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Cullen: Kings raise the stakes with summer additions

Scott Cullen
9/13/2011 11:52:45 AM
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The Los Angeles Kings have been patiently building, but this summer's additions signify that it's time to take the next step to contend in the Western Conference.

In three of the last four seasons, Anze Kopitar has scored at least 70 points and finished with 73 points in 75 games last season before suffering a broken ankle that ended his season prematurely and, effectively, crushed the Kings' playoff hopes. With more balance in the Kings' attack, Kopitar may not be leaned on quite so heavily to lead, but he's the best bet to be a point-per-game scorer.

In 2007-2008 and 2008-2009, Mike Richards scored 155 points in 152 for the Philadelphia Flyers, before dropping to 128 points in 163 games over the last two seasons. Perhaps some indication that he was falling out of favour in Philadelphia could be seen in his ice time, which dropped under 20 minutes per game for the first time since 2006-2007. In Los Angeles, Richards should again be a 20-minute per game player and he'll be a fine complement to Kopitar down the middle. Richards has scored at least 60 points in four consecutive seasons, posting a double-digit plus rating in three of those seasons.

Going into last season, Jonathan Quick was supposed to be clinging to his starting job, trying to hold off the challenge from top prospect Jonathan Bernier, but Quick responded with the best season of his career, solidifying his hold on the number one spot. If the Kings are better as a team this season, it stands to reason that Quick will be valuable, even if he doesn't match his .918 save percentage from a year ago.

Inconsistency plagued defenceman Drew Doughty in his third NHL season, as he took a step back from his performance in the 2009-2010 campaign. Doughty has the ability to be one of the very best at his position and, even coming off a down season, he has recorded at least 40 points, with a double-digit plus rating in back-to-back seasons. Four other defencemen -- Zdeno Chara, Christian Ehrhoff, Brian Rafalski and Keith Yandle -- have hit those marks the last two seasons, so Doughty is in good company, but he's capable of more.

Hard-driving winger Dustin Brown has been very consistent, scoring at least 24 goals and 53 points in each of the last four seasons. Riding shotgun with Kopitar is a good place to be and Brown is especially effective in leagues that count hits since he's finished in the top three in the league in each of the last five seasons.

Defenceman Jack Johnson continues to improve offensively, scoring a career-high 42 points last year, but he also finished with a career-low minus-21 rating. At some point, Johnson has to avoid the crippling double-digit minuses, which he's recorded every year he's been in the league, if he's going to be an asset.

Relatively healthy last season, for the first time since 2006-2007, Justin Williams topped 20 goals and 55 points for the third time in his career and it was also the fourth time that he registered a double-digit plus rating. Provided he can stay healthy, Williams should be a consistently productive scoring winger.

Another of the ex-Flyers on the West Coast, Simon Gagne can't stay healthy, having missed at least 19 games in three of the last four seasons. Gagne is obviously talented, having scored more than 30 goals four times, and the possibility of playing with Richards does present a good opportunity for a productive season.

Enigmatic winger Dustin Penner was a flop (2 G, 6 PTS, 19 GP) after coming over from Edmonton last season and got blasted by GM Dean Lombardi. When Penner is motivated, he can make a difference. He's scored more than 20 goals in four of the last five seasons, but his lack of consistency can be maddening and if he can't earn the trust of the coach, how can fantasy owners get excited about the prospect of owning him?

Jarret Stoll figures to drop down the depth chart, now that Richards is in L.A., so it could affect his point production, but in the grand scheme, Stoll is a responsible two-way forward who has received a fantasy boost for years because he contributes on the power play. As it is now, he's likely only of value in the deepest leagues.

Among the young Kings, there may be some value in goaltender Jonathan Bernier, who would get the call if Quick gets hurt or struggles, or forward Andrei Loktionov, who has 55 points in 63 AHL games over the last two seasons. He's ready to play full-time in the NHL and might even move into a top-six role if Penner doesn't get on the right track.

Expectations are going up for the Kings this year and if they can stay healthy, there should be many sources of interest for fantasy owners.

NHL Depth Chart - Los Angeles Kings

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen.  For more, check out TSN Fantasy Sports on Facebook.




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