Kings' Kyle Clifford in, Brayden Schenn sits, but decision time near for both
Rookie winger Kyle Clifford will have a spot on the Kings’ fourth line against Tampa Bay on Thursday night at Staples Center, alongside center Brad Richardson and right wing Trevor Lewis.
That would be Clifford’s eighth game this season, meaning he can play only one more before the Kings must decide whether to keep him or return him to his junior team.
Fellow rookie Brayden Schenn, who isn’t scheduled to play against Tampa Bay, has also played eight games and is subject to the same stay-or-go-back-to-juniors rule as Clifford because they’re both 19.
Coach Terry Murray said he and General Manager Dean Lombardi had discussed the merits of keeping Schenn and/or Clifford and would likely do so again. But he also said his decision not to play Schenn on Thursday wasn’t a way to buy time and postpone the decision.
“We want to continue to work with Schenner on his game without the puck,” Murray said after the Kings’ morning skate in El Segundo. “I think that’s the area that gets exposed whenever the matchup happens to be like against Vancouver, coming out of a power play, he ends up against a [Henrik] Sedin, as an example. And those are world-class players and MVP of the league, mind you, but that’s the way it happens in this league sometimes and we’re just going to continue to focus in on that part of the game for him.
"He has a lot of good things. He’s going to be a very good player in the National Hockey League. We just want to make sure we’re bringing everything along the right way.”
Lewis is scheduled to play for only the third time this season.
“Trevor’s been waiting patiently and working very, very hard in his practices to get himself and keep ready. It’s time to get him back into the lineup and give him an opportunity to play,” Murray said. “It’s a game that’s going to be a speed game. Tampa Bay plays chip and chase and hunt it down and a quick transition game. So with his speed I’m hoping there’s going to be a real good contribution from him in particular and with Richie in the middle. It should be good, intense, hunt the puck and make some good things happen in the offensive zone.”
The Kings and Tampa Bay began Thursday atop their respective conferences. And though it’s early, it’s still remarkable that the teams that ranked 29th and 30th overall in the 2007-08 season have become conference powers.
“It’s more about the turnarounds that are possible in the National Hockey League today. The parity is there, obviously, and it could happen to any team in the league and it has happened many times,” Murray said.
“You take a look at the young teams that have gone on to win: Chicago last year, Pittsburgh has had a tremendous turnaround over the past few years. The Flyers — I was there when it was the team that finished 30th in the league and went to the playoffs the next year — deep into the playoffs. So anything is possible, and to me it says a lot about the ownership of your hockey club.
“For your owner to say, 'Stay with the program, bring your young players along,' that’s a very encouraging statement whenever your owner says that and it buys you the time to develop the right way and change your culture, bring your young players along, give them an opportunity to become NHL players.”
Although Drew Doughty hasn’t played since he suffered a concussion Oct. 20, Murray plans to give him even more ice time Thursday than he was getting before the injury.
Murray said he planned to play Doughty 27 or 28 minutes, which would put him near the season-high 29 minutes 19 seconds he played in the Kings’ season-opening shootout victory. Doughty was averaging 24:33 over his first four games and played only 6:49 in the game he was injured.
“I’m not really concerned about his conditioning. He’s been doing a lot of skating even when we were on the road. He was getting on the ice,” Murray said. “He looks good. He’s got a lot of jump in his stride. And if those minutes are there for him and he gets it, I think he’ll come through it fine.”
Kings captain Dustin Brown turned 26 on Thursday … Ryan Smyth, who’s scheduled to play in his 1,000th NHL game Saturday night, will be honored by the Kings in a pregame ceremony next Thursday. According to the Elias Sports Bureau he will be the 257th NHL player to reach the 1,000-game mark. He will also become the 17th player to achieve that milestone while wearing a Kings uniform.
More later from the Kings' game against the Lightning.
-- Helene Elliott