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Pressure is on Nagy, Handzus

Times Staff Writer

There’s always a risk when a team signs a free agent coming off a difficult season, but the Kings are at a point where risk is relative.

Forward Kyle Calder, for example, had his worst season last year after ending up in Detroit as part of a three-player deal. Defenseman Brad Stuart played poorly in Boston and was traded to Calgary and now hopes he can redeem himself with the Kings. Tom Preissing had a strong performance in the playoffs for Ottawa and was productive despite not getting many minutes, while fellow defenseman Jon Klemm played in only 38 games last season with Dallas, even though he was healthy enough to play in a lot more.

But the two who may have the most to prove are forwards Ladislav Nagy and Michal Handzus, Slovakian national teammates who also played together at Dallas and Phoenix.

Nagy has been labeled as an underachiever, while Handzus is coming back from a torn knee ligament.

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A skilled winger, Nagy was drafted by St. Louis in the seventh round in 1997 and played part of two seasons with the Blues before he was traded to Phoenix in 2001.

With the Coyotes, Nagy was productive, finishing with a career-best 24 goals and 52 points in only 55 games in 2003-04. He led Phoenix with a plus-11 plus/minus rating, 11 power-play goals and six game-winning goals.

Things soured, however, when a contract extension could not be worked out. Nagy was traded to Dallas in February despite leading the Coyotes with 41 points in 55 games. With the Stars, he scored 14 points in 25 regular-season games but had only one goal and two points in seven playoff games.

Enter the Kings, who signed the 28-year-old free agent to a one-year deal worth a reported $3.75 million.

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“They have a really good group of guys and it’s good for me because I know a couple of guys,” said Nagy, who has 106 goals in 376 career NHL games. “It is a new season for the Kings. . . . It’s going to be exciting for everybody.”

Although Coach Marc Crawford has not put together his line combinations, Nagy would not protest if he skated with Handzus and Alexander Frolov.

“Of course, I have played before with Michal, so we know each other,” Nagy said. “I also know Frolov. I know how he plays. But it doesn’t matter who I play with. . . . I know that I have to play good hockey.”

Handzus is trying to bounce back from a disastrous 2006-07 season.

Playing for the Chicago Blackhawks, he got off to a fast start with three goals and eight points in eight games before a season-ending knee injury.

Handzus, who has looked strong in camp, said he’s almost ready to start the season after going through a hard off-season rehabilitating from his injury.

“I feel pretty good and confident that I will be ready for the first game of the season,” said Handzus, who had his best season in 2003-04 with the Philadelphia Flyers, when he had 20 goals and 38 assists.

“I had been skating back home . . . almost for a whole month. . . . I feel good.”

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Like Nagy, Handzus said one reason he signed with the Kings was that he liked the direction the team was headed.

“We have a very good team with a lot of exciting players up front,” Handzus said.

Added Nagy: “We need to have a good start. That’s the key in the NHL. . . . We have a good team that should make the playoffs.”

Paul Stastny and T.J. Hensick scored in a 17-second span of the third period Wednesday night to lead the Colorado Avalanche to a 6-3 victory over the Kings in an exhibition in Denver.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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lonnie.white@latimes.com


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