THE TALE OF THREE KIDS – LOKTIONOV, SCHENN & CLIFFORD

The Kings have a problem. It’s the good kind. There are too many solid young players looking to break into the club but not enough roster spots. For Clifford and Schenn, the game to game clock is ticking. Clifford is at 7 games, Schenn at 8. Once they hit 9, the Kings must choose to keep them and burn a year of their pro contract or send them back to their respective junior club. For the 123rd overall pick in the 2008 NHL entry draft, the questions are the same but different as Andrei Loktionov goes to Manchester if sent down and the 9 game rule does not apply.

Let’s look at the team’s need and each player’s respective fit but before we do, let me preface this journey with a caveat – I don’t have the answer. I am comfortably in an “I don’t know” state of mind on the questions posed here. It is important however to ask the right questions if you intend to find the best answers. Let’s do exactly that.

SECOND AND THIRD LINES: The Kings have the forwards to fill numbers two and three. From the bottom up, Ponikarovsky, Handzus and Simmonds are the shut down line that can pop in goals. Smyth, Stoll and Williams are the speedy (latter two), sneaky (Ryan) secondary scoring line that thrives on the transition game and puts opposing defenders on its heels. This is a line that can cycle, maximize puck possession and so long as Jarret keeps that backswing low as he has been, consistently put shots on net.

THE FIRST LINE: The first line is Kopitar, Brown and…yes, there is a hole there ready to be filled by Richardson, Parse or one of the three rookies above. We have already seen Lokti fill that role for a few games. Let’s look at this carefully.

Who on that line is the speedy forward that keeps the puck on his stick and draws defenders to him? Give up? Nobody yet. Last season, that player was Justin Williams.

Who is the forward on that line that parks his behind in front of the net game in and game out and makes a living on garbage goals? Brown you said? Consistently? That’s being generous.

Who is the big body, playmaker and can bury the puck when he shoots? Anze Kopitar.

Brown is the complimentary power forward who isn’t going to dazzle you with his stick handling ability or high end skill but will shoot and shoot often and, when the play gravitates to the crease, end up there to pick up the rebound. Thus, what you have is a different makeup of a first line. Smyth-Kopitar-Williams were a force last season because they brought very specific complimentary traits. Williams carried the puck with speed and stick handling skill. He opened up time and space for Kopitar. Kopitar, could then play deeper in the offensive zone and use that wicked shot to light the lamp. Smyth was there to pick up a rebound if Kopitar and Williams’ bids didn’t end up in goal. The line had synergy.

A first line of Kopitar and Brown is missing two of those key elements – the body that goes to the net and the winger that opens time and space for Kopitar. I know what you’re thinking. Kopitar must get better and create that time and space for himself. I agree with you but what you seek is a work in progress. If you want success now, then the players have to compliment each other today, not what you want Kopitar to ultimately becomes in a couple of years. It’s unfair to put the burden of a 7 year veteran on Anze and expect him to play like he is in his prime. He isn’t. He is still very much learning and impressionable. Smyth and Williams, two intelligent veterans, made Kopitar a better player. Brown won’t.

That brings me to the questions: Is Loktionov a fit on the first line? He isn’t the front of the net presence but he is an intelligent playmaker.  Is he, at this development stage, ready to play on a solid Kings’ team as a 1st line left winger.  The question is not whether he can do it on occasion but is it likely we will see success there on a consistent basis? If you answer no, that likely places one of Richardson or Parse on the 1st line wing and if I were a betting man, I put Parse there after his return. Murray may ease him into the game through fourth line duties but eventually (unless Scott Parse lays an egg) he is headed to the Kings’ top line. I am not sure he will last there either but the first line as a whole is another article for another day.

Do Schenn and Clifford fit the first line duties? Ask yourself this – If Murray intended that at any point, would we have seen it by now?

A TRADITIONAL FOURTH: Our coach has already told us that he likes his fourth line old school. Hard hitting, energy, with one enforcer. He wants them to pot in a few goals here or there but that isn’t their focus. The focus is maintaining momentum and sometimes taking it back from the other team through battles.

That all but secures Kevin Westgarth’s role as right wing on the fourth line. I like Kevin. Surly does as well. But as a hockey player on this team, I choose to remain dubious. If we are to assume one of Richardson or Parse takes the fourth line duty, then the question becomes who plays the other center / wing? Can Kyle Clifford play center? Schenn can and has played both. Schenn also comes with a better offensive upside. While Kyle has had a good last two games, he has zero points in the ones has played and is a -5 for the season. I love Kyle Clifford, mostly the player he is going to be one to two seasons from now. As for today, ask yourself whether you think he should go back to junior and work hard on his offensive game. Will developing that upside separate him from the pack or is that man’s body in a boy’s head enough to hold fast on the fourth line as a wing with Parse or Richardson as the center?

