I will focus my attention on both traditional hockey power countries as well as a few lesser established, yet equally compelling ones, as well. The criteria is that the player must have played for the Kings for either one full season or multiple, partial seasons at the very least.
The Celebrated Kings
The Winner: Byron Dafoe
The Other Candidates: Kevin Brown
Yes, there were, in fact, a few Los Angeles Kings from the United Kingdom. Born in Birmingham, England, Brown played a total of 30 games for the Kings over the span of two seasons in the mid-1990s. However, the winger was predominantly a journeyman that spent a large portion of his career in both the AHL, IHL, and ECHL. Therefore, he is not taking home the U.K. crown.
Byron Jaromir Dafoe (yes, Jaromir was his middle name), was born in Worthing, England and moved to Canada a mere two months later. Despite his short stay in the U.K., Dafoe was ordained “Lord Byron” during his playing career to pay homage to his British roots. The goaltender had a lengthy NHL career, which included a two-year stint in the “City of Angels” also in the mid-1990s. During that time, Dafoe played in 87 games, which rendered an 27-41-13 record. Despite these lackluster statistics, he was the best of the (minute) bunch.
Oh, he also got to sport a funky Kings jersey during his time in L.A.:
Kings alum Byron Dafoe at the Kings-Oilers game in B.C. tonight. Wondering if he brought this classic jersey with him. pic.twitter.com/wiVju7PESb
— LAKingsPR (@LAKingsPR) October 2, 2016
The Winner: Wayne Gretzky
The Other Candidates: Marcel Dionne, Drew Doughty, Luc Robitaille
Although Gretzky is a slam dunk winner in just about any hockey-related list imaginable, this one was tough. Dionne was the team’s first, true superstar and ranks fifth all-time on the NHL’s goals scored list. Doughty is arguably the team’s best ever defenseman and has a direct path towards a first ballot hall-of-fame induction. Robitaille is widely regarded as one of the best left wingers this game has ever seen. That being said, they are not “The Great One”.
Gretzky not only dominates the NHL record books, his 1988 trade from the Edmonton Oilers to the Kings directly led to a hockey boom in the state of California. He honed his wondrous skill in L.A. for eight seasons and led his club to a surprising Stanley Cup Final run during the 1992-93 season. His franchise record single season point total of 168 during the 1988-89 campaign will assuredly never be touched. There are not enough superlatives to describe what Gretzky has done for the sport of hockey.
United States of America
The Winner: Jonathan Quick
The Other Candidates: Dustin Brown, Jimmy Carson, Tony Granato
Truth be told, this one was a toss-up between Quick and Brown. The latter has been the lifeblood of the Kings for a whopping 13 NHL seasons and was integral in both Stanley Cup runs earlier this decade. What is equally impressive is the resurgence Brown experienced this past season, tallying 61 points and a stupendous plus-31 plus/minus rating.
Quick is undoubtedly the best goaltender in the Kings history. The 2011-12 Conne Smyth Trophy winner has been a staple between the pipes over the course of his 11-year NHL career. The 32-year old from Milford, Connecticut holds the franchise lead in wins (293), goals against average (2.28), save percentage (.916) and shutouts (49). Much like Brown, he has shown no signs of slowing down anytime soon.
The Winner: Alexander Frolov
The Other Candidates: Slava Voynov, Vitali Yachmenev, Alexei Zhitnik
Although the likes of the polarizing Voynov, the skillful Yachmenev, and the robust Zhitnik all did admirable things in the silver and black, Frolov gets the nod here as the best King hailing from Russia. From 2005 to 2010, the winger suited up 538 times for L.A., amassing an impressive 381 points. A first round selection by the Kings in the 2000 NHL Draft, it took Frolov some time to transition to the physicality of the North American game.
“People have always talked to me about going to the net,” Frolov said early on his career. “It’s been hard because you learn the game differently in Russia. I’m trying to change because it can only help me. Good things happen around the net.”
Frolov’s size and skill were put to good use during his peak years in L.A.:
The Winner: Mattias Norstrom
The Other Candidates: Anders Hakansson, Oscar Moller, Tomas Sandstrom
There is no contest for the Swedish representative on this list. Norstrom played an incredible 780 games for the Kings between 1995 and 2007. Despite lacking plus offensive ability, the gritty defender was more known for the intangibles that he brought to the ice. Specifically, it was the innate leadership that led the six-foot-two defender to hold down the Kings’ captaincy from 2001 to 2007. Suffice it to say, Norstrom’s peers thought rather highly of him.
