When Brayden Schenn tweaked his knee in practice before leaving Canada to attend the Kings' rookie camp, the team's management held its collective breath.
Schenn, chosen fifth overall in the 2009 entry draft, is considered a big piece of the Kings' future and is contending for a job on the fourth line this season. Another knee injury — he had hurt his left leg last spring — could have held back his development and cast a cloud over his career before it could really take off.
The 19-year-old center, who made his NHL debut last season on a one-game, amateur tryout contract, seems to have healed quickly with the help of youth and a supportive brace. He provided the only bright note for the Kings on Thursday with a second-effort goal in a 3-1 split-squad loss to a Phoenix Coyotes split squad at Staples Center.
"In the first period I was a little nervous. I didn't really make too many plays," said Schenn, who was set up by Dustin Brown during a four-on-four situation. "I didn't feel like I struggled but I thought I could do more.
"As the game went on I felt better, but we didn't get the win."
The split-squad concept was a total loss for the Kings Thursday. The rest of their team lost a 2-1 overtime decision to the rest of the Coyotes at Glendale, Ariz., with Alexei Ponikarovsky providing the team's only offense.
Scoring was scarce for the Kings at Staples Center too. So were hits — they were credited with 22 — faceoff wins — they won only 15 of 43 draws, a 35% success rate — and emotion.
The Kings were flat and tentative, and that puck-possession game being pushed this season by Coach Terry Murray in order to create more five-on-five scoring was nowhere in sight. They dumped and chased a lot but didn't have the energy to win those chases often enough.
"It took a couple minutes to get into it," center Anze Kopitar said. "It was a long summer and just getting the timing back and pretty much the whole routine before the game, too. It takes maybe a few games to get everything down and remember anything from last year that we did.
"The first period was a little bit slow but then we picked up a bit. We had some chances. We didn't bury them."
The Coyotes took an early lead on a long shot from the right side by Mikkel Boedker that got past Jonathan Quick's right arm at 6:21 of the first period. Schenn matched that at 6:55 of the third period but Brett MacLean put the Coyotes in front again at 15:28 with a power-play goal. Former King Eric Belanger scored into an empty net to drop the Kings' exhibition record to 1-1-1.
In the game at Staples Center, Schenn centered for Kyle Clifford and Oscar Moller most of the game. But given the chance during that four-on-four, he made the most of it after Brown fed him.
Because Schenn is only 19, he's too young to play in the American Hockey League if he doesn't make the Kings' roster. He'd have to go back to junior hockey, where he was dominant last season and probably doesn't have a lot more to learn.
"I'm not trying to put too much thought on junior right now. I'm trying to make the team," he said. "A rule is a rule though. I feel like I got better as the night went on and I'm just going to try and keep improving day by day."
Murray mentioned last week that he wouldn't hesitate to use Schenn on the fourth line, perhaps to let Schenn — known mostly as a skill player — get acclimated to the NHL and round out his game.
Schenn would be happy to take that role. Or any role with the Kings.
"Absolutely. I've just got to get my feet wet first," he said. "This is the first game that I've played since last year in the Memorial Cup [junior tournament] so it's been a long time. But I felt better as the game went on."
And the Kings probably feel better about him and his knee, too, which is the only good point about an otherwise blah performance.