Here is part II of Harry Halkidis’ three part Royal Report Card Series
In the second installment of this four part series, the performance of the Kings’ top six forwards will be analyzed and graded.
Anze Kopitar (A+): The Kings fans are blessed to have this rising star grow into a superstar. There are not many players who are considered elite offensive and defensive talents, and Kopitar is one of those rare gems that plays a complete game at both ends of the rink. Kopitar’s game continues to evolve and is on the verge of being one of the top centers in the league.
This past season, Kopitar’s 73 points was seventh among all NHL centers. He also finished the season ranked seventh among centers with 48 assists and third among centers with a plus-25 rating.
Without question, Kopitar is the go-to-player on the Kings. He is strong on the puck, has deceptive speed, can pass and shoot the puck, and play in all critical game situations. Kopitar makes the Kings a better team.
Justin Williams (A): The resilient winger had an inspirational performance in 2010-11. After limping and recuperating from various injuries and ailments over the past three seasons, Justin Williams enjoyed a bounce back season, appearing in 73 games, with 22 goals and 57 points.
His puck pursuit and relentless fore-checking constantly resulted in extended puck possession inside the offensive zone, making Williams one of the most valuable forwards on the Kings. Those qualities earned him a four-year contract extension.
Dustin Brown (B+): The captain of the Los Angeles Kings is the spark plug on this roster. At times, Brown can be a dominant force on the ice. On the ice, Brown is a wrecking ball, delivering explosive hits against the opposition, hits that galvanizes all 18,000-plus in Staples Center, not to mention his teammates on the ice and on the bench. However, there is more to hockey than just hitting, and while Brown is a very skilled and powerful hockey player, he can also be his own worst enemy.
There are concerns regarding Brown’s qualities as a captain and leader, as he is clearly an individual who accepts a lot of responsibility for his team’s performance. Brown struggled through many long stretches without scoring a goal: an eight game goalless streak from November to December, his one goal in 17 games that lasted from late December through early February, his one goal in 11 games that lasted from February through the middle of March. And to wrap up the season, Brown only scored 1 goal in the final 10 games of the season, including playoffs.
At times, Brown can be the most frustrating player to watch on the Kings. He is most valuable when he is the most frustrating player to play against. Brown’s game and offensive contributions appear to have flat-lined over the past three seasons and the Kings need more from their captain if they wish to advance further than the first round.
Ryan Smyth (B): Although Smyth was able to score 20-plus goals for the 11th time in his 17 year career, Smyth was yet another King forward who was counted on to provide consistent scoring but went through many long scoring droughts throughout the season. Smyth scored two goals in the final 27 regular season games of the season.
To his credit, Smyth bounced back with two goals and five points in six playoff games, but the Kings still needed more from one of their most experienced veterans and leaders. Smyth was able to provide secondary scoring, netting a team high nine power play goals, but the team needs more from Smyth at even strength.
Jarret Stoll (B): Inconsistent secondary scoring seems to be a running theme on the Kings. Stoll suffered from the same fate as his other line mates, going through extended streaks without scoring a goal after a hot start to the season.
The grinding center led the Kings in the faceoff circle, winning 57.5-percent of his draws, which was fifth best in the NHL. Stoll was often used in many critical situations due to his strong faceoff skills and was a regular on special teams.
The Kings need more offense from Stoll and the second line, and if they don’t get that from him, he may find himself centering the checking line, which may be a position more suitable for Stoll.
Dustin Penner (D): Dustin Penner was General Manager Dean Lombardi’s big coup at the trade deadline, and like most Kings acquisitions in previous trade deadlines, Penner turned out to be a huge dud. Penner had a promising start, playing on a line with Anze Kopitar and Justin Williams, scoring six points in six consecutive games. After Williams and Kopitar went out with injuries, Penner stopped producing.
The towering 6’4″ winger was invisible for the remainder of the season and playoffs and showed signs of a player who could not keep up with the pace of playoff hockey. Penner has had issues in the past with conditioning, drawing tons of criticism for showing up out of shape when he was a member of the Oilers. Penner’s performance in his 25-games with the Kings was unacceptable.
The Kings need a motivated and physically fit Penner to show up in the final year of his contract, otherwise, Penner is going to make Dean Lombardi and the Kings appear foolish for burning assets on an out-of-shape and unmotivated winger.
Tune in to part three as we assess the play of the Kings’ checkers, grinders and muckers that composed the checking and energy units.