EL SEGUNDO, CA — As the Los Angeles Kings get their 2010 training camp revved up, head coach Terry Murray knows that one of his challenges going into the 2010-11 season is to address his team’s lack of five-on-five scoring in recent years.
Murray has opened camp with a top line of left wing Ryan Smyth and right wing Dustin Brown, centered by Anze Kopitar.
Smyth is a proven goal scorer and Kopitar is coming off a 34-goal, 81-point season, while Brown potted 24 goals in each of the last two seasons after scoring a career-high 33 goals in 2007-08.
That line figures to be productive, whether Brown remains on the right side, or if Murray has to tinker with his lines, as he is known to do. The question is…
…who else is going to score goals for the Kings?
Murray is hoping that second-year NHL’er Scott Parse on left wing and the oft-injured veteran Justin Williams on right wing, centered by Jarret Stoll, will be a productive second line.
“I spent considerable time over the off-season looking at line combinations,” said Murray. “I arrived at what you’re seeing on the ice and that’s something I want to go with throughout the training camp and get some looks in during the exhibition games to see how it comes along. Hopefully, the chemistry can develop.”
But developing the necessary chemistry may not be the most pressing concern. Rather, it might be whether or not these forwards can handle the job.
Last season, Parse, 26, displayed good offensive skills, but only in occasional flashes. That inconsistency had him in and out of the lineup, and even back and forth between the Kings and the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League (Kings’ primary minor league affiliate).
In 59 regular season games, the 5-11, 197-pound native of Portage, Michigan scored eleven goals and tallied 13 assists for 24 points, with a +13 plus/minus rating and 22 penalty minutes.
Parse played in four of the Kings’ six games against the Vancouver Canucks in the first round of the playoffs last season, but did not get on the scoresheet.
Inconsistent play had Parse out of the lineup for Games 1 and 2 against the Canucks, and that is his biggest challenge heading into the new season.
“I think he’s one of the more talented players we have on the team,” said Murray. “But we have to get that out of him on a daily basis, and that’s the one thing he has to show me—that I can trust him every time he gets on the ice in a game situation to give me that big effort.”
“If that starts to become a consistent part of the game, I think we’ve got a guy who can really breakout and have, not just a great year this year, as he moves forward in his career, he could be a very effective player in offensive situations,” added Murray.
“I know what I have to do,” said Parse. “[Terry Murray] talked to me last year about what I have to do—compete hard [and] be consistent. If I do that, playing with good players, I should have a good year. I’d like to be a better player and have a bigger role on this team, and that’s what I’m looking to do this year.”
While Murray has high hopes for his sophomore left wing, he wants Stoll to focus more on putting the puck in the net.
“Jarret Stoll is a player who I talked to in our exit meetings,” Murray explained. “I really want to see him on the puck possession plays, making offensive zone plays, shooting more, scoring more. I’m going to encourage that throughout the training camp.”
“It’s there for him, in my eyes, the way he can skate and shoot, along with his attitude of getting to the net, looking for rebounds,” Murray elaborated. “We need him to put up more in the offensive part of the game as a second-line center.”
“I’m looking for him to really be more of an effective player in the offensive part of the game. I want his numbers to grow significantly.”
That could very well be a tall order for Stoll, who scored 16 goals and contributed 31 assists for 47 points in 73 regular season games last season. He also scored a goal in six playoff games. Moreover, Stoll has scored twenty or more goals just once, when he scored 22 in 2005-06 with the Edmonton Oilers.
But Stoll is known for having a great wrist shot and has shown that he can score off a one-timer. But he needs to use those weapons more often, and he worked on his offensive skills over the summer.
“I worked a lot this summer on shooting and stick-handling—a lot of the skill stuff that, maybe, as you get into the league and you get established, you don’t work on as much as you should,” said Stoll. “It’s the simple things you learn [during your youth hockey days] that still applies out there today, even in the NHL.”
“I worked a lot on the skill side of the game,” added Stoll. “I’m trying to shoot the puck more, trying to get over 200 shots, that’s a good goal for me. I need to be more confident with the puck and handle the puck.”
Stoll also worked on his speed and strength.
“We put players through off-ice testing and he has really impressed me as to where he is today,” said Murray. “From last year, we were all concerned with what was going on [Stoll suffered from arthritis last season]. He was one of the better-tested players [here]. Really strong, endurance looks real good.”
“You want to get your legs under yourself as quickly as possible,” Stoll said. “I worked really hard this summer.”
“I did some different types of training to try and get myself ready,” Stoll added. “Everyone knows their body—everyone has a different body, so you have to try to get yourself as prepared as possible to be flying out of the gate.”
Perhaps the biggest question mark of all on Murray’s second line is Williams, who scored ten goals and added 19 assists for 29 points last season.
But his season was marred by a badly broken leg suffered at Phoenix on December 26, 2009, forcing the 6-1. 193-pound native of Cobourg, Ontario to miss 28 games.
Williams, who will be 29 years old on October 4, was not the same player upon his return.
“Coming back from that kind of an injury, it takes a lot of that deep strength out of your body,” said Murray. “You know, you feel good and you feel you can come back and play, but when you get into those tight battles along the boards, you hardly ever come up on the right side of the play.”
“Missing almost three months, maybe [I] was a little ambitious, but there’s no way you’re going to hold [a player out of the lineup] when he feels that he’s ready to go,” said Williams. “But missing an extended period of time when the games get harder and harder is tough.”
This past summer was critical for Williams, who has been plagued by injuries throughout his NHL career, and has not played a full season since 2006-07.
“I worked on getting my speed back, getting the step that I feel I lost throughout the last couple of years due to the surgeries,” Williams explained. “So I really worked hard on getting my step back, getting my stride back, getting my quickness—overall fitness. But [speed and quickness] was the main focus.”
At least at the start of training camp, Williams looked strong.
“[Williams] was outstanding today,” Murray noted following the first day of training camp on September 18. “Lots of energy, lots of jump. He’s fully recovered. Right now, he’s confident, he feels good, he’s got that strut in his skating out there. I look for a big bounce back.”
“[He] put in a lot of hard work over the off-season, Murray added. “He looks great, he feels great. Mentally, he’s right where I would like him to be coming in to the training camp. He’s hungry to prove to us that he’s back after his serious injury last year.”
Williams’ goal is to come back strong and he emphasized being able to contribute from start to finish in 2010-11.
“I don’t want to remember how [last season] ended,” Williams stressed. “[This is] a clean slate, a fresh start. I worked my butt off on this first day of camp and I’m going to push forward to the end of the season.”
“Playing in 82 games plus the playoffs is something I’m putting a huge focus on,” Williams added. “Training camp is very important for me this year. I want to get off to a good start.”
“We’ve got some guys who are on the verge of taking that next step. I’m a player who wants to take a step back in the right direction. I don’t see thirty [goals] as being out of my sight at all.”
Given that Williams has not reached the thirty-goal mark since 2006-07 and that he has achieved that just twice in his eleven-season NHL career, thirty goals seems to be more than a lofty goal. But if he can even get close to that mark, the Kings should be able to pick up their five-on-five scoring and maybe even take the next step—to make the playoffs and do some damage once there.