Spend significant time around Milan Lucic and it's clear that he cannot mask his joy. The earnest look comes over his face and his tough exterior dissolves into his genuine good-guy demeanor.
He bore that expression when, after a morning skate during a losing skid, he talked about returning to Staples Center for the first time Thursday.
"It'll be cool," Lucic said. "It'll be a lot of fun. I had a lot of fun last year being in L.A. and being a King. Even before I was a King, I always had a lot of fun going into the Staples Center … those are the games that you circle on the calendar."
Lucic only spent one season with the Kings but he thoroughly enjoyed it until the team's financial situation led to his signing with the Edmonton Oilers on July 1.
Both sides haven't been the same. Lucic, much like the Oilers, has struggled to find consistency lately, while the Kings struggle to fill the offensive hole left by Lucic and his 20 goals. It was also his hulking presence around the net and in the corners, along with his affable personality off the ice, that made him a great fit.
"He was a big part of our team," Dustin Brown said. "Just the way it goes sometimes. He made a lot of good friends here. It's just part of it, right?"
If there was a small window for the Kings to re-sign Lucic, it was slammed shut by the free-agent market. Lured by the opportunity to play with Connor McDavid under his former Boston Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli, Lucic signed a seven-year contract with the Oilers worth a reported $42 million.
That term and money was beyond the means of the Kings, handcuffed by the salary cap and their existing long-term contracts. For one season of Lucic, the Kings lost goalie Martin Jones, a prospect and a first-round pick in the 2015 draft in the initial trade that brought the wing to L.A.
Lucic looks back on it with a diplomatic view.
"I said it all along: I wanted to stay in L.A. and I tried everything I could to make it work and I think both ends tried everything to make it work," Lucic said.
"Obviously with it being a cap system … it just didn't work out in the end. I really enjoyed my time there. I know [the media] know how much I enjoyed it there. I wish I would have got traded there with more years left on my contract other than one year, but … I'm happy with where I ended up and I'm also happy with the experience that I had last year in L.A."
Anze Kopitar, Marian Gaborik and Andy Andreoff skated Wednesday in a welcome sign for the ailing Kings. The most surprising was Gaborik, who said he remains on track for a December return from a broken foot suffered in the World Cup of Hockey.
"It's the first time that I've broke my foot so one bone was kind of in an area where was hard to heal, and the other two were healing pretty quick, so I was in a boot," Gaborik said. "But in a skate it feels pretty good and it's just a matter of getting up to speed and getting some endurance and just a matter of skating and getting into shape."
Kopitar said he's still day to day because of an arm or hand injury from a hit against the glass by Ottawa's Marc Methot last Friday. The Kings desperately need Kopitar back — they have scored five goals in four games — but need him back healthy.
"It's been feeling better and better but just not quite to where it needs to be and not quite good enough, obviously, to play," Kopitar said. "So that's where I'm at."
Andreoff revealed that he had thumb surgery for a dislocation and torn ligaments suffered during a play in the corner against Chicago on Oct.30.
"I guess I just kind of jammed it, and it ended up being a lot worse when I took my glove off," Andreoff said.
Andreoff said he's on the "fast track" and should be cleared for a return next week.
When: Thursday, 7:30 p.m.
On the air: TV: FS West; Radio: 790.
Update: McDavid is on a nine-game goal-less drought, although he has seven assists in that span. The Kings have won nine consecutive games at home against Edmonton, dating to 2012.