EL SEGUNDO -- Depth at center was a known commodity heading into the season.
Depth on the left side? Much more of a mystery.
The Kings seemed destined to drop down a level after accommodating Ryan Smyth's offseason request to be traded back to Edmonton. Smyth was, by far, the team's most potent scorer on the left side last season.
The Kings tried to compensate by signing the aging and injury-prone Simon Gagne, then crossed their fingers and hoped for better returns from Dustin Penner and Scott Parse.
Though the process has been far from meticulous -- a combination of injuries and ineffectiveness has limited Gagne, Parse and Penner to just one game together this season -- the pieces seem to be coming together heading into a busy stretch of home games beginning Thursday against Smyth and the Oilers at Staples Center.
Gagne missed the last two games because of a mid-body injury, but said Tuesday following practice that he’s ready to pick up where he left off, totaling three goals and four assists while playing the first nine games on the top line with center Anze Kopitar and right wing Justin Williams.
“I should be good to go Thursday,” said Gagne, a two-time 40-goal scorer.
Parse was on the bubble just to make the team coming out of training camp, then sat in the press box as a healthy scratch for six of the first eight games. He got a chance to play Thursday in Dallas and scored a goal in the 5-3 victory. He returned to the lineup for back-to-back games Saturday in Phoenix and Sunday in Colorado and scored another goal in the 3-2 loss to the Avalanche.
Kings second-line center Mike Richards said Parse has shown good vision during games and a workmanlike qualities in practice.
“He’s an easy guy to play with,” Richards said. “He reads the play really well and is very vocal on the ice so you know where he's at all times.”
Penner, who has become the object of much debate on his value to the Kings, may have found a home on the third line with center Jarret Stoll.
Penner sat out the first two games of the season because of a groin injury, returned to the second line with Richards and then started in Gagne’s spot while he was injured. He finished the last two games on the third line with Stoll and Brad Richardson.
Dating to last season, Penner has yet to score a goal in the last 22 regular-season games with the Kings, but coach Terry Murray said he liked the effort Penner displayed once he was moved to the third line for the final two periods in Colorado.
“There seemed to be a little more work involved,” he said.
Though Stoll's salary of $3.5 million this season, and Penner's $4.25 million, are more indicative of the pay earned by a top-six forward, having a third-line center who scored 20 goals last season and a wing who scored 23 is a sign of championship-caliber depth.
Now they just need to sustain their championship-caliber play.
Here's some video from Tuesday's practice: