Mike Richards

Kings have plenty of leadership after offseason moves

It only took one big free agent signing, another smaller signing, and a historic trade to change the face of the Los Angeles Kings. The collection of moves proved that the Kings have transitioned from a team planning for the future to a team preparing for the present. With the additions of Mike Richards and Simon Gagne, the Kings have a legitimate stable of top six forwards for the first time in a decade. Mix in recent acquisition Ethan Moreau for depth and the Kings have the look of a team ready to make a run this season.

On top of the talent the Kings brought to Los Angeles this summer, there’s another tie that binds each of the signings: leadership. Both Mike Richards and Ethan Moreau are former NHL captains, but head coach Terry Murray doesn’t foresee any power-struggle problems in the locker room. In fact, Murray knows Richards well from his time as an assistant coach in Philadelphia.

The Kings head coach spoke about Richards and the leadership qualities he expects the former Flyers captain to bring to his new team.

“He’s got those instinctive leadership skills that some players have and some players don’t,” Murray said of Richards. “He steps up; a big part of his leadership is doing it on the ice. He’s a guy who wants to take over whenever it’s needed. He’s a guy that watches the game very closely, he jumps in, he’ll fight, he battles, he’s gritty. He can make plays; he can crank it up to the next level whenever necessary. We saw it in the Olympics two years ago with Team Canada. At the end of the day when Canada had to get their game going, it ended up being [Jonathan] Toews and Richards. They moved a couple of different guys around on the other wing. But to me, when I watched that whole tournament, those were the guys who stepped it up and showed the way for the rest of the team.”

Fortunately for the Kings, they already have a strong leadership group in place. Dustin Brown has been the captain for the past three seasons and is the main leader of the Kings’ young core of players on the ice. Murray also intimated that alternate captains Anze Kopitar and Matt Greene are well established on the team. The Kings won’t ask the newly acquired Richards to jump into an official leadership position with the Kings—although they expect him to continue to lead by example as he has throughout his career.

“I think they have some similarities in their vocal approach,” Murray said when comparing Richards’ style to Brown’s. “Mike’s not a real loud and demanding guy that way. Brownie, to me, is similar. They’re more on-the-ice action players. They lead by example. [They play] hard, they play a physical game, and they play the game the right way. They come to practice and do the same thing all over again the next day. That sets the tempo and the tone for the rest of the team. That’s tremendous leadership in a quieter way. Then you have other guys, as we know, who are focused, demanding, yelling and screaming. And sometimes that’s me. [smiles]”

It not just the former captains that have the Kings coaching staff excited. In addition to Richards and Moreau, Simon Gagne has been an alternate captain and shown the ability to motivate throughout his career as well.

“[Gagne] was under consideration for the captaincy of the Flyers when I was there,” Murray revealed. “At the time whenever Richards came in and Primeau got injured… Now you’re looking, what are you going to do for the captaincy? The conversations in the coach’s office included Gagne as one of those guys. He had those qualities, but he’s a quieter guy too. He’s a player. He wants to get on the ice, play the game, set the example, and do the right things and lead by performance. We lose Handzus, and I love Handzus and his leadership and his intensity in play. But we also look at the two players that we’ve added that bring a lot of [good] qualities.”

The Kings head coach brings up a good point when the talks about losing Michal Handzus. Handzus played tough minutes for the Kings last season on the penalty kill and against some of the toughest opposition. But aside from his play on the ice, Handzus helped some of the younger players grow into effective two-way players (see: Trevor Lewis).

Bringing in guys like Moreau, Richards, and Gagne will not only help fill the void on the ice, but they should the hole in the locker room as well. They have mentored teammates in the past—and they’ve all been to the top of the mountain. Each of the newcomers have been to the Stanley Cup Finals; and each wants to finish what they’ve already started. Los Angeles has a team that is looking to take the next step, they could use a few veterans to show them the way. Enter Richards, Gagne, and Moreau.

The pieces are in place for Los Angeles to evolve into a contender this season. Whether the Kings fill their promise or fall short again—leadership won’t be an issue.

After years of hype, McDavid to play first NHL game

Connor McDavid
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The hype surrounding Connor McDavid couldn’t be much greater, but finally expectations will start to give way to results.

The NHL career that’s been talked about for years will begin tonight when his Edmonton Oilers face St. Louis.

“It’s something that you dream of for so long,” McDavid told NHL.com. “The draft is one thing, but to finally be in this situation is another, so I’m really excited. It’s been a long road; it’s been a lot of hard work. I think a lot of guys’ stories are different in how they get here, but the one common theme is hard work and my story is not any different that way.”

McDavid has transformed the Oilers with his mere presence. Its breathed fresh optimism into a city that have watched this team struggle in its efforts to dig out of the NHL basement. One also has to wonder if Peter Chiarelli would be the team’s new general manager and Todd McLellan its new head coach if Edmonton hadn’t won the draft lottery.

But where will he lead Edmonton? Will he be just the sixth 70-point rookie of the salary cap era? Will he struggle out of the gate, putting the hype into question? Perhaps he’ll draw comparisons to Steven Stamkos, who had a modest rookie campaign by the standards of a highly regarded top pick, but has nevertheless gone on to become a superstar.

That would surprise Stamkos as the Lightning captain feels McDavid is better than he is currently. Just further proof that those lofty expectations are coming from all sides.

“You don’t want to put too much weight on his shoulders; he’s an 18-year-old kid,” Oilers general manager Peter Chiarelli said. “I don’t care how good he is or how good he’ll be, it’s a lot to shoulder if you’re supposed to be the guy and you’re the only guy. Fortunately we have a lot of high-pedigree players that are high picks who have gone through similar situations that he’s going through.”

Edmonton certainly has no shortage of first overall picks, but none as highly regarded as McDavid. But then, few ever are.

Related: There’s ‘a real positive vibe’ in Buffalo, where Eichel will make NHL debut tonight

There’s ‘a real positive vibe’ in Buffalo, where Eichel will make NHL debut tonight

Connor McDavid
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Jack Eichel didn’t disappoint in the preseason, finishing with six points in four games, including two shorthanded goals.

Tonight in Buffalo, his NHL career will start for real when the Sabres host the Ottawa Senators in regular-season action.

“It’s something I’ve dreamed of my whole life, stepping foot on that ice and making the NHL,” Eichel said, per NHL.com. “It’s kind of been a whirlwind, but you’re finally playing hockey for a living and everything you’ve done your whole life is to get to this point. It’s pretty special.”

The 18-year-old’s debut was front-page news this morning in Buffalo, where the Sabres have been among the NHL’s worst teams since last making the playoffs in 2010-11.

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Granted, even with the additions of Eichel, Ryan O'Reilly, Evander Kane, Robin Lehner and Cody Franson, expectations for 2015-16 remain modest for the new-look Sabres. Certainly, a spot in the playoffs would count as a surprise.

But for the fans of a team that’s barely possessed the puck the past couple of years, it’s night and day.

“People are excited,” GM Tim Murray said earlier this week. “It’s great. They think we’ve improved, and there’s a real positive vibe, I believe.

“That’s what I said to our coaches, ‘I want everybody to be positive. I’m the only guy in the organization allowed to be negative.’ That’s the way I wanted it. If I’m the most negative guy in the city about the team, that’s pretty good.”