Every player has a story. Looking over the NHL rosters you can point to the first round picks who came into the league as teenagers, life-long minor leaguers who are just up for a game or two and even the veterans who are pushing 1,000 games played. Then, you have guys like Dwight King, who don’t fit into a particular category just yet.
Selected by the Kings in the fourth round of the 2007 draft, he could be the ‘gravy’ scouts refer to when they say if you get anything more than two NHL players from a draft class, think of it as a bonus. Wayne Simmonds (second round) and Alec Martinez (another fourth rounder) have already solidified their spots from the Kings ’07 group. So, getting another one would be…well, gravy.
He nearly got lost in the shuffle though. A six game call up last year did nothing to indicate he was a diamond in the rough. Instead, the stats read zero points, three shots on goal and a minus-two after playing about 12 minutes per night. Hardly numbers that would make somebody excited to see him again. Further, the reports out of the minors weren’t overly impressive. Sure, he was among the leaders in goals and points on the Monarchs (AHL). But, it wasn’t like he was lapping the league with off-the-charts stats.
Then, coming into training camp last fall, all the talk was about guys like Brandon Kozun and Tyler Toffoli. So, again, he didn’t figure to be in the mix. However, the first sign that perhaps he was flying under the radar came late in camp, as he was the last forward assigned to the AHL – even after prized prospect Andrei Loktionov.
“He’s a third or fourth line guy and he probably was disappointed that he didn’t make the team in training camp,” coach Darryl Sutter said recently. “He’s getting an opportunity that he should try to take advantage of. I know a lot of coaches and teams that wouldn’t give a player that opportunity. So, he’s getting it and he has to take advantage of it. We’re putting him in situations where he can have an impact and keeping him out of other ones. That’s what he has to do.”
Part of those ‘situations’ include playing him with two veterans, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. But, make no mistake about it, King’s success this time around shouldn’t be dismissed as him largely just being the benefactor of their play. King is legitimately earning everything he’s getting on the ice – from his fast start on up to his recent contributions. Comparing numbers to last year, in his first six games up this time, he had one goal, two assists, 11 shots on goal and was plus-3. In 15 additional games since, he’s picked up three more goals and four more assists. Plus, at a recent game in Anaheim, he put up eight shots on goal for good measure.
Overall, he looks like a completely different player when thinking back to the kid who was called up last year. However, it’s a notion King doesn’t seem to whole-heartedly agree with.
“I’ve always felt I’ve had the hockey sense to be able to put myself in proper positions and make proper reads,” he began. “Maybe it’s just developing mentally though. Just being sharp mentally and being aware. Perhaps I’ve gotten better at it over the last year and people have noticed. But, I don’t think I’m a totally different player by any means.”
One of the changes he did acknowledge though was the positive influence of his linemates.
“They calm me down out there,” said King. “It’s a pretty quick game. You can get overzealous at some points and over-think the game. They kind of bring that calm relief. When certain things aren’t going your way they’ll help you out. They make the game pretty simple, which helps.”
Off the ice, he’s also been fortunate to have fellow rookie Jordan Nolan around.
“We spend a lot of time together,” King said with one of his usual grins. “We lived together back home in Manch. We were roommates on the road in Manch. Now, we’re roommates at the hotel here.”
Even so, they haven’t forgotten about their other roommate back in Manchester, defenseman Jake Muzzin. The three shared a house together and they still stay in touch, by phone and text. “It’s a beautiful place. He needs to keep it clean and take care of it,” King joked. “Plus, with him being by himself, he’s probably a little lonely. So, we try to keep communications going with him pretty frequently.”
As for any special instructions King might be receiving from the staff in LA, Sutter explained things this way…
“I don’t like correcting mistakes after you continually make them. I’d rather try to help them before. (People) forget how young this team is. It’s not (all about) Dwight King. Out of that young group, he’s one of the older ones. They need a lot of work every day. You know how you learn – see it, hear it, do it. See it, hear it, do it. It’s how we all learn. Some of us are better at it, but that’s the truth. It doesn’t matter, we’re all like that – we’re better at one than two of the three. So, give ‘em all three and then at least you know you have a 66% chance.”
King seems to be hearing the messages delivered by Sutter and he’s getting the job done on the ice most nights too. So, if he keeps it up, you’ll probably be hearing his name in the NHL again next season as well.
Now, is there a greater than 66% chance on that one? At this rate, yes.