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Jeff Carter takes on more of a leadership role as Kings return to the playoffs

Jeff Carter takes on more of a leadership role as Kings return to the playoffs
Kings forward Tyler Toffoli (73) celebrates his goal against the Jets with teammate Jeff Carter during the first period Saturday. (Danny Moloshok)

Change has not intimidated Kings center Jeff Carter.

He grew up in Canada without dogs, and now Carter is outflanked by them in his household — three to one — and relishing the transformation.

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"It's all new to me," he said, smiling.

And that isn't all. There also is a difference in his leadership position with the Kings. Carter joined the Kings late in the 2011-12 season, acquired in a trade with Columbus. Two Stanley Cups and one Olympic gold medal later, Carter's leadership role has grown substantially.

It was bound to evolve. Defenseman Robyn Regehr retired, forwards Jarret Stoll and Justin Williams departed via free agency, and the Kings terminated the contract of Mike Richards.

Carter described his evolution as something that has transpired "gradually through the years," adding, "I'm probably more vocal this year … we lost some big voices and guys have to step up."

The Kings are back in the playoffs after missing out last season, opening with Game 1 on Thursday against the San Jose Sharks at Staples Center. San Jose also failed to reach the playoffs last season, and finally gets a chance at redemption after blowing a 3-0, first-round series lead to the eventual champion Kings in 2014. Carter had two goals in that series and came through with an assist in Game 7.

In that run to the Cup, Carter recorded nearly a point a game, with 25 in 26 playoff games. In 64 playoff games with the Kings, he has 24 goals and 51 points.

"He's always been a good player," said Rob Scuderi, who was with the Kings during their first Stanley Cup championship in 2012 and left after the lockout-shortened 2013 campaign. "But I think he's a more complete player now. That's a big statement because I think he was a complete player when I first got here."

Scuderi noticed another difference in Carter when the defenseman rejoined the club in late February.

"He's taken on a huge leadership role," Scuderi said. "You see it in his play and the way he handles himself and the things he says in the locker room. I feel the same way with Dewey [Drew Doughty].

"It's different but not surprising. You knew it was going to happen but was just a matter of time. And I think the same thing with Jeff."

The progression and comfort level likely accelerated when Carter and his wife, Megan, became full-fledged Southern Californians, spending this past summer here instead of heading back to the East Coast.

"It didn't make much sense, to leave the beach to go to the beach," Carter said, smiling.

Not only do Anze Kopitar and Carter give the Kings a formidable one-two punch down the middle, but also Carter is more at ease if Coach Darryl Sutter finds it necessary to move him to the wing.

Kopitar led the Kings in scoring for the ninth consecutive season. Carter was second in points (62), matched a career-high with 38 assists and had six game-winning goals, three of them in overtime.

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The numbers might have even been better if not for a lingering wrist injury suffered on Dec. 26, causing what he called a "pretty big dip in my game." Carter missed five games and probably came back too quickly but the Kings were "running hot and cold."

Carter had two game-winning goals in the final nine games and went pointless just twice in that stretch.

"He's got a lot of experience. Like a lot of us in the room when you're with an organization for a while — either from the business side or guys retiring — there are transitions in the locker room, transitions to be made," said Kings defenseman Alec Martinez. "As guys leave, it's an opportunity for other guys to step up.

"Jeff has always been a leader since he stepped in. He knows when to speak up and say something. It's obviously a little different when we are a little bit younger [team]. We're becoming the older guys and we need to take on those responsibilities."

Twitter: @reallisa

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