Kings' youth will be served
With six rookies on their roster, the Kings will begin the season as the NHL’s youngest team with an average age of 25.4.
“I didn’t know that,” Coach Terry Murray said. “Sean O’Donnell, he drew the age right up.”
The departure of the nearly 39-year-old O’Donnell aside, this season’s version of the Kings is heavy on youth, size and expectations. Murray planned to have four rookies in his lineup at Rogers Arena — defenseman Jake Muzzin, forwards Kyle Clifford and Brayden Schenn, and backup goaltender Jonathan Bernier — and he has no qualms about infusing so many youngsters in the lineup. He sees it as a sign of progress.
“It just speaks volumes of the job the organization has done to do things the right way with showing a lot of patience,” Murray said after the Kings’ game-day skate. “The ownership gets a lot of credit for that, Mr. [Phil] Anschutz. To say, ‘Yeah, this is the way to go.’ And letting these young guys play in the minors for a couple of years. They’re ready to step up and show what they can do in the National Hockey League.”
That said, players such as Ryan Smyth and free-agent signee Willie Mitchell will be counted upon heavily.
“The veteran players are critical to any team, certainly to our team because of the youth that we have,” Murray said. “They have to lead every day. The leadership group has to show and say the right things every day whether it’s practice or a game day and a player like Willie Mitchell brings that leadership quality.
“He sets the tone. He sets an example on and off the ice. He knows that the game is fun. He enjoys playing it and that’s a very contagious attitude.”
Murray said the lineup will be the same as he has said the last few days. The lines will be: Smyth-Anze Kopitar-Dustin Brown; Brad Richardson-Jarret Stoll-Justin Williams; Alexei Ponikarovsky-Michal Handzus-Wayne Simmonds, and Clifford-Schenn-Kevin Westgarth. On defense, Muzzin will be paired with Davis Drewiske, Rob Scuderi with Jack Johnson and Mitchell with Drew Doughty. Jonathan Quick will start.
Murray also said players seem especially motivated to begin the season against the Canucks, who eliminated them from the playoffs last spring. Pregame ceremonies staged by the Canucks to honor the 40th anniversary of the franchise adds to the buzz, he said.
“You’ve got to start it somewhere,” Murray said. “This is going to be a very exciting night. A lot of stuff going on before the game. Talking with a lot of players, they’re very excited and pumped up about starting here in Vancouver. I thought we gave them a pretty good series last year so we’re looking forward to it.”
Quick said the Kings’ playoff experience has raised their expectations for this season.
“We had a really good year last year and we saw big improvements from the prior year,” he said. “We‘re just going to try and keep building and building and work our way up. Obviously to make the playoffs we definitely believe we should be there and we deserve to be there. Our goal is to win the Stanley Cup. It’s the reason every team comes out here to play.”
Some preseason predictions have suggested the Kings can win the Western Conference championship, though that might be a big leap. There’s a theory that teams have to go deep in the playoffs and lose before they can learn how to win the ultimate prize, but Quick doesn’t buy it.
“We lost last year,” he said. “Let’s hope that’s all the losing we need.”
More tonight at www.latimes.com/sports
Helene Elliott in Vancouver, Canada