Newly acquired defenseman Keaton Ellerby, right, practiced with the Kings. (Dirk Shadd / MCT )
NASHVILLE — The Kings essentially used a position of strength to try to shore up a position of recent weakness.
To do so, it took a two-step process in the last three days. On Friday, they acquired 6-foot-5 defenseman Keaton Ellerby from the Florida Panthers. They sent a fifth-round draft pick to the Panthers, which was the piece they got from the New Jersey Devils for prospect and center Andrei Loktionov on Wednesday.
It’s obvious the Kings (3-4-2) have struggled without the physical and emotional presence of defensemen Matt Greene and Willie Mitchell. Greene was injured in the first game of the season and required back surgery and Mitchell’s recovery from knee surgery during the lockout has been slow.
“Right now, we have to operate on the premise that Willie and Greener are done for the year,” Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi said Friday morning. “And we have to deal with it. Nothing has changed [with Mitchell] either way. When you’re missing a good player, the tendency is, ‘When is he coming back? When is he coming back?’
“It becomes a crutch almost. As a team, players, management, coaches — it’s what it is. If he [Mitchell] comes back, it’s a tremendous bonus. But if not, we can’t continue to rely on that. We’ve got to get in that mind-set so that when he comes back it’s a total bonus, versus sitting and waiting and hoping.”
There is not the luxury of patience during the compressed 48-game schedule.
“You’re not going to replace Willie Mitchell,” Lombardi said. “He’s one of the most underrated players in the league. You’re not going to replace Matt Greene’s leadership. He’s one of the best leaders in the league. So other guys are going to have to step up.
“Young players are going to be given an opportunity. Like I said, if you approach it that way, if they do come back, you say, ‘Whoa, we’ve got even more depth.’ That’s the way we’ve got to look at it.”
Ellerby, a former first-round draft choice (No. 10 overall) in 2007, is the cousin of Coyotes captain Shane Doan. Kings Coach Darryl Sutter is familiar with the Alberta native and would have watched him during Ellerby's junior days in the Western Hockey League. Ellerby played the majority of his junior career in Kamloops (British Columbia), which coincided with Sutter’s tenure in Calgary.
The 24-year-old Ellerby has two goals and 17 points in 125 career games with the Panthers, and the Kings are hoping the change of venue will help him regain confidence. He is expected to join the Kings for practice on Saturday in Nashville.
“Very few can come in at a young age and not have those ups and downs,” Lombardi said. “Here’s a big kid, a lot of potential. He has a number of things to work on. The coaches are familiar with him. The things he needs to work we can improve. You have a fit issue in terms of his being a left shot he can play both sides.
“I hate to use the word fresh start. But go back to basics. We’re not going to look at you as a 10th pick overall and worry about whether you’re Paul Coffey. We just want to make you a good player. We figured this made more sense for us instead of what else was out there.”