down defensively and continues to run around and get mesmerized by the puck. Still a work in progress, and if he can learn to play under control, his strength would be an asset on the penalty kill. A huge positive is his shootout skills, which rank near the top of the league. Grade: C
Mr. Utility has offered everything expected. He is not an automatic “in the lineup every night guy,” but he can fill in where needed. He knows his role and can make a coach’s life easier since he can play both forward and defense. A role player who can play multiple roles. Grade: B
The elder statesman back on the blueline continues to have a positive effect of this team with his effort and attitude, and like last year, he surprises with his effectiveness on the ice. A very intelligent player who never seems rushed even when he is under pressure and never seems to run around in his own zone. He should be a good role model for Jack Johnson as far as how to read the game. He will not be playing every game and the Kings miss his physical presence when he is not in, but all the younger defensemen can learn from his example and the pointers he gives. Grade B
As a stay-at-home guy, he will rarely stand out, but his value should not be underestimated. As this team continues to grow and develop and as they get into crunch time later in the season, his value should increase. Takes a lot of pride in his shut-down role, and rarely does he get out of position. Good acquisition for a club that hopes to play some important late season games and playoff games. Grade: B
Continues to grow and continues to learn and adapt to the NHL game. His rookie season probably went smoother than the start to his second season, but he never seems to make the same mistake twice. The opposition is spending much more time trying to contain him, but his skills at escaping pressure are right at the top of the league. Other teams have made his life more difficult this year, but most times he finds a way to have a positive impact on a game. He put a focus on being more productive offensively and has done exactly that. Always fun to watch because of the freedom he plays with. Grade B
Not much he hasn’t done for the Kings so far. Leading the league in scoring as well as finding a way to be a plus player; on many of his shifts, he has controlled all 200 feet of the ice. He has continued to be very responsible in his own zone while piling up the points offensively. He will probably never be near the league lead in shots on goal, but he has developed more of a shot attitude. He seems like he is very comfortable with his new ranking in the NHL’s hierarchy. Has also learned how to still be effective on nights when he doesn’t have his normal energy, which has been extremely rare, maybe only two or three occasions so far. Can’t ask much more from him, and his increased commitment to fitness during the off season should go a long way in helping him stay near the top of the league in scoring. Grade A+
The newest King had to spend some time getting back into NHL shape before he was put in the lineup. Picked up on “reverse waivers,” he is a huge bargain since the Kings only have to pay have his salary. Too early to see how much of an effect he can have, but his start leads you to believe he can be very effective in the new up-tempo NHL. Can play in all situations and has a good sense of when to jump into the attack offensively as well as playing solid defense by using his long stick and reach. Grade: Incomplete or B+
The third wheel on the Kings No. 1 offensive line can be overlooked at times, but only because of how well his linemates have played. Underrated for his ability to win battles on the boards, many times he is a key element when the Kings break out of their own zone. His 10- to 20-foot quickness make him very difficult to handle down low in the offensive zone, and that helps him stay involved in many of the give-and-go plays. Grade B+
One of the team’s best skaters just can’t find a way to be productive. His role has been to center the fourth line and use his speed to create some energy. His ice time has increased the last 5 games or so or at least he is being put into more important situations. His speed does make him effective on the penalty kill and since those numbers have been near the bottom of the league, maybe he will continue to get more of a chance to prove he can be an effective option when the Kings are shorthanded. Grade C
Has picked off right where he left off last season. At the end of last year, he was used in many pressure situations and it seemed like he elevated his game to continue to earn ice time. Used mostly on the checking line, he showed that he can be moved up once in a while and can contribute offensively when called upon. As a second year player he has earned the respect of the opposition due to his hard, gritty and honest play. Grade B
He has settled in nicely as the captain of this young team and continues to bring the hard hitting approach most every game. Since the Kopitar line has been so dominant, he finds himself in a secondary scoring role at this time, although he does see a lot of ice time on the Kings first power play unit. He has proved to be very effective down low with the man advantage with his use of in tight passing and with his presence in front. Has not lit it up offensively, but is still a huge part of this team. Grade B
Consistency has never been his strong point and it cost him a game in the stands one time this year. He has been playing on the shut down line with more defensive responsibilities and that has limited his chances to be the top offensive player he has been in the past. But he has to realize, and I think he is, that a player with his skill should not have to rely on others to make him more effective, he has to make others better. He can still dominate down low with puck possession which can have a wear down effect of the opposition’s defense, but with only 4 goals after 22 games, he would like to be more of an offensive threat, especially on the second power play unit. Grade C-
He can always be counted on to play an extremely reliable style with emphasis on his role as the shut down line’s centerman. He also continues to be effective as the “screen-man” on the second power play group. His impact on the team as an on-ice coach is very important to the success of this team. He is one of the most serious guys around and his teammates appreciate all of the little things he does to help his team. Grade B
Starting to come on offensively, especially on the power play. With Kopitar on one side of the ice and Stoll on the other, he can provide the much needed variety that any good power play needs. Does not provide as much offense as you would hope from the second line center, but his face-off expertise was a big part of the team’s improvement a year ago and although he got off to a slow start, he is once again creeping his way back to above fifty percentage and the Kings need him to keep improving in this area. Grade B-
As the team’s enforcer, he continues to step up and help support his team mates in his role as the tough guy. It is always tough to rate the overall importance of a player in this role, since ice time is usually under five minutes a night, but most teams need someone in this role to be effective. His plus minus needs to be near the even point in order to continue to earn the ice time he gets. He is a true heavyweight and continues to be willing to step up when needed. Grade C
Drewiske may have been one of the biggest surprises last year when he played solid minutes in the second half. He is still feeling his way around the NHL and is focusing on taking care of his own zone and not really becoming involved in the offensive part of the game. That approach is fine for now. He is being asked to step it up in the physicality area and be more of a punishing player around his own goal and if he shows that he can do that, he will continue to get his sixteen minutes a night. Grade B-
It has been a tough go for Purcell so far this year. At the start of the year he has penciled into the wing position on the second line. He has struggled to find the necessary space to be effective at the NHL level and his ice time has dropped and he has found himself watching from the press box lately. He must find a way to get up to top speed during his shifts because at the NHL level he can not get by with just his offensive instincts. You never want to give up on a player that has his offensive IQ but his next chance will be very important to try and re-establish his pace as an offensive contributor. Grade C-
He came out of nowhere to find himself getting just enough ice time to make a difference. He has always been a point producer at lower levels but his skating holds him back a bit at the NHL level, but his willingness to get involved has earned the attention of the coaching staff. Although it is too early to tell whether he will stay with the Kings for the rest of the year, he has taken advantage of his opportunity. Grade B
Smyth has always been respected for his never take a shift off intensity and he has only earned more respect with his play so far this year. He has been more than a difference maker, both with his relentless pursuit of loose pucks and the chemistry he has developed with Kopitar and Williams. He continues to be a constant threat around the goal and he always gives the opposition an uneasy feeling just knowing he is ready to crash the net at any time. The effect he has had on Kopitar is the most important element he has brought to this team. He has found numerous ways to get Kopitar the puck and is always right there to offer offensive support. Grade A+.