Kings center Anze Kopitar is unlikely to start in the regular-season opener… (Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles…)
Kings center Anze Kopitar, who sprained his right knee on Jan. 5 while playing in Sweden during the lockout, took some contact Thursday for the first time since the injury and said he felt no discomfort. However, it's doubtful that he will play in the Kings' season opener against the Chicago Blackhawks on Saturday at Staples Center.
"The doors are still not completely shut, but we'd much rather see me play the other 47 games or 46 than play this one and have a major setback," he said Thursday after centering a makeshift fifth line for Tyler Toffoli and Anthony Stewart.
"I'm feeling pretty good. I've had a couple of days of full practice with the team and it didn't blow up on me, didn't feel sore. So I guess I'm on the right track."
He appeared to be skating well and without any hesitancy. So far, he's on schedule with the two- to three-week recovery period originally predicted for him and later confirmed when he arrived in Los Angeles. While skating he wears a brace on the knee for support.
"I'm not concerned about my stability and everything," he said. "I actually got bumped a few times on the ice today too, and I felt strong. Like I said, it's encouraging and I think I'm on the right track."
Toffoli was sent to Manchester (N.H.) of the American Hockey League after Thursday's practice so he can get regular playing time, which he wouldn't have gotten with the Kings. Defenseman Andrew Bodnarchuk was put on waivers, leaving Jake Muzzin as the team's seventh defenseman while Willie Mitchell recovers from knee surgery. If Bodnarchuk clears waivers he will be assigned to Manchester.
Although Kopitar has been progressing, Mitchell's status remains murky.
The veteran defenseman injured his knee during the lockout and underwent surgery nearly two months ago. The anticipated short recovery process has been prolonged, and Mitchell has declined to talk to reporters to discuss the injury. "Obviously, he's a ways away," Coach Darryl Sutter said.
"He's progressing to the point where he's doing all his rehab, he's doing all his off-ice [work], he's on his therapy part of it. He's almost two months or seven weeks post-surgery and so you'd think that at some point we'd be getting closer, but you're asking me the same question that I'm asking."
In the meantime, Muzzin said he will be ready if called upon — and in a shortened season with a compressed schedule, the odds are he will be called upon.
"I'm excited. I just want to keep working and keep getting better. I want to stay," said Muzzin, who played 11 games with the Kings during the 2010-11 season and spent the rest of the time with Manchester.
He said he enjoyed rotating into the pairings Thursday and feels more prepared to play in the NHL after his AHL experiences.
"It's good to practice with some of the guys and you get to know their little tendencies and stuff," he said. "For now, wherever they want me, I'm going to go…. I feel like I understand what my job is and I understand the game more."
Stewart, acquired from the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday with two draft picks in exchange for Kevin Westgarth, said he hadn't spoken to the coaches about what they expect of him, but he doesn't really need to.
"I know my role: I'm a big-body power forward that's got to get in and mix it up a bit," he said. "Whether I get my shot in the first game or fifth game, I've just got to stay ready. I came in here with all intentions of being an impact player on the team, and it's just a matter of waiting for the timing and getting my opportunity."
Left wing Dustin Penner missed practice because of what Sutter said was an appointment not related to a medical issue. Sutter said Penner worked out before his teammates practiced…. Kelly Cheeseman was appointed the Kings' chief operating officer. He replaces Chris McGowan, who became an executive with the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers. Cheeseman will also be the COO for AEG Sports, the club's parent company.