VICTORIA, Canada — On the one hand, Coach Pat Quinn of the Kings sees the problem with last season's weak team as youthful inexperience, primarily among the defensemen.
On the other hand, Quinn is counting on youth, in particular 18-year-old center Jimmy Carson and 20-year-old left wing Luc Robitaille, to serve the Kings in this important transition season.
The Kings skidded to a 23-49-8 record in 1985-86 while waiting for young defensemen to mature and youngish forwards to pick up some of the defensive slack. "It's time for these kids to graduate," Quinn has said countless times here at the Kings' training camp.
Already Carson and Robitaille, the two youngest players in camp, have survived three cuts, and they will likely be among the 21 players that the Kings will bring to Los Angeles Monday.
"They are young players but mature for their age," team captain Dave Taylor said.
The maturation came early for Carson. The 6-foot, 190-pound center was the Kings' first draft pick and the second player taken overall, making him the second-highest American ever taken in the draft.
That he is in a National Hockey League training camp at 18 doesn't seem to faze Carson. "I've always been a year ahead," he said. "I went to juniors when I was 16. I don't listen to that stuff anymore, about being young. I'm used to it."
Carson is one of hockey's gypsies. He left Southfield, Mich., a Detroit suburb, to play for the Verdun Canadiens of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He led the team in scoring last season with 70 goals and 83 assists.
As a 16-year-old, he was voted the league's top rookie forward and was chosen most valuable player in the league's all-star game.
Despite his impressive credentials, Carson has long carried a reputation as a player who can score but can't skate.
"I don't have a smooth stroke, so they say that," Carson said, bristling. "The way I look at it, so what? I can't skate, but I'm the second pick overall. Why does everyone have to dwell on the negatives?"
Probably because everyone expects a kid to wilt under the pressure of the NHL. Carson hasn't done that so far. Instead, he has impressed the veterans with not just his three goals and two assists in three exhibition games, but also with his heady play.
"Jim's a good player now," Taylor said. "He's got great hockey sense. He's always around the puck. I was surprised at how good he is. He seems to have more maturity. I think he's going to stick."
Carson's coach at Verdun has said that another year in junior competition would do Carson good. He has two years of junior eligibility left.
"I don't think another year there would do me any good," Carson said. "I think that in two years of juniors I have proved myself. I think I'm ready for another league.
"I'm usually a pretty confident person. These three games have helped. Coming into camp, I didn't know what to expect. But the play here isn't as dirty as the juniors. Here, you know you are going to get hit. But it's a clean hit. These are clean checks."
Robitaille agreed. "Here, everybody respects everybody else," he said. "I think that's the key. In juniors, nobody respects anybody."
Robitaille obviously earned the respect of someone in juniors. He was named player of the year in the Canadian Major Junior Hockey League last season. The 6-1, 190-pound Robitaille scored 68 goals and had 123 assists while leading his Hull Olympiques to the final of the Memorial Cup.
Like Carson, Robitaille has been labeled a ragged skater. That weakness made him a steal for the Kings as a ninth-round pick in the 1984 draft.
That's all changed now. Robitaille worked with Laura Stamm, a power-skating instructor, during last year's camp and did additional work on roller skates to strengthen his legs.
"She really did help me," Robitaille said in French-accented English. "I have a long stride. She showed me the exercises to do during practices, and I did them all the time. When I want to push off, I can push off."
Robitaille is leading the Kings with four goals and two assists in three exhibition games.
But he is too excited about being roommates with his idol, Marcel Dionne, to think about much else.
"I'm really glad with what is happening," Robitaille said. "But when I heard that I was to be the roommate of Marcel Dionne, I was so happy. Marcel Dionne is a legend in Quebec. When I tell people at home that I am in the same room with Marcel Dionne, they will not believe this. It is such an honor."
Quinn has put Dionne and Robitaille on the same line, and that has inspired Robitaille to play on a level that just might earn him a place on the team.
It also points to the Kings' problem--a 35-year-old center playing alongside a 20-year-old left wing. Youth will have its day for the Kings. They just hope it will be soon.
The Kings will play Team Canada tonight at Regina, Saskatchewan, then will play the Jets at Winnipeg, Manitoba, Sunday.