|Things are coming into focus for Jarret Stoll|
A few weeks after the Kings acquired 26-year old center Mike Richards, Jarret Stoll stopped by MayorsManor and let it be known – he’s not feeling like a guy who’s been kicked to the curb by his apparent move to the third line this season.
“I’d be very, very selfish to say that,” Stoll said at the time. “I consider myself a guy who will play any role, any situation in order for us to win and to be a good teammate. I think we need that depth up the middle to win and we have it between the pipes and on defense. I think we just needed it down the middle a little more. Adding him just brings us that instantly. So, I’m happy to play anywhere, as long as we win, have fun and get into the playoffs.”
Fast forward a few months and Stoll is talking much bigger than just making the playoffs now.
“Going into every training camp, your goal is to make the playoffs, no matter what,” said the 2002 second round draft pick. “But this year, we feel that just making the playoffs isn’t enough. Losing in the first round or even the second round, that’s not enough this year.”
Like most of the other players in the locker room, Stoll has been feeling the increased expectations hovering above the team’s training center over the last week or so.
“We have to have a good, solid season. Making the playoffs is tough, it’s not easy,” explained Stoll. “We want to set a goal of having home ice (advantage) in the first round. And lets start talking about the Stanley Cup, start mentioning it. I know it’s a long ways away. But, if you’re not talking about it, if you’re not thinking about it, then you’re a far ways away from it.”
“We have to be confident. We can’t be arrogant or big-headed, but we have to be confident with the players we have and the team that we have.”
Of course, this year’s Kings team includes the aforementioned Richards, who came over from the Flyers in a late-June trade.
The move has allowed coach Terry Murray to move Stoll into what he believes will be a “very responsible position” for #28.
“I think he can handle it,” Murray began. “I think he’s going to embrace it, and it suits his style of game. He matches up against the top lines, he has speed, he’s a great face-off guy and he has the strength to battle in those tight areas. So, I feel very good about what we have down the middle right now.”
With three legitimate centers, including Anze Kopitar on the top line, Murray has the deepest Kings team on paper, since he took over as coach a few years ago.
Which is part of the reason why Stoll has so openly embraced the change.
“I’m excited about it,” Stoll said. “Any role that’s important, I’m going to take a lot of pride in it. It doesn’t mean that you’re just a checker. I feel that I can play well on both sides of the puck. And you have to if you want to be out there playing, getting ice time and being in those key situations – which I want to play in.”
Another change for Stoll will be something he’s added to his helmet – a visor, to protect his face.
“I’ve been wearing it all summer,” Stoll explained. “I don’t expect any changes back to just the helmet.”
Why the chance after all these years?
“Last year, there a couple of times where I had some scares…the game is so fast, and it can be dangerous at times, if you don’t protect yourself, and there’s been a lot of situations lately – the Manny Malhotra situation for one,” Stoll said, referring to a serious eye injury suffered by the Canucks forward.
So, has it been difficult to make such a major change?
“It’s tough to change anything during the year – equipment, skates, stuff like that,” Stoll said. “But, in the summer, if you start right away with it and stick with it, I think it’s an easy switch. I don’t even think about it. Even now, some people talk about the fog or the water on it or whatever – I’m pretty picky sometimes with this stuff. But, it doesn’t bother me.”
If the Kings can get off to a hot start in the first month of the season, somehow, it will probably bother him even less.