EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Nothing has ever come easy for Los Angeles Kings forward Trevor Lewis.
Maybe that’s why he's so hard on the competition.
Lewis made an impression on the St. Louis Blues in L.A.’s recently completed second-round sweep, maybe a few of them.
He led the Kings in hits the final two games, softening up the Blues just enough to give the goal scorers easier access to the net. Final score for the four-game series: Kings 15, Blues 6. Final tally in the hits department: Kings 144, Blues 140.
Lewis almost single-handedly helped the Kings edge St. Louis in hits, accounting for 14 in the final two games after getting just five in the first two.
“The first two games of the series, our line wasn’t at its best and probably because we weren’t getting in on the forecheck,” Lewis said after practice Tuesday. “I started to make a point of getting in on the forecheck, and I think we played better the last two games.”
It might have taken a while, but Lewis has finally found his niche with the Kings. It couldn’t have happened at a better time, as L.A. has reached the Western Conference finals for just the second time in the franchise’s 45-year history. The Kings will face the Phoenix Coyotes in the next round.
The deeper a team wades into the postseason, the more physical games become. Lewis has the attributes to excel at that style. His teammates recognize what he brings to the table. At the end of the regular season, they voted him the “Unsung Hero” among the forwards.
“He’s a guy that doesn’t get a lot of credit,” fourth-line center Colin Fraser said. “You don’t see his name in the paper, no one really talks a lot about him, but he does the little things out there. He plays hard every night, has lots of speed, plays on the penalty kill. He’s one of those guys that flies under the radar as a really, really good player.”
Speed has always been Lewis’ best attribute. If he had better hands, he might be a 30-goal scorer. But speed can work wonders on the forecheck, as it allows Lewis to get into the offensive zone quickly and break up the opposition’s clearing attempts with a good thud against the glass.
He’ll also stand in the way of a 100 mph slap shot, dive to clear a puck on the penalty kill and backcheck like a swarm of bees. It was his backcheck on a Vancouver Canucks player in Game 5 of the first-round series that led to a neutral-zone turnover and an overtime goal by linemate Jarret Stoll, clinching the series.
“He’s not the player that’s going to beat five guys and score a short-handed goal like that,” Fraser said. “But he’s a guy that can take it hard to the net and block a shot, whatever it takes.”
Although he’s just 25, Lewis took the long road to the NHL.
He grew up in Salt Lake City, not exactly a pipeline to the NHL, and was forced to move away from home when he was 15, just to find better competition.
He impressed the Kings enough that they traded up to draft him 17th overall in 2006, but then struggled to find a role within the organization.
In December 2008, he received his first taste of the NHL, playing six games with the Kings before he was shipped back to the minors. He made the team out of training camp the following season, but lasted only five games before he was again sent back to the American Hockey League for more seasoning.
Lewis again outlasted the competition to make the team at the end of summer in 2010, but struggled to make an impact in 72 regular-season games, finishing with three goals, 10 assists and a minus-11 rating.
It wasn’t until this past winter, when the Kings fired Terry Murray and brought in Darryl Sutter, that Lewis said he finally began to feel like a piece of the puzzle, rather than a square peg trying to fit in a round hole.
“I just viewed that as a fresh start,” Lewis said of the coaching change.
His ice time has gone way up under Sutter, his responsibilities have increased and there’s no longer that uncertainty of whether he’ll even be in the lineup from game to game. More than anything, he knows his role, and he knows he can keep getting better.
“I don’t think I was drafted to be a No. 1 centerman or anything like that, but I think I hold myself pretty high, expectation-wise, and I know I can provide more,” he said. “I’ve just got to keep working on it.”