Harry Halkidis brings us his third installment of the Royal Report Card. The bottom six forwards and depth players will be scrutinized, analyzed and graded.
Michal Handzus (B): Handzus is one of Terry Murray’s most reliable checkers, as the veteran leader led all Kings forwards in short-handed ice time. His play on the penalty kill helped the team rank fourth overall in penalty killing. Handzus also led Kings forwards in blocked shots and faceoffs taken, winning 51.7-percent of his draws.
While Handzus is considered the top shut down center on the Kings and his primary duty is to shutdown the opposition’s top scoring unit, Handzus and his line made less offensive contributions last season. Handzus’s offensive numbers took a hit in 2010-11, as he scored eight less goals and 12 less points compared to 2009-10. Handzus, who is due to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, needs to create more offensive opportunities by using his size and reach.
It remains unclear if Handzus will be returning to the Kings next season, but should Lombardi be inclined to offer Handzus a new contract, it will be significantly less than the four million he was earning last season.
Wayne Simmonds (B-): Simmonds was another one of LA’s primary checking line forwards whose offensive numbers took a hit as he scored 10 less points compared to last season. But it wasn’t just his stats that took a step backwards. Simmonds’s overall game regressed. He was not as assertive and aggressive as he was in his sophomore season. Simmonds is a player that has to play an abrasive style of game, but he appeared to shy away from what made him a stand out in his first two seasons in the NHL.
The 22-year old right wing still has room to grow and mature, both physically and mentally, and he does have the skill-set to be a productive winger, capable of scoring 20 goals while also playing with a physical edge.
Simmonds will be a restricted free agent this summer, but he still needs to exhibit prolonged success before the Kings reward him with a lucrative, multiyear contract extension.
Kyle Clifford (B+): The big surprise to emerge out of the 2010 training camp was Kyle Clifford. As a freshman, Clifford made his debut as a fourth line leftwing, but his strong play forced the coaches to give Clifford more ice time, which resulted in one of the few bright spots for the Kings during the playoffs. Clifford tied a team lead with three goals and five points in six playoff games. His fearlessness also resulted in having a team high 18 fighting majors, which was also fourth most in the NHL.
Clifford has the frame and size of an emerging power forward and has taken steps to show that he can be more than just an enforcer. The only setback Clifford experienced last season was when he suffered from an apparent concussion in his loss against Sheldon Brookbank.
Clifford’s approach in his fights is to throw big bombs while leaving himself unprotected, a technique that might have worked successfully in the OHL and might work from time to time in the NHL, but more experienced enforcers will take advantage of that weakness. Clifford must work on his defense and protect his face better than he does now.
Brad Richardson (B-): Maybe it was me, but I was expecting more from Brad Richardson this season after he posted a career high 27 points in 2009-10. Defensively, Richardson had a sub par year with a minus-13 plus/minus, worst among Kings forwards. Richardson is one of the more versatile Kings forwards with the ability to play either wing and center and was used in a variety of roles in 2010-11, he is a jack of all trades who has been used in a variety of roles.
Richardson found himself in an offensive role during the playoffs when Terry Murray inserted him at center between Kyle Clifford and Wayne Simmonds. It resulted in the Kings’ most productive line in the post season, with Richardson tying a team high five playoff points in six games. Despite his impressive postseason, Richardson’s minus-four also tied him with Handzus with the worst plus/minus rating among Kings in postseason play.
The Kings need to more consistency from Brad Richardson. He possesses impressive speed, a quick set of hands and a deceptive wrist shot, but those strengths of his are rarely seen on a consistent basis. We have seen glimpses of what Richardson is capable of, and with more consistency, Richardson can become a permanent fixture within LA’s top three lines.
Trevor Lewis (B): The 17th overall pick in the 2006 NHL entry draft finally arrived on the scene, centering the Kings’ fourth line, otherwise known as the “energy line.” Lewis had appeared in 11 games in the previous two seasons, but it wasn’t until this past season where Lewis displayed the ability to be an NHL player.
Statistically, Lewis provided sporadic offensive production as he played a majority of the season centering Kevin Westgarth and Kyle Clifford, who both combined for seven goals (all of which was scored by Clifford). The bulk of Lewis’s points came during the late stages of the season, as he amassed 62-percent of his points (eight of his 13 points) from February through April. During those months, Lewis earned a promotion and displayed crafty playmaking skills along with explosive speed and persistence.
Lewis’s strength is his defensive acumen, which solidified a spot as one of the Kings’ top penalty killers. However, Lewis still has a lot of parts of his game that needs refining, in particular, his ability to win faceoffs. Lewis had the worst faceoff percentage among Kings’ centers with a 39.2-winning percentage. He must also be able to contribute more than three goals. As the season progressed, Lewis gained more and more confidence, which resulted in more ice time and stints on LA’s top two lines. The future looks bright for the 24-year old two-way center.
Andrei Loktionov (B+): At the time of his call-up to the big club, the shifty and creative Russian brought something to the table that the Kings were sorely lacking, finesse. Initially, the coaching staff experimented with Loktionov, placing him at leftwing as opposed to his natural position at center. It wasn’t until Loktionov was moved back to his natural position where he started to show exactly why the organization has high hopes for the highly skilled center.