Does Loktionov have any role on the Kings’ fourth line? You put him at center or wing and you have Westgarth on the right and one of Richardson or Parse at center or left wing. Does that sound like the traditional fourth line Murray has expressed he wants?

THE FORGOTTEN LEWIS: I actually haven’t forgotten him. Our coach has. Trevor Lewis has played two games. I have no idea what the team’s plans with this 23 year old center are. If Murray liked his game, I assume we would see him more. Does Terry already know what he is getting with Lewis such that he wants to use the first 9 games to see the  three kids instead? Does that sound like Murray?

So, who stays and who goes?

I am still thinking about it but here is a question for you. Do you think we have asked the right questions or are there others that help direct us to this answer?

GO KINGS!



Categories: L.A. Kings News

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14 replies

  1. Great Article !!!!!! This one was coming….I felt it.

    SCHENN, so far has shown what I felt all along, he could be our center version of Dustin Brown. But unfortunately he has shown me most of Brownie’s weaknesses rather than his strengths. Next to Brownie, Schenner has the least amount of balance, I mean stay on your feet kid please. Sloppy shots on net or into defenders shins, finishing checks but allowing the man checked to beat him back to the defensive zone, snake bit, etc…. You can’t play the center position, and be weak on your skates, this has to be glaring to the coaching system.
    Will Schenn be better, OF Course!!!!! but not 5 to 10 games from now.
    Here’s a comparision, Jordan Eberle is 1 year older, had 106 points as a 19 year old last season, on a not so good Regina team. Kozun same age, gets 107, playing more games on a great Calgary Hitmen team. Schenn 18 years old, hits 99 points around the same amount of games on a good Brandon Wheat Kings team. The year before Schenn out scores Eberle , 88 to 74. What does this all mean, absolutely nothing!!! Except….. What a difference that last year of juniors did for Eberle, and what could it do for Schenn???
    The feedback on Schenn is what does he benefit going back to juniors, he won’t become a worse player!!! So Jeff Skinner is finding his way in the NHL at 18, he gets alot of QUALITY ice time, on a struggling team. Schenn’s biggest impact so far this season has been the pressure his, and Lokti’s roster spots has put on Jarret Stoll, and I as well as every Kings fan should be happy to see what roster competition can accomplish.
    This is MY personal observation, and I saw more from Oscar Moller 2 years ago and last year than I have from Schenn, Manchester would be the best step for Schenn, BUT rules are rules.
    Sorry Brayden, you’re not in a very good spot, and less than 10 minutes a night will not benefit you, come back when You and the Kings Roster is ready.

  2. CLIFFORD, love the player he will be, love to see glimpes of his hard nosed style. He is living up to what we were hoping for and needing on our team. It seems he is pushing the envelope more each game as game 9 is approaching.
    The difference between him vs Schenn, Lokti and Lewis is the role he can fill, and his presence having value. Pretty soon, ( maybe now, since the hit on Parise ) opposing players are going to have to respect and be aware when he’s out there. Ice time is not as important, as long as the role is filled. When we lost Simmer, Clifford filled in very nicely. Against teams without that BIG man enforcer, he can skate, grind and pressure for 7 to 10 minutes, and still keep the goons off our backs when needed. Leaving Westgarth , who no one seems to want to fight, scratched for Lewis or another well rounded player, whoever you insert.
    Yes, we do have Clune and even Johnny Z that can do the job if called up. But, there is something scary intensive that Clifford brings, and the offense will come, Juniors may not make it better, it could acually lead to him becoming softer, drilling 16year olds through the boards would be childs play for Cliffy.
    My take is KEEP Him, take a chance, burn a year.

    • Interesting points made. I feel like the opposite (Cliff going, Schenn staying) is the more likely outcome but you make a good case.

      I think there is a decent chance that they both get sent back. Cline becomes the nightly scratch while Loki holds down a spot, Moller chomping at his heals from Manchester.

      Lets also consider the possibility Dean makes one of those 20 games in trades. That’s past the 10 game threshhold, but if he is goin to he must already be thinking about it. If he plans on dangling some prospects that could influence his decision on junior-eligible players.

  3. If it was my decision, I would send Schenn back to juniors and Loktionov back to Manchester when Parse gets back.

    Burning a year off of Clifford’s contact won’t hurt the Kings very much on his next contract. If Schenn becomes the #2 center that we all hope he does, then his next contract and pending free agency will come a year earlier than it should.

    Schenn needs to go back to juniors and dominate on the defensive side of the puck. He needs to work on his positioning against slower opponents.

