Between Doughty, Muzzin and Voynov; the Kings' young defenders hold promise for the organization, and for fantasy owners.
Coming off a year when you win a Stanley Cup, there can tend to be somewhat of a letdown from a team. The challenge of re-signing many key contributors and having the same ambition you had a year prior, are not easy things to accomplish. The Los Angeles Kings, however, have avoided falling into that trap. They finished in fifth spot this year in the Western Conference, as opposed to eighth spot in 2011-12, and survived a gruelling opening round series with the St. Louis Blues.
A big reason the Kings have remained a Cup contender, other than strong goaltending and a solid forward group, is the emergence of some young defensemen. When you think of defense and Los Angeles, the first thing that has to come to mind is Drew Doughty. If you own Doughty in your hockey pool you would probably point out that his numbers are sliding. With only 36 points last year and a 38 point pace this season, you would be right. He might never again produce a near 60 point campaign, but his contributions to the Kings right now are at an all-time. He is playing heavy minutes and on most nights against the opposition’s best. Doughty’s play in the post-season has LA poised for another lengthy run, and his drop in points is just something poolies are going to have to live with.
Luckily for the Kings and hockey pool aficionados, some other Los Angeles players have picked up the slack, namely Slava Voynov and Jake Muzzin. The pair had been flying under the radar for a while, but with their play this season that isn’t going to last long. Muzzin was taken in the fifth round of the 2007 Draft by the Pittsburgh Penguins and after he went unsigned by the team, the Kings took a chance on him and inked him to a deal. Voynov was a second round pick in 2008 by Los Angeles and has slowly but surely developed into a difference maker.
What has to excite you about Voynov as an owner or a Kings fan is just how many things he does well. He led Kings defensemen in total points in 2013 with 25, and that works out to a 43 point campaign over 82 games. Not only that, but Voynov was Los Angeles’ most consistent D man, recording points in almost 40% of his games. He also finished as a plus-5 and ranked second on team in blocked shots.
Those are some raw numbers about Voynov’s game, but there are a few other things that should illustrate that he has the chance to continue this type of production going forward. The first would be his ability to adapt, for a young player. Voynov played most of 2011-12 with Willie Mitchell as his defensive partner. This season, because of an injury to Mitchell, Voynov was forced to play the majority of his time with Rob Scuderi. Of course both are similar players, but learning the habits of a new defensive partner is always tricky for an inexperienced player.
Voynov also finished tied for third on the squad in a category that doesn’t typically get a lot of attention; secondary assists. I’m a fan of secondary assists for a couple of reasons. The obvious one is that they are cheap points from a poolie’s perspective, but there can be a method to their madness as well. When a defenseman is picking them up it often means they are starting from their own zone. A good outlet or breakout pass can lead to a goal and help in the secondary assists department.
Those assists contributed to his total point production in 2013, which was even more impressive if you check a little deeper. Voynov finished just 19 defensemen, but if you look at his even strength numbers he jumps up to a tie for fifth overall. His points at even strength were equal to that of Norris Trophy candidate Ryan Suter.
Voynov may have produced more than Muzzin did this year, but the youngster from Woodstock, ON made a name for himself also. Although 16 points in 45 games isn’t a terrible offensive season from Muzzin, from an advanced statistics standpoint he actually contributed much more. His On-Ice Corsi rating of +27 came in at second spot in the entire NHL among players that played at least 30 games. Kings goaltenders also had a .934 save percentage while Muzzin was on the ice. All this helped him achieve a plus- 16 rating which led Los Angeles.
While Voynov and Muzzin both had productive seasons in their own ways, the way the Kings have cultivated their talent has been similar. Each spent extensive time with Los Angeles’ American Hockey League affiliate, the Manchester Monarchs. Give credit to Los Angeles for taking its time developing them, as rushing prospects to the NHL can sometimes have disastrous effects on a player’s long-term success.
The exciting thing for poolies and the Kings organization is that Muzzin and Voynov look like they can still get much better. Neither player has even played a full season yet and it makes you wonder just what the ceiling is for each of them. With it looking more and more like Doughty is accepting a shutdown role as opposed to being a free-wheeling offensive threat, Voynov will continue to get favourable matchups and opportunities to put up big numbers. Muzzin has displayed the talent to make you believe he isn’t far behind.
The two exciting young defensemen could be key factors in many fantasy hockey championships next season, but the Kings will be hoping they can help them achieve a second consecutive title this spring.
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