At center, Loktionov appeared to play with a lot more confidence, displaying patience with the puck along with the soft touch of a deft playmaker. Unfortunately for Loktionov, the coaches felt that there was no room for him at center. To make matters worse, Loktionov was lost for the remainder of the season in his first game back with Manchester, as he suffered from yet another shoulder injury (luckily he did not hurt his previously injured shoulder that forced him to miss a majority of last season).
Loktionov will be facing some strong competition at camp to win a center position on the pro roster. He will have to show up to camp invigorated and ready to compete. As a naturally gifted playmaker, Loktionov’s skills have to stand out in order for him to beat out other competition for what could be an open spot as the center on the second scoring unit.
Kevin Westgarth (C): For the past four seasons, Kevin Westgarth was being groomed to be the successor to Raitis Ivanans, the Kings’ previous enforcer of four seasons. The 26-year old rookie displayed a lot of heart and was a willing battler, taking his lumps and bruises while brandishing a fair share of his own.
Westgarth’s presence in the lineup was thought to be a deterrent to physical play against his teammates, and to that extent, Westgarth fulfilled his duties as an enforcer as no Kings were taken liberty of by opposing pests and enforcers. But beyond the fisticuffs, Westgarth was barely noticeable. That could be attributed to his limited amount of ice time on the fourth line, but as a player with his limited set of skills, Westgarth needs to make the most of the five minutes of ice time he averaged this past season.
In his last season in Manchester, Westgarth was able to contribute on the score sheet, scoring 11 goals and 25 points in conjunction to serving as the team bodyguard. Although he is not expected to be a goal scorer or point getter, Westgarth has to show that he can do more than just drop the gloves. During the playoffs, he was able to show that he can be more than just a tough guy and worked his tail off to create some scoring opportunities as his hustle and grinding resulted in two assists.
In order for Westgarth to have a prolonged career in the dying age of the heavyweight enforcer, he has to show that he can play the game while also being an intimidating presence, much like fellow Princeton alum and former Kings enforcer, George Parros.
Scott Parse (C+): The 2010-11 season is one Scott Parse would like to forget and put behind him. After a rather impressive showing in his rookie year, Parse was slotted to be one of LA’s top two left wings heading into the training camp. Those plans were derailed when Parse suffered from a groin injury that caused him to miss 77 games. Upon his return, Parse was clearly unfit to help the Kings in their first round loss against the Sharks.
In his limited amount of action, Parse was able to string together a four game point scoring streak in which he scored a goal and four points while playing with Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown. Parse is a highly skilled winger with the ability to make highlight reel plays, but his effort and commitment has been questioned by the coaching staff.
For Parse to become a successful winger in the NHL, he needs to be used in an offensive role. Otherwise, his skills will be wasted and the organization will be forcing Parse into an unsuccessful position in which he is destined to fail, similar to what transpired with Teddy Purcell’s failed tenure with the Kings.
Oscar Moller (C): Oscar Moller is a lot like Scrappy-Doo from the Scooby-Doo cartoons. No matter how big the challenge, Moller is ready and willing to take a headfirst dip in order to retrieve the puck. Despite his undersized stature, Moller isn’t afraid to go to the dirty areas; he constantly sacrifices himself to make a play.
Unfortunately for Moller, he can’t sustain that type of punishment over the course of an 82-game schedule. The diminutive winger has taken a lot of abuse from opposing checkers, and if he doesn’t get stronger and/or faster to avoid and absorb those hits, his career in the NHL may not last long. His lack of size and strength are a couple of significant factors that have kept Moller out of the Kings’ lineup.
A jittery water bug of a winger, Moller enjoyed a short glimmer of success when he was briefly used on the top line as a replacement for Justin Williams, playing right wing alongside Anze Kopitar and Dustin Penner, until Kopitar’s untimely ankle injury. Moller is yet another young, skilled forward who is trying to find his identity in the NHL. In juniors, Moller was a dynamic offensive player, however, he has yet to show why he belongs in an NHL lineup on a night-to-night basis.
Alexei Ponikarovsky (D+): With the exception of Dustin Penner, no King had a more disappointing season than Alexei Ponikarovsky. Signed to replace Alexander Frolov as LA’s checking line LW, Ponikarovsky was expected to provide strong checking and puck possession to go along with 20 goals and 50 points, numbers he had registered over the previous two seasons.
Ponikarovsky’s season can best be summarized in one word: erratic. At times, he would have a dominant shift: using his size and reach to control the puck, plowing through defensemen, buzzing in front of the net, and creating scoring chances for himself and his linemates. But those types of performances were few and far between for Ponikarovsky, which is why he found himself benched or scratched in favor of harder working players. Ponikarovsky’s played his way from the checking line to the fourth line to a healthy scratch.
The enigmatic 6’4″ winger would at times display the skills of a powerful winger with a booming shot, but those performances were too infrequent and what the Kings mostly got was underwhelming. Kings fans and management can take comfort in knowing that his $3.2-million contract was a single season trial period, a trial that resulted in one of the worst free agent blunders in Kings’ history.
Hit us back for a bonus installment of the Royal Report Card as Harry next breaks down the overall team performance, coaching staff and LA Kings’ management.