Anze Kopitar stepped onto the ice at Staples Center on Tuesday a completely different person from the wide-eyed kid from Slovenia he was last season.
Kopitar, 19, has returned to Los Angeles more mature, bigger and better prepared mentally for his second training camp. He held his own in the faceoff circle against the San Jose Sharks' Joe Thornton, the Hart Trophy winner, and assisted on a third-period goal by Rob Blake in the Kings' 3-1 loss.
All part of the growing process, which may be accelerating.
"It's definitely a little different this year," said Kopitar, who played professionally in Sweden last season. "I have more confidence in what I'm doing. Last year, it was all new and this is a lot bigger place than where I grew up. Now, I know what to expect."
Kopitar was ticketed for Manchester of the American Hockey League when training camp began but has played himself in contention for a spot on the Kings' roster, depending on whether they can get him enough ice time.
The Kings lean toward caution with such a prime prospect. Kopitar was selected 11th overall in the 2005 draft, but many scouts had him rated higher, with one assistant general manager ranking him second, behind Sidney Crosby.
"You have to have an open mind," General Manager Dean Lombardi said. "He has a big body and great skills, but he's still only 19. It is very dangerous to put expectations on him. I've learned in this business, that you got to let guys play."
Blake, playing his first game for the Kings since being traded during the 2000-01 season, stepped in from the blue line and buried a one-timer for a shorthanded goal 15 minutes into the third period.
Dan Cloutier, in his Kings' debut, stopped 17 of 19 shots, giving up first-period goals to Matthew Carle and Mark Smith.
Sean Avery's first game included a goal, two assists, a fight, 10 penalty minutes and an early exit when he received six minutes with 6:05 left against the Ducks on Monday.
"We know Sean is going to be under scrutiny by referees, opposing players and his teammates," Coach Marc Crawford said. "I don't mind him irritating opposing players, but he has to respect his teammates."
Sean O'Donnell, one opposing player, scrutinized the heck out of Avery, pummeling him in a second-period fight.
Said O'Donnell: "He finished a check and it may have been a little late. If it was the regular season, I would have let it go, but it's the preseason so I thought, 'Why not?' ... I think there are a lot of guys who would have paid good money to change places with me right then."
Forwards Alyn McCauley (knee) and Lauri Tukonen (shoulder), both recovering from off-season surgeries, underwent strength tests Monday, but were not cleared to practice.