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By Pierre LeBrun
It's time. Six seasons out of the playoffs, a long rebuilding period, and now the boys are ready.
The Kings are on the rise, and you won't find a single player or coach or executive for this team who doesn't believe they've got their best shot in a long time at ending their playoff drought. They've built this team for this moment.
"Ah yes, definitely," Kings captain Dustin Brown told ESPN.com. "Management has done this the right way with building through the draft and acquiring players. But now, it's really on the players to perform. We have the pieces in place. It's a matter of coming together and committing to each other. We really have no excuses. It's about the players in this dressing room taking accountability for how we play."
Here are 10 things you need to know about the Kings this season:
1. Lessons learned
The Kings flirted with a playoff spot last season before fading late. Tough lessons were absorbed.
"Consistency is huge, we learned that last year," said Brown. "We were in a ton of games. ... Another part of that is our belief in ourselves. I think last year was a learning experience for us. We played pretty well and we were in a lot of games against a lot of good teams. But being such a young team and not ever having been in that situation before, I think sometimes we second-guessed ourselves: 'Are we really in this game?' I think that was part of the puzzle that we take away from last year."
2. Key addition, Part I
Most of the core group has grown up together through the Kings system, but GM Dean Lombardi, sensing his window was finally here, added two key veterans this summer. First, he signed defenseman Rob Scuderi.
"Scuderi is a huge addition to our back end. He really solidifies our stay-at-home position," said Brown. "He's capable of making some pretty good plays coming out of the zone. The one thing I've noticed, playing with him early on here, is that he's very steady. He plays within himself. He plays within his game and I think that makes him so good."
3. Key addition, Part II
Then, Lombardi made the splashy trade with Colorado to acquire Ryan Smyth, a character veteran the Kings' GM believes will lead by example for his younger teammates.
"With Smythy, with the exception of a couple of players, I think L.A. has lacked that kind of player that plays the game hard and goes to the front of the net," said Brown, a hard-nosed player himself. "That's really going to help our team mindset of getting dirty goals. ... We didn't have enough guys last year going to the net hard. I think when more of your key players are willing to go to the net and get tough goals, it kind of rubs off on everybody. The effect is tenfold."
4. Quick reflexes
Jonathan Quick, 23, was a revelation last season for the Kings and did enough to warrant a Team USA Olympic camp invite. The Kings believe they've finally found their man in goal after years of frustration.
"You look around the league, if you have a good team, there's a good goaltender, and he was just that for us last year," said Brown. "I think everyone has confidence in him and he has a lot of confidence in himself and he's performed well. The key for him, I think, is that he's a No. 1 goalie and he needs to be comfortable in that position from day one. It's different when you come in from the beginning of the year, both physically and mentally, with that responsibility."
5. Blue line deep enough?
Last season's rookie sensation, Drew Doughty, returns to lead a younger Kings blue line. He'll likely partner up with veteran Sean O'Donnell for the top pairing, while Scuderi matches up with Jack Johnson in what should be a terrific second pairing. The Kings have been real happy with Johnson's camp. Matt Greene is the No. 5 blueliner. Then, it gets interesting for the final two jobs; the competition likely will be between Davis Drewiske, 24, Alec Martinez, 22, and Thomas Hickey, 20. In any case, look for the Kings to add another piece to this group if they're sitting in a playoff spot before the March 3 trade deadline.
6. Quality forwards
The Kings can roll out their first three forward lines and feel good about their chances. Star center Anze Kopitar will center the top line between Smyth and Justin Williams, but the next group of forwards is also solid with Brown, Alexander Frolov, Wayne Simmonds, Jarret Stoll and Michal Handzus providing excellent support. Williams was a trade-deadline addition last season, while Smyth came in over the summer. The Kings needed the injection of offense after placing 27th in goals per game last season.
7. Big Brayden
He probably is still headed back to junior, but 18-year-old center Brayden Schenn has made it hard on the Kings with his strong camp and preseason. The fifth overall pick in the June NHL draft is another bright light in the Kings' future plans.
8. Impressive numbers
The Kings were fourth in the NHL last season in allowing only 28.1 shots against per game, a tip of the hat to coach Terry Murray and his defensive approach. Los Angeles was also fourth in faceoff win percentage at 52 percent.
9. A scheduling note
A season-long, six-game road trip comes in the opening month, with the Kings makings stops in St. Louis, Long Island, New York, Detroit, Columbus and Detroit from Oct. 10-19.
10. Olympic exposure
As many as eight Kings might get to Vancouver next February: Brown (USA), Smyth (Canada), Frolov (Russia), Handzus (Slovakia), Doughty (Canada), Johnson (USA), Quick (USA) and, yes, possibly tough guy Raitis Ivanans (Latvia).
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
• Record: 34-37-11
• Division: Last in the Pacific
• Conference: 14th in the West
• Playoffs: Did not qualify
• This is finally the season. We see the Kings nabbing the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference after placing third in the Pacific Division.
• Veteran coach Terry Murray returns for a second season behind the Kings bench, having won admiration for his job with the young team last season.
"In a lot of ways, he's a throwback, but in a lot of other ways, he's willing to try new things," Lombardi told ESPN.com. "He's got a wealth of knowledge and experience, but he's also very adaptable. He's very receptive to new suggestions and new things. And he's got that demeanor where he doesn't get rattled. He's stern and honest. He's a really good fit for our team."
F -- Ryan Smyth
• "Captain Canada" still put up 26 goals and 59 points on a bad Colorado team last season.
F -- Anze Kopitar
• Dipped from 77 points in 2007-08 to 66 points last season, but he's only 22 and still getting better.
F -- Justin Williams
• Looking to get back to his 30-goal form after back-to-back, injury-plagued seasons.
D -- Sean O'Donnell
• The old dog is a good mentor for franchise kid Doughty.
D -- Drew Doughty
• Should at least have been nominated for the Calder Trophy last season. Total oversight. The sky's the limit for this kid.
Best Bet: Alexander Frolov, F: Two straight seasons of a production drop from Frolov has us worried about his prospects with the Kings. He still led the team with 32 goals, but Frolov had trouble adjusting to life on a defensive team. We've muted his projection by having him miss a few games, but the sole purpose of that is to highlight Frolov's tumble on this Kings squad. He'll be better served if trade rumors come to fruition and he gets a new lease elsewhere in the NHL. With a poor plus/minus though, Frolov doesn't look like much more than a fantasy reserve to be used as a power-play goal specialist.
Risky Move: Teddy Purcell, F: Purcell has been a consistent star in the minors, most recently potting 38 points in 38 games for Manchester in the AHL whenever he wasn't putting in time for the Kings. But Purcell hasn't managed to catch fire in the NHL. He could be a star for this team if given the right role and ample ice time. But there is a reason we only have him projected for 32 games: The Kings still have too many forwards jostling for top-six minutes, so it would take an injury for Purcell to excel.• Player projections | 2009-10 Fantasy Draft Kit
Puck Prospectus uses its VUKOTA projection system to evaluate every NHL team in pivotal categories, while Will Carroll and E.J. Hradek weigh in on injuries and intangibles, respectively. Get an in-depth look at a new category every weekday leading up to the unveiling of The Mag's full rankings.
Where will the Los Angeles Kings finish this season in Pacific Division?
Make your 2009-10 picks here.