Kings are likely to face former teammate Darcy Kuemper in goal for Coyotes on Thursday
Darcy Kuemper remembers the beautiful postcard days during his run with the Kings.
He lived with teammate Christian Folin, and they would sometimes step outside their Hermosa Beach residence during down time just to feel the sunshine on their faces.
“We really enjoyed walking around to grab a coffee, [or] just walking around the Strand,” Kuemper said.
It was a warmer contrast to Kuemper and Folin’s upbringings in Saskatoon, Canada, and Gothenburg, Sweden, respectively, and was a perk to their transition to the Kings from the Minnesota Wild last summer. Kuemper could not have fit in more smoothly, having gone 10-1-3 with a 2.10 goals-against average as backup goalie, and he was well received in the Kings’ dressing room.
But it ended Feb. 21 when Kuemper was traded to the Arizona Coyotes, who play the Kings on Thursday with Kuemper likely to face his former team.
“I think it’s always tough getting traded,” Kuemper said Wednesday in a phone interview. “That was my first time going through that. It’s tough to leave the group in the middle of the season like that, but I’m really thankful for my time there and I made a lot of friends. With that being said, it’s exciting for a new start.”
Kuemper’s departure was inevitable after he built a case for a No. 1 opportunity elsewhere. He teamed with Jonathan Quick to make the Kings one of the NHL’s goals-against leaders, and there were nights when Kuemper got them a win when they weren’t at their best.
“It will be fun,” Folin said. “I might have to shoot everything just to try and get a goal. It will be fun for the guys too because we faced him in practice a lot. We know he works really hard and he’s a good goalie. Me, personally, I was pretty excited for him to get that opportunity because he was doing such an amazing job for us. He kind of deserved that.”
Arizona reportedly gave Kuemper a two-year contract extension, and he has helped stabilize its goaltending with Antti Raanta. Kuemper’s move to Arizona was eased some because he grew up with Coyotes defenseman Luke Schenn.
Kuemper said he’ll treat Thursday as another game although his track record at Staples Center is difficult to ignore: He’s 7-1-3 with a .939 save percentage in the venue.
“It’s a building that I kind of had success in my first year in the league I had a couple of good games,” Kuemper said. “Nostalgia gives you a comfort level. You feel pretty good when you’ve had good games there in the past.”
Gravel likely in
Kevin Gravel was partnered with Folin in drills and he could return to the lineup with Jake Muzzin injured. Gravel last played Feb. 7, but, like fellow defenseman Paul LaDue, he has been diligent in staying ready.
“It’s not easy being out of the lineup for that long,” Gravel said. “It’s hard to simulate a game. You can’t really replace a game. Things happen out there that you can’t practice. But you try your best to kind of stay sharp, both physically and mentally, because you never know what’s going to happen.”
Kings coach John Stevens ruled Muzzin out for Arizona and the Ducks on Friday.
“We’ll see how he responds,” Stevens said. “Sometimes those things can turn in a hurry, but he’s not going to be available for the next couple of games coming up.”
When: Thursday, 7:30 p.m.
On the air: TV: Prime; Radio: 790.
Update: Arizona rookie Clayton Keller took a career-high ten-game point streak into Thursday. The Coyotes were 8-5-1 in their first 14 games of March. The Kings’ No. 1-ranked penalty-killing unit has allowed one goal in the last 11 games.
Follow Curtis Zupke on Twitter @curtiszupke
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