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Kings get defensive again

Giving up a conference-worst 266 goals last season, the team opens rookie camp with a new coach and holes to plug.

September 14, 2008|Dan Arritt | Times Staff Writer

The Kings opened rookie camp Saturday morning with fresh players, a new coach and, well, the same old theme.

Can you give me a D, for defense?

Coming off a season in which they gave up a Western Conference-leading 266 goals and an off-season in which they traded one veteran defenseman and lost another to free agency, the Kings have a few holes to plug.

"The numbers of goals against, just too high," said Coach Terry Murray, who replaced Marc Crawford in the off-season.

"We've got to cut back on that."

For the second consecutive season, the Kings looked to fill that need in the entry draft, taking defenseman Drew Doughty last June with the second overall pick.

Last year, they grabbed defenseman Thomas Hickey fourth overall.

Doughty and Hickey were among the 29 hopefuls who practiced at the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, taking the first step toward winning a roster spot with the NHL club.

The rookies spent the first session concentrating on defensive drills and the second participating in an hour-long scrimmage.

Murray said he liked what he saw on both ends of the ice.

"What I'm trying to get ingrained here on the first week is going to be the defensive presence," Murray said. "I really like the offensive stuff, I like the skill level that some of these young guys are showing, but I wanted to see some good things on the defensive part."

Murray said he was particularly impressed with the players' pre-camp conditioning and the competitiveness they showed during the scrimmage.

"There were some pretty good hits," he said. "Guys know you've got to dig in, you've got to be gritty, you've got to battle hard along the boards, you have to be heavy, strong on your stick in order to recover."

The prospect of a roster spot has many players stepping up their game, Hickey said. Having an extra year of experience at the camp is an advantage.

"This year, I'm not going to be sitting back, I'm going to be competing," he said. "It's a big advantage coming in, having a training camp under my belt, so I can really switch my focus this year on making the team, as opposed to seeing what the NHL is all about."

Wayne Simmonds, a 2007 second-round pick who scored the only goal during the scrimmage, a quick wrist shot as he drove into the slot, also felt more relaxed this time around.

"You know what you're getting into, that's the biggest thing I find," he said. "I guess it just allows you to be more calm and just play your game more."

The players are scheduled to return to the Toyota Center today and Monday. Practices are scheduled to begin at 9:15 a.m., followed by scrimmages at 10:30 a.m.

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dan.arritt@latimes.com

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