EL SEGUNDO—More than a few eyes rolled in the spring of 2009 when promising young center Patrick O’Sullivan was traded from the Kings to the Carolina Hurricanes for oft-injured forward Justin Williams.
After all, O’Sullivan scored 53 points during 2007-08, his first full season in the NHL, and looked like he might be a fixture up front with Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown for years to come.
Williams, meanwhile, was recuperating from a broken hand, an injury that came on the heels of a torn Achilles tendon, a back injury and reconstructive knee surgery.
“We gave up O’Sullivan and a 2nd [round draft pick] for Justin Williams who has scoring touch but seems to be hurt a lot,” read a message beneath the ESPN.com story that reported the deal. “We could have gotten more.”
Fast forward 20 months and the Kings have the best record in the NHL, the naysayers have vanished and Kings general manager Dean Lombardi is looking like a genius.
Williams has led the Kings to their best start in 20 years, totaling a team-high six goals and 12 points. He has scored goals in four straight games, the latest in a 1-0 victory Thursday night against the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning.
O’Sullivan, meanwhile, is on his third team since leaving Los Angeles. He has appeared in just seven of Carolina’s 12 games this season, totaling one assist.
“I always liked him,” Lombardi said of Williams. “Ever since junior hockey.”
Williams has teamed up with center Jarret Stoll and right wing Ryan Smyth to form a potent second line. Stoll is second on the team with 11 points and Smyth is tied for fourth with eight. Lombardi got the best of the deals that brought those players over as well.
He traded defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky in June 2008 for Stoll and defenseman Matt Greene. Visnovsky has been a solid player for the Anaheim Ducks, owning 10 points in 13 games this season, but Stoll and Greene have brought more than just solid play to the Kings.
“They are guys that can change the culture of the team,” Lombardi said.
Smyth came over from Colorado in July 2009 for defensemen Kyle Quincey and Tom Preissing. Smyth joined Williams and Stoll after the second game this season and his arrival is when the second line began to click.
Quincey, meanwhile, has been a big disappointment in Colorado this season, having no points and a minus-3 rating through 12 games. Preissing recently had his KHL contract terminated and is reported to be playing for a Finnish professional team.
Williams is in the final year of his contract, so playing well and staying healthy are more important than ever. Here’s what he had to say after the game Thursday night.
Lombardi likes what he sees in Schenn, Clifford
Lombardi said a decision has not been made regarding rookies Brayden Schenn and Kyle Clifford, but he likes what he has seen so far.
Once the 19-year-old forwards appear in nine games, the Kings will need to decide whether to send them back to their junior teams, or keep them and be on the hook for the entire first year of their NHL contracts. Both have appeared in eight games.
With the Kings off to a 9-3-0 start, Lombardi said, the chances of them making the team are greater than if they were under .500, as they they were for several years prior to last season.
“The difference is, they’ve already shown they can contribute to this team in a certain role,” Lombardi said. “Three years ago, that wasn’t weighing in the equation.”
Clean bill of health
Despite a number of hard hits during the victory over the Lightning, the Kings reported no injuries. The entire team was on the ice for Friday’s practice. Drew Doughty, in his first game action Thursday since missing six games with a concussion, said he felt good after playing a team-high 24 minutes. Doughty was the target of hard check by Steve Downie in the third period, one that set off a fight between Downie and Doughty’s defense partner, Willie Mitchell.
Doughty said he saw Downie making a run at him, giving him a split second to skip out of the way and let Downie crash hard into the glass.
“I wasn’t too happy about that. I had a few things to say to him.” said Doughty, who added that he appreciated Mitchell stepping in to take on Downie. "It shows how much [Mitchell] cares to come help his teammate."