Hello readers of The Hockey Writers! I am the new Kings writer for the website and I am happy to be here. Before I get into the meat of my first post I wanted to explain something important about the way that I look at hockey.
As a fan of baseball even before hockey, I have been indoctrinated to the science of statistical analysis. I have spent a lot of time over the last several months researching the progress of that particular field in the sport of hockey. It is still in its “infant” stages, so to speak, but it is getting better.
Here are some of the sites that I visit regularly in case you are interested; www.puckprospectus.com, www.hockeyanalytics.com, and www.behindthenet.ca. They are the hockey websites that are at the forefront of the statistical analysis revolution and I will reference their advanced statistics with regularity in my posts. So without further adieu:
When I was in high school, our semesters were divided into three 6-week sessions. At the end of each “session” we received a “progress report” with our grade to date. That concept is going to serve as the basis of my first posts here on the Kings.
I’m going to structure this “progress report” by using the typical grading scale, A – F, and identifying the players that fall within that grade as of this point. I won’t grade each player in this post as that would take too long. I will, however get to everyone eventually. This post will focus on the A’s and the B’s. These marks can and will be adjusted by the time the next progress report is sent out.
A – Anze Kopitar: After a fine 2006/2007 campaign and with higher expectations for the team, Kopitar was expected to take the next step toward super-stardom in 2007/2008. Instead he regressed and only recorded 66 points in 82 games. More importantly he was a – 17, while playing for a veteran coach (Terry Murray) who espoused responsible defensive play.
Coming into this season, Murray was confident that Kopitar would rebound. He believed that Kopitar’s struggles last season stemmed from his efforts to adjust his style to meet the expectations of Murray. Not surprisingly the 21 year-old forward struggled to change his style.
A lot of the pundits felt that Kopitar didn’t have the work ethic necessary to be a true star and to earn the money he was being paid. As is often the case, the pundits were wrong. Kopitar currently sits 3rd in scoring in the NHL as of the 28th of November with 14-19-33 in 27 games.
Kopitar is showing that he is ready to take charge and become a true franchise player. He has size, skill and youth; everything you could possibly want in a star player. The void was there and Kopitar is becoming the face of the King’s franchise.
A – Drew Doughty: Doughty is just a 2nd year player (19 years-old) and is quickly establishing himself as one of the best young defensemen in the game and an outside contender for the Canadian Olympic team (more on that in a later post). He is 5th among defensemen with 20 points in 27 games and is on pace for a scoring line of 18-42-60. That is extraordinary for a 19 year-old kid.
Doughty is also on the ice for an average of 23:44 per game through 27 games. He is skating in all situations for a team on the rise and hoping to contend for their first playoff berth in 8 years. His offensive GVT rating (Puck Prospectus rating) through 27 games is 2.54, which is 7th among all NHL defenseman.
A – Ryan Smyth: Even though he is injured, Smyth has added so much to this team. He is a very good PP performer who has brought the type of veteran leadership that the Kings were missing in recent years. I feel that his presence has helped Kopitar reach the next level. I also believe that he brings confidence to this young roster that overshadows his numerical contributions.
The Kings have scored 2 fewer goals than they have allowed (79 – 81). Usually that goal differential would lead to a .500 record or thereabout, and yet the Kings sit here with 32 points in 27 games and currently reside in 5th place in the West. In my estimation, Smyth and his leadership, is largely responsible for the team playing above their heads.
B – Jonathan Quick: His grade may be closer to a B- (or even a C) but he gets credit for the team sitting in 5th overall in the conference. His stats don’t necessarily reflect those of a top goalie but he has lent respectability to the position. Respectability is something that has been lacking in net for the Kings since maybe the days of Kelley Hrudey.
Quick may be a beneficiary of better overall play around him but he has inspired confidence among his teammates. There is no guarantee, despite the recent extension that was signed, that Quick will be the guy in goal in upcoming years. Former 1st round draft choice Jonathan Bernier lingers on the periphery of the Kings goaltending situation and at 21 years of age, his best years remain in front of him. For now though, the Kings know they will get solid, if unspectacular, goaltending from Quick.
B – Justin Williams: Another injured player, Williams has been the 3rd component of what was a very good line with Smyth and Kopitar. He has 16 points in 22 games and is a +3 overall. His 25 PIM also place 3rd on the team indicating that he is playing a physical style of game that is benefitting Smyth and Kopitar.
B – Randy Jones, Matt Greene, Sean O’Donnell: These veteran blue-liners all have positve +/- ratings (+6, +5, and +4 respectively). Jones has been a solid addition after being claimed on re-entry from Philadelphia. He is 2-4-6 in only 9 games with the Kings.
Greene and O’Donnell are both solid, defense-first guys. Neither of them is very mobile so they are best served being paired with good skating guys. They can serve as a defensive conscious with offense-first players.
Those are the A’s and B’s, to date, of the Kings roster. With injuries playing a big role, it’ll be difficult to maintain their standing within the division. These Kings are definitely ready to contend for a playoff spot but they need a little good fortune to get them there.
Stay tuned for the C grades on the Kings. Also, I suggest reading the sites I mentioned above. They have inspired a lot of thought with me and will do the same if you give them a chance.