Yes, Anze Kopitar broke his ankle. Yes, he will likely be out at least until the end of the second round and probably longer. Yes, that leaves the Kings with what amounts to three third line centers and no first or second line center. Yes, Andrei Loktionov -- the organization's best center not currently on the Kings -- is out for the season with a dislocated shoulder. Yes, Brayden Schenn, the organization's second best center prospect (long-term: the best) -- is ineligible for recall until Saskatoon is eliminated from the WHL/CHL playoffs, which is not likely to happen any time soon.
You were waiting for a "but"? Okay, I'll try to come up with one.
Didn't I hear that the Kings are insanely deep at center? What's up with that? We must be able to drill down into the prospect pool and come up with someone...
Here is the Kings depth chart at center:
- Jarret Stoll
- Michal Handzus
- Trevor Lewis
- Brad Richardson
- Loktionov - injured (out for season)
- Oscar Moller - natural center, converted to RW; currently doing his Justin Williams impression
- Schenn - ineligible until Saskatoon's season ends (probably some time in May at the earliest)
- Jordan Weal - just completed his junior season and has played two games in Manchester
- Corey Elkins - a big body, fourth line option
- Garrett Roe - just finished his senior year of college; unsigned Kings draft pick.
- Justin Azevedo - he, Weal and Roe are the three tiny speedy centers on the reserve list.
- Nic Dowd - unsigned draft pick; just finished his freshman year of college.
- Robert Czarnik - ineligible until Plymouth is eliminated from the OHL/CHL playoffs.
- Jordan Nolan - fourth line center, playing in Manchester.
- Podge Turnbull - no clue really. Unsigned draft pick. Still in college.
- Michael Pelech - unsigned draft pick, playing in Ontario.
- Move Moller to center and bring up one of Brandon Kozun (RW), Bud Holloway (LW), Dwight King (LW), Marc-Andre Cliche (RW).
- Move Richardson to center and call it a day. Maybe bring up one of the Manchester wingers mentioned in the previous bullet.
- Sign Garrett Roe and throw him to the wolves.
- Sign an undrafted NCAA free agent and throw him to the wolves. Who is out there? I have no idea.
I think I would try this:
Alexei Ponikarovsky - Lewis - Moller
Kyle Clifford - Richardson - Cliche
- Handzus and Brown have had a weird chemistry lately.
- Penner needs someone wise to play off of.
- Moller speed and Lewis speed combine to form super two-headed speed creature.
- Cliche is responsible defensively.
Penner - Handzus - Brown
Smyth - Stoll - Simmonds
Brandon Kozun - Lewis - Moller
Clifford - Richardson - Ponikarovsky
Due to my possibly irrational allegiance to the Millen-Donnelly speed demon 3rd line concept, I am going to cast my lot with the Kozun/Lewis/Moller idea, despite the fact that Kozun has zero NHL experience and despite the fact that Lewis would be the biggest guy on the line. Would they get pushed around? I don't know. Maybe if you could catch them.
Another variation, which I expect Terry Murray to consider, is this:
Penner - Lewis - Moller
Smyth - Stoll - Simmonds
Poni - Handzus - Brown
Clifford - Richardson - (call-up)
- between Kopitar and Williams, 50 goals just flew out the window;
- Kopitar is an important piece defensively, on the PP, on the PK, i.e. everywhere;
- he's a center and we don't have someone who can just step in and seamlessly take all those draws;
- Kopitar is excellent in the shoot-out.
- He's a leader, and the locker room will have a different dynamic without him.
- Not a brain injury.
- The Kings defensive system doesn't lean too heavily on any one piece.
- Nor does it require a lot of scoring to be successful.
- In fact, Kopitar has been a non-factor in many games this year. I count 25 Kings wins in which Kopitar did not score a goal. The Kings are 10-8-3 in games where he didn't get a point. (there's a 1 or 2 game margin of error on these numbers, as I eyeballed them quickly from the ESPN game logs.)
- There are no shoot-outs in the playoffs.
- The Kings have several veterans who have centuries of experience to call on. Players get hurt. Stars get hurt. They know this.
- Possibly my favorite of the silver linings: the power play. As much as I love Kopitar's game, I have always wondered (often aloud) if the power play is not his weak suit. The whole enterprise is centered on him, and he's usually just standing still, telegraphing passes on a swivel. He looks, I'm sorry to say, hesitant -- which good PK units can smell a mile away. So this last silver lining is, at the very least, the Kings will be forced to change it up. The QB is gone. Something's got to change there, and that's got to be a good thing. Maybe we can get back some of that Doughty/Johnson voodoo from the first few games of the Vancouver series, before f-ing Willie Mitchell phoned in all his secret advice to the Canuck PK and cost us the series!! But I digress.