The defense for the Los Angeles Kings has been a strong point over the past season, as they continue to embrace the defensive mentality and system of Terry Murray. In addition to a strong defensive system that emphasizes team-defense, the Kings have one of the best top-6 defensemen in the league, and even some surprises this year made the defense even stronger. Let’s take a look at some of the main pillars of defensive responsibility on the Kings:
Drew Doughty – Any discussion of Kings defense has to begin with this former Norris-trophy candidate.In 76 games this season, Doughty scored 29 points (11g, 18a) and averaged an impressive 25:39 in ice time. They were solid numbers, and certainly nothing to sneeze at, but they ultimately lacked that something special that made him one of the best defensemen in the league last season. He netted only 1 goal in the first 23 games, and his overall play, while generally good, wasn’t the high-level expected by coaches, fans or the media. No doubt he’s going through much of the same challenge that players go through after having to adjust to additional pressure following a break-out season. Teams are keying on his offensive potential, and refusing to allow him the time he’d like to handle the puck. I fully expect that he’ll be better next season, and his future as a superstar depends on him taking another step forward sooner rather than later.
Matt Greene – Greener is a talented defensive defenseman. The Kings don’t really need Matt Greene to contribute goals, and he obliged, scoring 2 goals and 9 assists in 71 games. His average ice time of 16:59 is right in line with the kind of responsible defensive play that the Kings need from Greene. He’s slow. That’s a big knock on his play, and there’s no question that it’s a fair one. Nonetheless, Greene is a generally responsible player, that could use some help from perhaps a quicker defensive partner, though he meshed well when paired with youngster Alec Martinez for much of the season.
Jack Johnson – Jack “MF” Johnson is a puzzle. He’s more talented than most of the defensemen on the team, and indeed even in the league, but he’s still on a steep learning curve. He seems to have the offensive side of the game pretty much down pat, but the question now is whether he can take that offensive skill and pair it with responsible defensive play. Certainly Johnson played against some of the tougher opponents this season, and that may have contributed to some of the decrease in his numbers defensively. Regardless, Johnson put together 5 goals, 37 assists and was on the ice for 23:12 ice time, and next season the Kings will be looking for Johnson to step up to the next level. If he can close some of the hole in his defensive play, Johnson could be yet another potential all-star on the blueline for the Kings.
Alec Martinez – Martinez came basically out of nowhere this season and made himself a solid part of the blueline for the Kings. He put together 5 goals and 11 assists while filling 15:17 minutes of ice time on a day-to-day basis. His play was responsible (mostly) and very effective. While Martinez was probably not high on the radar of most fans (with Voynov, Hickey, Muzzin, Drewiske, and Harrold all above him), he brought his game to the next level this season and did something that can be asked of almost any defenseman in the NHL, and did it effectively – he didn’t try to do too much. He has some real offensive abilities to be sure, and they will likely continue to shine through as he becomes more comfortable with the speed and intensity of the NHL game. The only question for Martinez is if he can hold of some strong challengers for the defensive spot on the roster that are sure to come in next season.
Willie Mitchell – Mitchell was a gamble when the Kings signed him for a couple seasons last year, as he was coming off a concussion and injury troubles, but he performed to relatively high expectations this season. While he did miss a number of games to injuries, he still managed to appear in 57 games, and score 5 goals and 5 assists. When he was on the ice, Mitchell was a rock-solid defensive player that the Kings were able to rely on to help shut down some of the top lines in the league. He’s a flexible defenseman, in that he is able to pair with just about any of the Kings other defenseman and perform to a high level. Under contract for another season, Mitchell will be an important piece of the Kings defensive effort moving forward.
Rob Scuderi – Playing an average of 20:17, Scuderi scored 2 goals and 13 assists. Of course like Mitchell and Greene before him, Scuderi is not expected to bring much to the table offensively. Indeed, his total of 15 points nearly matches his career high of 16 points. He’s not going to score many points, but he’s expected to bring a strong defensive mindset. His positioning and vision on the ice are impressive, though his speed sometimes gets him into trouble. If the Kings are able to pair him with another mobile, talented defenseman, they may have another lethal pairing to help shut down the best in the league.
Overview – The Los Angeles Kings have some of the best defensemen in the league. Doughty and Johnson are elite-offensive defensemen, and Mitchell, Scuderi and Greene are all incredibly strong defensive players. The combination is the reason that the Kings were in the top 5 defensive teams in the league. What lies ahead for the Kings is an interesting question. All those players are coming back next season, (technically Doughty and Martinez are RFA’s, but there’s no way Lombardi lets either walk for nothing) barring a trade, and the Kings will look to build on their strong play this season. With prospects like Hickey and Voynov getting ready to make their debut, it’ll be a struggle to get on the ice next year.