— LA Kings (@LAKings) January 17, 2015
“He’s the most underrated player in the League, bar none,” said Jeremy Roenick. “He’s tough as nails to play against. He never lets up. Physical? He’s in your face every time you step anywhere near the Kings goal crease.”
The Winner: Jari Kurri
The Other Candidates: Mikko Eloranta, Olli Jokinen, Juha Widing
Widing, also known as “Whitey, Flying Finn”, would have taken home the top Finnish King were it not for the L.A. reunion of Kurri with ex-Oiler teammate, Gretzky. Widing was the third Finnish-born player to play in the NHL and was a constant in the Kings lineup from 1969 to 1977. He carried the torch for Scandinavian-born Kings players and should definitely be commended for it. Tragically, he suffered a fatal heart attack at the age of 37.
Some pundits misguidedly viewed Kurri as a talented winger that was riding the coattails of Gretzky in Edmonton. However, for the two seasons with the Oilers that Kurri was sans greatness, he totaled 195 points in 154 games. That theory was surely put to rest at that point.
Upon reuniting with Gretzky in Los Angeles during the 1991-92 season, the prolific duo picked up where they left off. In 331 games with the Kings, Kurri notched 108 goals and was equally instrumental in the team’s newfound success. Currently ranking 20th all-time in goals (601), it was a pleasure to watch Kurri blaze down the right wing for five years in L.A.
The Winner: Jaroslav Modry
The Other Candidates: Robert Lang, Pavel Rosa, Roman Vopat
Although Robert Lang was a talented center that was enjoyable to watch during his few seasons with the Kings, the unquestionable winner is Modry. Selected in the ninth round of the 1990 NHL draft by the New Jersey Devils, the left-handed defender had two separate tours of duty with the Kings (’96-’04, ’06-’08). His best season was in 2001-02, where he set a career high in assists (38) and points (42), which culminated in a well deserved All-Star Game nomination. The Modry-Kings relationship has been so harmonious that in Sep. of 2017, he was named as an assistant coach of the team’s AHL affiliate, the Ontario Reign.
The Winner: Marian Gaborik
The Other Candidates: Zigmund Palffy, Jozef Stumpel, Lubomir Visnovsky
The Kings have been blessed to be the home of some of the greatest players in Slovakian hockey history. Not only were Palffy, Stumpel, and Visnovsky very good players during their time with in L.A., the likes of Michael Handzus and the late Pavol Demitra easily could have been listed here as well.
Despite this list of deserving candidates, the honor of best Slovak goes to Gaborik. The main reason is the immediate impact he made on the team when acquired during the 2014 NHL trade deadline. It is indisputable that he was the missing piece that propelled the Kings to their 2013-14 Stanley Cup title run.
In 26 playoff games, the talented left winger fired home a league-best 14 goals. Dare I mention that he was acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets for Matt Frattin, plus a second and third round pick? Ouch.
Critics may argue that his subsequent three (plus) seasons were wildly inconsistent and injury-laden, but that still should not take away from how significant of an addition he was during the team’s title run.
The Winner: Anze Kopitar
The Other Candidates: None
“Thanks, captain obvious”, might be the words you’re muttering to yourself upon reading this section of the piece. Of course, Kopitar is the greatest and only Slovenian-born player to play for the Kings. I figure I include him in here as he is starting to creep into the discussion for the greatest L.A. King of all-time. Period.
The 30-year old has the rare combination of size, speed, skill, leadership and, perhaps most importantly, defensive awareness. He enjoyed his best statistical season of his NHL career in 2017-18, and, deservedly, has been named a finalist for the league’s Hart Memorial Trophy:
The Winner: Rick Chartraw
The Other Candidates: None
Surprise! Another feel-good story to round out the list. Chartraw was born in Caracas, Venezuela, and moved to the United States at the tender age of three. Believe it or not, he was the second Venezuelan to play in the NHL, joining Don Spring. Chartraw was a stay at home defender that played 85 games over the course of three seasons with the Kings. His most significant experience in L.A. was undeniably the team’s famed “Miracle on Manchester” in 1982.
Chartraw has definitely developed some notoriety as a result of his unconventional birthplace:
— Dave Stubbs (@Dave_Stubbs) July 13, 2015
* originally published in May 2018