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L.A. Kings: Hockey Rebirth in Southern California

Drew Doughty is one of the NHL's best defenseman Drew Doughty is one of the NHL's best defenseman

The long-suffering Los Angeles Kings look like they’re finally ready to bump one of hockey’s longest slumps. The Southern California NHL team has a crop of hungry and talented young players including Anze Kopitar, Jack Johnson, Drew Doughty, and Wayne Simmonds, along with stalwart veterans like Dustin Brown and Ryan Smyth. That crew helped them make the playoffs in 2009-10 for the first time in seven years, and they plan to improve on that output in 2010-11.

The Kings entered the NHL in 1967. In their entire history, they’ve only made it past the second round of the playoffs once. In 1992-93, led by Wayne Gretzky, Los Angeles played for the Stanley Cup. They lost that best-of-seven series in five games to the Montreal Canadiens, and missed the playoffs the following year.

In the 16 seasons since that run to the Stanley Cup finals, the Kings have made the playoffs just five times. On only one of those occasions did they win a series - in the 2000-01 season – but they were eliminated by the eventual champions, the Colorado Avalanche, in the second round.

After finishing poorly for so many years, the Kings have had their share of high draft picks. But only now are those prospects starting to blossom.

Outstanding defenseman Drew Doughty was a first round pick by the Kings in 2008. The 20-year-old is already a central part of the Kings improving play, and was their best blueliner in last season’s playoff appearance.

Anze Kopitar was another Kings first-rounder, taken 11th overall in 2005. But that wasn’t the only shrewd move L.A. made that year. They also traded to acquire Jack Johnson, the year’s third overall pick, who was originally drafted by the Carolina Hurricanes.

Now both Kopitar and Johnson are indispensable components in the Kings line up.

Having high draft picks turn into solid contributors is perhaps expected, but it’s far from a sure thing. Most top 10 NHL picks never turn into league regulars. So the Kings deserve credit for drafting well, but even more so for second-round pick Wayne Simmonds, who was the 61st player taken in the 2007 draft.

Simmonds has been a depth player for the Kings, but a consistent part of their line up all the same. The 2010 playoffs, however, were his coming out party. Simmonds was a huge part of both the scoring and grit that gave the Vancouver Canucks a stiff test in round one.

Now, that core of young, talented, and still developing players on the Los Angeles Kings is prepared to take the NHL by storm. Dustin Brown will wear the captain’s C this year, and lead the likes of Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, Jack Johnson, and Wayne Simmonds into battle. The recent acquisition of veteran defenseman Willie Mitchell and forward Alex Ponikarovsky will help along the way as well. Based on the trajectory of the team, 2010-11 will be a disappointment if the Kings don’t win at least one playoff round.

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Last modified on Wednesday, 15 June 2011 08:51

Happy is a regular contributor to RosebudMag.com and has written for various other publications, including Black Belt, Inside Hockey, and FoxSports.com. He transitioned to life as a writer following a decade-long career as a touring musician. He lives with his son in Vancouver, British Columbia

Website: www.rosebudmag.com/hkreter

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