LOS ANGELES KINGS SEASON PREVIEW: A GOOD DEFENSE, PART II
Part two of our three part series on the Kings’ defense focuses on Jack Johnson and Rob Scuderi, each a vital key of LA’s success on both ends of the ice. Like Doughty and Mitchell, Johnson and Scuderi hope to bring a respective balance of offensive skill and defensive strength.
“Do not mistake my calm demeanor for a lack of passion. I play to win.”
If so, he may have done something wrong.
Rob is a stealth in form and substance. The less you see him, the more significant his contributions. He doesn’t post numbers on the offensive end (3 goals in 6 NHL season). He is not a fighter or bruiser (133 PIM), although he, like Drew, has been known to “hip check the s*** out of” opposing players (picture, left). Instead, this 32 year old veteran has made a career out of a quiet and conservative presence that does the little things to ensure goals stay out of his team’s net. A stick always ready to poke check the puck away. Without bone crunching hits, directing the offensive play to the outside. Cutting off passing lanes, especially those across for the one timer. Controlling the puck along the boards and getting it out of the zone (arguably the best on the team in this department).
This season we expect nothing less. If Rob’s defensive strength can allow Jack Johnson the freedom to jump into the play while, at the same time, mentoring our young defenseman through his example on the ice to become more defensively responsible (similar to what he did, in part, for Doughty this past season), then Scuderi can ensure the Kings’ second defensive line will be just as effective as its first.
“I don’t play the hype. I play the hero.”
Jack isn’t an offensive defenseman yet. He has 17 goals and 41 assists in 200 NHL games. He isn’t quite a rock on defense either. A -57 plus/minus for his career to date.
What is Jack Johnson?
A raw specimen with as much God given talent as just about any defenseman in the league looking to put it together in a potent package of power that knocks forwards on their ass on one end of the ice while burying the puck at the other.
We saw this potential in present form during the Vancouver Olympics. Johnson didn’t hold his own. He excelled. I had the pleasure of seeing Jack’s future before my eyes during the Kings’ 6 game playoffs series against the Canucks. I paid special attention to him to see how he would perform under the pressure of post season hockey. I was as impressed with him as I was with Drew Doughty.
Defenseman take longer. We know this. Not everyone comes into the league and tears it up in their rookie year and then follows that with a Norris Trophy candidacy. In some respects, Kings fans have quickly become spoiled. We have starved so long without good young defenseman and then been handed one of the best in the game in Doughty that we have forgotten how to exercise patience with others that don’t develop at the same pace.
I look for Johnson to improve in three areas this season:
(1) Positioning. He will have either Scuderi or Mitchell to model his game after in this department. Too often, I see Jack back off the rushing forward in his own zone. Time and space are a forward’s best friend and the defenseman’s enemy. Kill that or be killed. If he cannot physically take the player out of the play (too risky or not in position to do so), then Johnson must learn to direct the play away from the center of the ice.
(2) Winning the battles along the boards. Nobody on the team may have a stronger upper body than Jack. But it isn’t the waist up that win the battles. It’s the legs and leverage. Too often, Jack failed to come away with the puck because he was looking to knock the opposing player down. Puck battles are often not won by strength. They are won by gaining inside position on the other player and keeping the puck in front of you.
(3) Getting shots on net. High and wide doesn’t score goals. Jack shoots hard. Jack doesn’t shoot accurate enough and he too often took a long winding slap shot when a quick wrister was more appropriate for the occasion.
Any glaring deficiencies? Hell no. This kid can flat out play. Rough edges, sure. But that is expected, just as I expect we have a star in the making who will earn every bit of JMFJ.
FINAL SEGMENT ON DEFENSE…
Coming up, our third and final segment on defense will look at Matt Greene, Davis Drewiske and who, oh who, may fill that number 6 or 7 slot.