    When Parse and Doughty are back:

    Smyth-Stoll-Williams
    Parse-Kopitar-Brown
    Poni-Handzus-Simmonds
    Clifford-Richardson-Lewis/Westgarth

    Doughty-Mitchell
    Scuderi-Johnson
    Drewiske-Greene
    Harrold

    Quick
    Bernier

    That team will win the Pacific this season. Loktionov can play with King and Kozun and get 20+ minutes per night. Muzzin can pay 25+ minutes with Hickey.

  4. LOKTIONOV & LEWIS, 5th rounder and 1st rounder, both playing center or wing so far professionally. This say’s alot about their makeup, but lets break them up.
    Lokti has been given 1st line duty right out of the gate, and his ability to play breakout wing defense, just show’s how smart a hockey player he is. Remember 1st lines see the oppositions top shut down guys, and the pressure to produce offensively. Watching the first few games, I FELT a reluctance from Kopi and Brownie to trust the young Lokti. When he did get the puck he showed HIGH apptitude and vision, but that was WHEN he touched the puck!!!!! Every decision this kid makes, makes sence!!! But there are time and space issues he still needs to work out, and I don’t feel that can be worked out in Manchester, it’s NHL speed, pressure and competition that is going to make him GREAT. And he’s been seeing the 1st line kind!!! The only reason for him to go back to Manchester is to keep him playing 20 minutes a game, and Stoll’s reluctance to give up the 2nd line center position. Like Schenn, there is no worse place to be than being faced with such a talented full roster, but there is no entry level year to burn if he stay’s. This one I throw my hands up to management, because there is no right or wrong move here.
    Lewis……………ohhhhhhhhhhhhh Lewis, then again Dean…………….ohhhhhhhhhhh Dean!!!!!
    How does Deano sleep seeing 17th overall Lewis compared to 22nd overall Giroux, and for a risky trade of Demitra to get that extra 1st rounder in 2006. If he was even close, we’d be styling. Lewis has all the tools to be an NHL hockey player, NHL speed, shot , smarts , BUT I have yet to ever see him put any 2 together for 1 shift during a game. he’s been there at the start of 3 seasons now, besides getting hurt last season, he has not been anything more than ordinary. BUT again, his natural position is center and I have yet to see him play center. Maybe when in Manchester he can bottle all his hockey traits at the center position, but here there is a log jam of centers ahead of him. What to do ???????………….I think Cliche has a role with the Kings ahead of Lewis in the future. His trade value decreases as we speak, and I don’t think we would have another Moulson situation if he left. Bottom line is he may find himself and his career if he played elsewhere, such a shame, but where are, Toiukenen, Tambellini & Boyle right now, there’s a time to let go.

  5. i wish we had kept the boyle that boyle is turning out to be… 4 goals in 10 games… skating…

    http://www.nhl.com/ice/player.htm?id=8470619

  6. Even if The Boyle found his scoring touch again, he’s a softee. Maybe with Booguard out there everyones hitting him……Boyle has a Bazooka of a shot, but he hooks to no end defensively, and gets rattled when he’s getting hit, didn’t we ship off that 3rd round pick we got for him to Tampa in the Purcell move? This was a fresh start move, Hasta La Vista.

    Let’s Lament over Moulson, he’s been rewarded at 3 times Purcell & Boyle’s salaries for a 30+ goal season, 2nd on his team with 4 goals on a very young and weak NY Islander team.
    If he wouldn’t have been injured at the beginning of ’08′, and if Purcell would of not have lit up the AHL, Hmmmmm……………..No Kovalchuk debacle, 1st line woes, Kopi – Smyth – Moulson
    Now I must move forward before I soil myself………………

    Can’t wait for your 1st line segment gentlemen, I’ll keep my 2nd line comments until then.

  7. Hey Deano…………..Lewis 17th, Chris Stewart 18th.

    Besides Bernier, only Zatkoff , Holloway & Meckler remain with the organization

    This may seem childish, but I guess my point is we can’t expect a draft position to define a player. Lokti appears to be a stroke of Lombardi genius at 123rd overall.

    • Don’t forget That in 2006 Dean had just taken over. His scouting staff was not in place yet and he didn’t have any of his normal prep time for the draft. Many many people were fired very soon after that draft. DL just knew he needed a goaltender and more youth. If all we get out of that year is a successful career out if Bernier, then I Don’t care if the rest of our picks from 06 turn out to be shoe salesmen by their 25th birthdays.

  8. That’s very useful info, Thanks for your clarification. The Kings staff has appeared more scientific and intelligent with their draft choices since ’06′, as well as are college and undrafted FA’s. Character players are what makes this engine run.

  9. Yes indeed. Mark Yannetti and Micheal Futa are the two main cogs behind the Kings’ drafting. Here is the story from their hiring: http://kings.nhl.com/club/news.htm?id=455234

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