Pavol Demitra still wears a gray jersey in Kings’ practice, the sign of a checker in Coach Andy Murray’s system.
That may also be a sign of the times in the NHL, where roles are not so rigid to segregate checkers as checkers and goal scorers as goal scorers. In this new collective-bargaining age, players may more often do both.
Demitra, who has scored 201 goals over the last seven seasons, has been grouped with Craig Conroy, an eight-year veteran, and Dustin Brown, a young comer. They have solid defensive abilities but also possess plenty of offensive skills.
Conroy has scored 20 or more goals two of the last three seasons. Brown, who got his feet wet in the NHL by playing 31 games with the Kings in 2003-04, had 29 goals last season with Manchester, the Kings’ American Hockey League team.
“We’ve done an analysis of all the teams and it seems every team is deeper, except the few that were really deep before,” Murray said. “The talent level has increased everywhere.
“That [checking] line can create offense, which can enhance your chances of winning. Instead of going out there to play the other team’s top line 0-0, now it has the plus of scoring.”
The Kings’ “stopper” line may be an example of the parity. The Brown-Conroy-Demitra trio has scored four goals in the two exhibition games they have played.
“We’ve had a million chances in those games,” Brown said. “Playing with those guys is great because I learn so much. I just listen.”
The new rules also will have an effect on traditional checking lines, according to Conroy.
“You can’t grab guys anymore,” he said. “You better have guys on that line who can skate.”
The comparison has been hard to avoid, especially when Brown goes into the corner to forage for the puck, maybe bang an opposing body or two in the process.
“He reminds me of Adam Deadmarsh,” Conroy said. “He’s got speed and gets in the corners and battles.”
Murray also makes the connection.
“He should be wearing No. 28 on his back,” Murray said, referring to Deadmarsh’s number.
Deadmarsh, who hasn’t played for the Kings since sustaining a concussion in a Dec. 15, 2002 game against Phoenix, said this week that he was retiring.
Center Derek Armstrong, out with a concussion, underwent an NHL-required memory test Thursday and is not expected to return to the ice until next week. Armstrong said he would undergo more tests Monday or Tuesday.
Armstrong, injured against San Jose on Sunday, said the next day that he felt fine. He amended that Thursday.
“I have been feeling so much better the last couple days that I must have been a little groggy the first day,” Armstrong said. “I do feel better. I expect to play in a couple more [exhibition] games before the season.”