Over the past several seasons the Los Angeles Kings and the term “sandpaper” have become almost synonymous with one another.
It’s been the calling card they’ve used during their run as an elite team and a main component of their game that has helped reel in two Stanley Cup titles over the past five seasons.
General Manager Dean Lombardi has actively sought players who play a “heavy” game through trades and free agency and the organization has not shied away from their reputation of being a team that grinds it’s opposition down and wins close, low-scoring contests. Seeing the success of the Kings, other teams, like the Winnipeg Jets, have tried to emulate the style.
But times, they are a-changing across the National Hockey League.
Skill, speed and youth are increasingly becoming more popular around the league. Whether it be the impressive early-career success that the most recent batch of young, skilled players like Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau have enjoyed, or the fresh breath of air that players like Max Domi and Anthony Duclair have injected into Arizona’s roster, front offices around the league are taking notice and are adjusting their philosophies accordingly.
But the Kings have largely stayed the course. While teams even in their own division are adding doses of youth and even sacrificing some size and grit in the process, L.A. is still a team that still prides itself on those styles that are now starting to be looked over.
While the Kings did lose forward Milan Lucic in the offseason, they still have plenty of other players that bring that sandpaper.
And no one on the Kings’ “heavy” roster probably fits the bill more than Dustin Brown. While his offensive production has taken a notable dip in recent seasons and he even lost his captain’s “C” over the offseason, he’s still in Los Angeles for the time being, and he’ll still push the envelope in the physicality department.
Marian Gaborik is another player that fits this mold. While he’s battled injury and decreased production in his time in LA, his 6’1″, 205-pound frame makes him a good fit for the Kings roster in it’s current form.
Forward Jordan Nolan is another prime example of the sandpaper in the Kings’ lineup. Even at the age of 24, the Ontario native has built a reputation of being a pest with grit, registering 220 penalty minutes in a career that has spanned 246 regular season games.
Of course, it would be remiss to mention Anze Kopitar, a player who brings a lot of size to L.A.’s lineup, and also is their largest source of offense.
With the league evolving on style of play, but L.A. sticking to their guns (at least for now), will the Kings be able to keep up?
This season will likely go a very long ways in answering that question. The Kings have many question marks for this upcoming season, but arguably their biggest one will center around whether they can remain an elite hockey club, and their style of play could be a main factor in deciding it.
After making deep runs through the postseason for three straight seasons and qualifying for the postseason for five consecutive seasons, L.A. missed the playoffs in 2014-15 and was bounced in the first round by the rival Sharks last year. Lombardi and his staff have made numerous tweaks to the roster since winning it all in June 2014, but there’s been no major overhaul in how the roster is built.
If L.A. misses out on the playoffs again, or it’s another first-round exit, there’s a possibility that this could spark larger roster changes. But if there’s yet another deep postseason run left in this nucleus then look for Lombardi to continue to go to the well to look for that sandpaper.
This isn’t to say that the Kings have completely ignored adding young talent to their roster. Forward Tyler Toffoli is a good example of this. The native of Toronto, who was taken in the second round (47th overall) of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft, is just 24 but he ranked third on the team in scoring last season.
But the foundation of the Kings is based on grit, and the wave of young talent around the league will soon prove whether that foundation will hold up.