Willie Mitchell is full of praise for Aaron Ekblad.
“I think he’s like a [Drew Doughty], but obviously earlier in the process,” Mitchell, 37, said of his young defensive partner, per L.A. Kings Insider.
“He’s 18 and he’s so talented, so you don’t really have to say too much. To be honest, he’s a really, really mature kid, like really, really mature. He doesn’t look 18, doesn’t act 18.”
Not only are Ekblad and Mitchell partnered together on the ice, the first overall pick in the 2014 draft is living with Mitchell and his wife this year. (Which is nice for Mitchell because, with Ekblad being too young to legally drink, “you always have a driver if you have a glass of wine.”)
At 6-4-5, the Panthers are off to a promising start to the season. They smoked the Ducks, 6-2, in Anaheim on Sunday, with Ekblad logging 20:49 of ice time and collecting an assist. That helper gave him 10 points, the most of any rookie d-man.
“We’re keeping our goals against pretty down,” said Mitchell. “We’re not scoring a lot, but we’ve put some good wins on the board this year against some really good teams. So you can kind of sense that the young guys start to believe.”
The Panthers are in Los Angeles tonight to play Mitchell’s old team, the defending champion Kings.
Almost a month has passed since Slava Voynov was arrested for domestic assault and suspended indefinitely by the NHL, and still the situation, which has been called “dysfunctional” by Kings GM Dean Lombardi, lacks clarity.
Will the Kings get Voynov back this season? Will they ever get him back?
At the very least, will they get some cap relief?
Yesterday, per the O.C. Register, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman struck a somewhat unsympathetic tone when he told reporters in Toronto, ”Every team has to manage its salary cap, right? It’s just the way it works. … The integrity of the game requires teams to comply with the salary cap.”
To which Lombardi responded, rather acerbically, “As this case makes clear, we must now do one and/or two things. We must build in a cushion in case one of our players is a bank robber, kleptomaniac, etc.
“The seemingly better alternative is, we have to do a better job of educating our players and, in particular, monitoring our players away from the rink. While monitoring them away from the rink may have the Orwellian connotation of `Big Brother’ oversight, that is the nature of the sports business in the cap era.”
You’ll forgive Lombardi’s impatience with the situation. The Kings are really missing Voynov’s minutes. On Saturday, Drew Doughty played a season-high 32:21 versus the Ducks, and that’s not something coach Darryl Sutter wants “over the long haul.”
“[Voynov’s] legal situation continues to be somewhat uncertain,” deputy commissioner Bill Daly said yesterday, per the Canadian Press. “We’re kind of waiting to see if there are developments there, but there’s no certainty there will be before the beginning part of December. We’re kind of playing it day-by-day.”
After getting struck by a puck and undergoing pinky finger surgery, L.A. defenseman Alec Martinez will miss a week’s worth of action, Kings GM Dean Lombardi said (per LA Kings Insider).
Martinez, hurt during last Thursday’s loss to Dallas, sat out Saturday’s 3-2 OT win over Anaheim — a game in which Drew Doughty played a season-high 32:21, the most logged in a regular season game since drawing 33:25 in a 2-1 overtime loss at Edmonton on January 24, 2013.
It also marked the fifth time in the last six games Doughty’s eclipsed 30 minutes. Last week, Brough wrote about that heavy workload and how it concerned head coach Darryl Sutter.
“He has been playing a lot of minutes,” coach Darryl Sutter said of Doughty. “Do we like that? No. But that’s where we’re at. You know what? I look at that all the time, too. It’s too many minutes. He’s going to tell you he’s fine with it, but over the long haul, that’s too many.”
Martinez will be out for L.A.’s two games this week — tomorrow versus Florida, Thursday versus the ‘Canes — but could be back in action on Saturday against the Stars.
In the meantime, it’ll be interesting to see how Sutter utilizes the newly-signed Jamie McBain. McBain hasn’t been used much in his first three games as a King; after getting 11:47 TOI in his first outing against Anaheim, he’s seen his ice time drop to 10:04 (against the Stars) and 8:20 (in Saturday’s win over the Ducks).
In other news pertaining to the Kings’ defense, the NHL has yet to reach a salary cap agreement for suspended blueliner Slava Voynov. His $4.17M hit remains on the books.
Jarret Stoll scored for the first time this season tipping a Justin Williams feed past Frederik Andersen giving the L.A. Kings a 3-2 win Saturday.
It was Stoll’s first goal since April 9.
“I needed that one,” Stoll told the L.A. Times. “I put a lot of pressure on myself to try to help out and contribute and try to make sure other parts of my game were there. It always feels nice to score a goal and especially to get two points out of it.”
Tyler Toffoli and Anze Kopitar scored in regulation. Jonathan Quick made 27 saves to improve to 8-3-4 on the season.
Defenseman Drew Doughty played a career-high 32:31 in the win.
Emerson Etem and Ryan Kesler scored for the Ducks. Kesler has three goals and an assist in his first two games in the battle between the two Southern California Clubs.
Andersen made 34 saves while seeing his record drop to 7-1-3 on the season.
Anaheim won the first game on Wednesday night 6-5 thanks to Kesler’s shootout winner.
“One’s a shootout game, one’s an overtime game, so it tells you how close they are,” Darryl Sutter said of the first two games between the clubs.
The third game of the season between Anaheim and L.A. goes Jan. 17.
Anaheim Ducks defenseman Bryan Allen took a shot to the head from Kings’ defenseman Drew Doughty early in the third period.
Luckily for Allen he had his head turned on the play and the shot hit him squarely in the helmet. Allen got up and to the bench under his own strength and remains in the game.