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Lewy Making News

Wednesday, 05.09.2012 / 2:59 PM / Los Angeles Kings | News
By Rich Hammond
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Lewy Making News

It’s a highlight that will be replayed for years to come: the shot, the goal, the mob-scene celebration, the moment that the Kings eliminated the Vancouver Canucks in the first round of this year’s playoffs.

Rewind the video a few frames, though. Take it back far enough to see Trevor Lewis ferociously backchecking and eventually catching Dan Hamhuis, much like a lion hunting a gazelle. Watch as Lewis pokes the puck away and Hamhuis grabs Lewis’ stick and falls, trying to draw a penalty.

The puck squirts free and the rest is already history. Jarret Stoll picks it up, starts a 2-on-1 with Dwight King, keeps the puck, shoots and scores. In the corner of the ice, Stoll is mobbed and, toward the end of the shot, Lewis’ No. 22 jersey enters the scene. He deserves more recognition than that.

Essentially a roster afterthought in mid-December, Lewis has found new life under coach Darryl Sutter. It’s not a big exaggeration to say Lewis has been reborn as a player. At times in the previous two years, Lewis seemed like an octagonal peg being shoved into round and square holes. Now, Lewis looks comfortable, confident and productive, thriving in a role that few could have predicted.

A former first-round pick, Lewis is now a valuable third-line winger. He might never score 30 goals in a season -- perhaps not even 20 -- but if he can play the way he did over the last couple months of the regular season, and the way he’s playing right now, he will have a long, successful NHL career.

``He's a guy that, maybe once Darryl gave him a chance to play, and play quality minutes, he was able to show what he had,’’ Kings center Colin Fraser said. ``He's not a guy that's flashy, but he does all the little things that go unnoticed. If you're not a hardcore fan of hockey, you don't even really know what he does bring, whether it's blocking a shot, making a hit, getting the puck out of the zone late in the game. He's a guy that doesn't make mistakes, really, and you can rely on him in any situation.’’

The same certainly couldn’t have been said five months ago. In 2010-11, Lewis became a lineup regular for the Kings, but former coach Terry Murray never seemed entirely comfortable. It seemed, in Murray’s view, that Lewis didn’t have enough high-end offensive talent to play in a top-six role, or enough grit to play in a bottom-six role. Lewis was a man in the middle, not a good place to be.

This season, when Murray got fired on Dec. 12, Lewis had been a healthy scratch in eight of the previous nine games. Sutter came aboard and, slowly but surely, Lewis showed improvement.

Ultimately, Lewis -- who can play all three forward positions with equal ease -- settled into a role as the Kings’ third-line right winger. Sutter simplified Lewis’ game. He asked Lewis to forecheck, to kill penalties, to become a defensive stopper, to play with grit and tenacity.

Lewis responded… and after Sutter’s arrival, Lewis was never again made a healthy scratch.

``I feel like, for whatever reason, early in the year I wasn't playing as well as I knew I could, and playing as well as I did last year,’’ Lewis said. ``I was getting healthy scratched for a while. Darryl came in and I just kind of viewed it as a fresh start for myself, just to prove to him that I can play. He gave me a chance to play and I think I've done a pretty good job of it.’’

Asked about Lewis, and what he brings to the team, Sutter said, ``He's quick and he's physical and he's smart, and those are three things I like.’’ Coming from Sutter, who tosses around compliments like they are bags of concrete, that’s a stunning amount of praise for any player.

Lewis has bought into exactly what Sutter demands. One of Sutter’s main strengths as a coach is his ability to define roles for each of his players, and get them to understand his expectations. Not every player has Anze Kopitar’s skill, but Sutter wants 100 percent of what every player is able to give.

Upon his arrival, Sutter set out to tap Lewis’ potential. Sutter saw something, and wanted more.

``It's hard to explain, but players like that, with the way, the style I like to play, have a huge value in it,’’ Sutter said. ``I think that was important for him to know that right away. He can give you serious 5-on-5 minutes and he can give you serious penalty-killing minutes and he's got an identity. I think that is really important. You've got to really be able to skate and you've got to be able to compete and you've got to be able to think the game.''

It’s been quite a journey for Lewis with the Kings. It started in 2006, Dean Lombardi’s first draft as general manager of the Kings, when the Kings traded up to take Lewis with the 17th overall pick.

So convinced were the Kings, about drafting Lewis, that they had a handshake agreement with Minnesota. If Lewis was not available when it came time for pick No. 17, the agreed-upon trade between the Kings and Wild would be called off. Lewis was there, and the trade went through.

A former 35-goal scorer in junior hockey, Lewis spent parts of three seasons with Manchester of the American Hockey League and didn’t make much of an offensive impact. Not particularly large or physical, Lewis didn’t really fit the prototype of a defensive, checking-line winger, but it’s a role that Lewis has grown into. It’s more of a mindset than a skill set, and Lewis has the right attitude now.

``I always thought I could be a good third-line player, especially on a good team,’’ Lewis said. ``I feel like I can kind of adapt, anywhere that I play. I think that's one of my strengths. I enjoy the role, and I enjoy going out and giving the team energy and chipping in (offensively) every now and then and trying to play against top players. It's been a lot of fun.''

Fun? Chasing around the other team’s top forwards, without any of the glory of a top scorer, is fun? It would seem to be perhaps the most difficult role on the team.

``It's definitely hard, but I think it's something that all three of us kind of enjoy,’’ Lewis said. ``It's a challenge, and we like to rise up to the challenge. It's actually a really fun way to play, too.''

Fraser echoed Lewis’ thoughts about the job being fun, and said Lewis is effective in his new role.

``It's fun,’’ Fraser said. ``Whether it's blocking a shot or taking a hit to make a play or whatever, it's part of our job, part of his job. If he's not playing that way, or doing those things, he's not going to be playing those minutes. It's part of our role and part of his role, and he obviously takes to it well. With his speed, he's one of the fastest guys on the team, so it's easy for him to get on the forecheck and get in those dirty areas.''

Hamhuis and the Canucks are all-too-familiar with that speed now. It allowed Lewis to catch Hamhuis in overtime of Game 5, to force the puck free and to start the

game-winning play. The play will be remembered for Stoll’s goal -- a brilliant, clutch shot, no question -- but Lewis shouldn’t be forgotten.

Fittingly, a couple weeks before that game, the Kings players held an anonymous team vote for the award of ``unsung hero.’’ Lewis and Rob Scuderi shared the award. So while Lewis’ play might not make many of the highlight reels, it does get recognized where it counts.

``I think the guys in the locker room recognize it, but I'm not complaining about the (lack of) attention,’’ Lewis said. ``I'm a pretty quiet guy anyway, so it doesn't really bug me.''

A few more big plays, though, and Lewis might not remain anonymous for long.