For years the Los Angeles Kings have been a team on the rise thanks to a foundation of talented young players built through the draft. Players like Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Drew Doughty, and Jonathan Quick, just to name a few. They've all been key figures and the driving forces behind their current run to the Stanley Cup Final.
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Their organizational depth and large amounts of salary cap space in recent seasons have always made them them the subject of rumors and speculation any time a star player was made available for a trade or in free agency. In other words, the long-awaited "missing piece" that could put them over the top and turn an up-and-coming team into a legitimate contender in the Western Conference.
This year, over the span of eight months, general manager Dean Lombardi hit a pair of home runs, having acquired forwards Mike Richards and Jeff Carter in two separate deals. Just before the 2011 draft, the Kings sent highly touted forwards Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds to Philadelphia in exchange for Richards, and paired him down the middle with Kopitar.
It was a move that gave the Kings one of the best center duos in the league.
Just before the trade deadline, with the Kings offense struggling to score goals, Lombardi sent defenseman Jack Johnson and a conditional first-round draft pick to Columbus for Carter, reuniting the former Flyers teammates. (Just as a quick reminder: The Blue Jackets originally acquired Carter on the same day the Kings acquired Richards, sending Jakub Voracek and the No. 7 overall pick to Philadelphia. The series of deals turned out pretty well for the Flyers, outstanding for the Kings, and, well ... terrible for the Jackets).
The team has pretty much been unstoppable ever since.
Since inserting Carter into the lineup the Kings have gone on a 27-7-3 run including the playoffs. They went from scoring 2.1 goals per game to scoring 3.1 per game, and allowing 2.21 all the way down to just 1.88.
It's not so much that Richards and Carter themselves have been scoring a ton of goals (though, they have been productive) it's what they've allowed other players on the team to do thanks to their presence. Richards and Carter have been used in the majority of the Kings defensive situations (playing against top opponents, taking defensive zone faceoffs) which has allowed the Kings top line of Kopitar, Brown and Williams to focus more on offense and get more favorable matchups. Is it a coincidence that Kopitar and Brown saw a spike in their offensive production in the games following the addition of Carter? Maybe, but I don't think you can ignore the impact that the Richards-Carter duo has had on the Kings.
They've not only been productive players, but they've given the Kings another top line that teams have to focus on. They can't simply load up on Kopitar and Brown as they were in the first half of the season.
Richards and Carter are big-time players -- and they always have been -- and this is one of the reasons why.
But they represent just two of the trades made by the Kings over the years. A quick look at the others, including three of which that involved the Edmonton Oilers...
- In 2008 the Kings acquired Jarret Stoll and Matt Greene from Edmonton in exchange for defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky.
- During the summer of 2008 the Kings acquired Brad Richardson from Colorado for a second-round pick
- At the 2009 trade deadline Justin Williams was acquired from Carolina in that sent Patrick O'Sullivan and a second-round draft pick that originally belonged to the Calgary Flames the other way.
- At the 2011 trade deadline Dustin Penner came to Los Angeles in a deal that sent Colten Teubert and a first-round pick to Edmonton.
- Before the 2011 draft the Oilers sent Colin Fraser and a seventh-round pick to Los Angeles for veteran forward Ryan Smyth. The trade later became a topic of controversy due to the injury status of Fraser, but the two sides eventually worked it out.
For as important and great as the trades have been, it still all starts with the draft.
The Kings have definitely found some gems over the years, including nearly every member of the current foundation: Brown (13th overall in 2003), Kopitar (11th overall in 2005), Trevor Lewis (17th overall in 2006) and Doughty (2nd overall in 2008) were all first-round picks, as was Brayden Schenn (5th overall in 2009), one of the players that was used as a trade chip to acquire Richards from Philadelphia.
Starting goalie Jonathan Quick, one of the best players in the league at his position, was selected in the third-round back in 2005.
The one area the Kings haven't had to rely on is free agency, using it to add complimentary players to the core. The only two significant additions on the current roster are defensemen Willie Mitchell and Rob Scuderi, two rock-solid players on the blue line.
They did sign forward Simon Gagne to a two-year contract this past summer, but the move hasn't had much of a chance to pay off as he's missed most of the season (and all of the playoffs to this point) due to a concussion.
In the end, the Kings took perhaps the best possible path to get where they currently are: Excellent draft picks, especially in the first round, and a farm system that not only produced franchise players, but also gave them the type of depth required to acquire additional impact players players via trade without sacrificing talent at the NHL level.
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