The Kings opened training camp Friday looking straight ahead to a new season. But they also looked to the side.
The elephant, or shark, in the room was the blockbuster trade of Erik Karlsson to the San Jose Sharks that reverberated all the way to the Kings. The two-time Norris Trophy-winning defenseman is now in the Kings’ division, the Pacific, which translates to at least four games against him and, presumably, a more difficult obstacle in their way.
The trade happened just after the Vegas Golden Knights acquired winger Max Pacioretty, coincidentally a target of the Kings in June. The Kings’ Drew Doughty, also a Norris winner, was characteristically blunt on the development.
“That trade doesn’t really faze me,” Doughty said. “Obviously the Karlsson one’s a little bit bigger. He’s one of the best players in the whole league. It’s a little bit different. Pacioretty brings a lot of speed on that wing. He can put the puck in the net. Pacioretty’s going to make them better, there’s no doubt about that. But the Karlsson trade’s obviously quite a bit bigger.”
The addition of Karlsson gives San Jose two Norris winners on its blue line, with Brent Burns. The Sharks were listed as the favorites to win the Pacific by one oddsmaker Friday, followed by Vegas.
“The Pacific’s looking pretty good now,” Jeff Carter said. “It’s going to be fun. You want to play against the best players and play against good teams every night. That’s what we’re going to be doing.”
Doughty and Karlsson have been linked to each other because they are always in the Norris conversation, and Doughty listed Karlsson’s salary as a reference point last season when he talked about negotiating his new contract.
The Kings will open the season Oct. 5 against San Jose.
“I’m looking forward to playing him [four] times a year,” Doughty said. “It’ll be so much fun and obviously it makes their team better, which we’re not too happy about, in that sense, but it will make it more competitive and our teams are going to have some battles this year.”
Said Anze Kopitar, “[We’ll] certainly respect him but not fear him.”
Kopitar was ready to turn the page on last season while also using it constructively. Friday was the Kings’ first formal skate since they were swept by Vegas in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, and an enticing note struck at the end of practice when Doughty fed Ilya Kovalchuk for one-timers.
“We’re trying to look forward and draw on the positives and just kind of go about your business,” Kopitar said. “It’s definitely a motivating factor for everybody here, and I think everybody came into camp in very good shape again just like last year and we’re going to try to take the next step this year.”
Carter said he’s not completely over the lacerated ankle tendon injury he suffered last season, but he feels well.
“I think I still have a little bit to go on that, but things are trending in the right direction,” Carter said. “I’m pleased with where it’s going.”
Carter missed four months. When he returned in February, the Kings went 12-6-3 and averaged 3.25 goals a game in their final 21 regular season games with Carter. But he needed an aggressive summer rehabilitation program from a skate blade cut in October.
“We basically threw everything at it to see what helped,” Carter said. “We did a lot of work on it, a lot of strength training. All things considered it went pretty well. We’re still working on it, but it’s been good.”