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Penner impresses teammates in Kings practice debut; Bernier to start Thursday

March 2, 2011 |  4:27 pm


Winger Dustin Penner, acquired by the Kings from Edmonton on Monday, fell in love with Southern California when he played for the Ducks and bought a summer home in Newport Beach. He didn’t expect to use his home during hockey season, but he spent Tuesday night there before participating in his first practice at the Kings’ El Segundo training facility.

“I drove up this morning just to check out and see how long it took. Not bad,” he said, estimating the travel time at about 45 minutes. “A lot shorter than some of the drives I had to Rexall from my place. That took an hour and 15 if there was light snow.”

No snow to worry about here, but traffic can be challenging. Lakers star Kobe Bryant also lives in Newport Beach and has a helicopter to ferry him to games. It was suggested that Penner might grab a ride in the ‘copter when Kobe isn’t using it.

“If he wants to carpool I’ll pay for gas,” Penner offered. “If it’s premium, maybe not.”

Penner’s first day on the ice with the Kings was taken up with learning a new system and the tendencies of his linemates, Anze Kopitar and Wayne Simmonds. He knows defenseman Matt Greene and center Jarret Stoll from their days in Edmonton and Stoll pronounced the deal “a great pickup” because of Penner’s strengths and because the Kings didn’t have to give up a player from their current lineup. Their price was defense prospect Colten Teubert, a first-round pick in June and a conditional pick in 2012.

“He’s great at controlling the puck and he’s a big, strong guy. We’ve got some big, strong guys already but that just adds to it.” Stoll said. “In the playoffs that’s a real important factor to have. It could be a six- or seven-game series and you need big, strong bodies to go through that.”

Penner, who will wear No. 25 when he makes his Kings debut Thursday against Phoenix at Staples Center, quickly made a favorable impression Wednesday on teammates who didn’t know him well.

“He’s a big boy out there. You don’t really realize how big he is until he’s off the skates,” Simmonds said of his 6-foot-4, 240-pound linemate. “He’s just a mammoth human being but at the same time he’s got nice, soft hands and he can distribute the puck well. And he can score. He’s got a good nose for the net. I’m looking forward to playing with him and Kopi.

“He’s got the experience and knows what it takes. I think he’s going to be a great fit for our team.”

Even with players he once fought. Reminded of a scrap he had with Stoll in December of 2004, while both were playing in the American Hockey League, Penner seemed baffled. “I don’t remember how it went. I’m sure I overpowered him,” he said. “I think it was more of a wrestling match.”

Told there was no video of the tussle, he smiled. “Then I got more to tell you,” he said, triggering laughter from the larger-than-usual media contingent.

Coach Terry Murray said he believes Penner, a four-time 20-goal scorer, can perform at a still-higher level.

“I think there’s a lot there still to get out,” Murray said. “Coming into the prime of his career, this is an opportunity for him to come in and just be a good hockey player. I’m not looking for him to be the savior of the franchise. Don’t put things on your own shoulders.

“We just want him to be a good player to fit in with everybody else. If there’s a high quality leadership that does come out eventually down the road as he gets more comfortable, that’s a benefit.”

Murray did offer one mildly surprising lineup change, saying Jonathan Bernier will start in goal Thursday. Jonathan Quick let in a couple of soft goals Monday in the Kings’ 7-4 loss to Detroit and was pulled during the third period.

The switch, Murray said, “has just about everything to do with the last game. That’s how I make my decisions. I’ve got to see performance. If I’m seeing something with another player … at any time I’ll take a player out if he’s not performing or having a real difficult day. It doesn’t change there.”

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--Helene Elliott

Photo: Kings winger Dustin Penner chats with teammate Peter Harrold during his first practice with the club on Wednesday. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times