Backbone of Experience
Youth has been served in this series, but three Kings with ample experience will continue to accentuate their own impacts
One narrative to come out of the second round series between the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks has been the confidence in youth on both teams’ rosters. On one side there’s Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli, and on the other there’s Devante Smith-Pelly and John Gibson – and that’s nothing to say about young players such as Drew Doughty and Alec Martinez, or Cam Fowler and Jakob Silfverberg with multiple years of NHL experience.
But amongst these two young NHL teams is a collection of players who have won Stanley Cups, and in the Kings’ case, three of the 29 active players remaining from the 2000 NHL Draft class. There are first rounders Marian Gaborik (3rd overall / 704 career points) and Justin Williams (28th overall / 541 career points, who rank second and third Dany Heatley (2nd overall / 791 career points) amongst the class’ all-time scorers. There’s also Jarret Stoll, who was selected in the second round by Calgary at the Saddledome-hosted draft, but did not come to terms with the Flames (nor did he sign a contract with the Maple Leafs, to whom he was traded), and was ultimately selected in the second round by the Oilers in 2002.
“It’s a younger league now, for sure,” Jarret Stoll said. “But still, if I was building a team, I’d want guys that have been around and been in tough situations and have experience and have character and have the guts that it takes to win in tough situations.”
Justin Williams remembers the outside influence imparted onto him during his OHL draft season of 1999-2000, when he traveled as far as Game 7 of the J. Ross Robertson Cup Finals with the Plymouth Whalers before ultimately falling in a two-goal defeat to the Barrie Colts
“You have a lot of people telling you where you should be, where you should go. Teams saying they may take you, they may not,” he said. “I remember a lot of indecision, a lot of anxiety.”
One thing he didn’t remember was getting to know Marian Gaborik during the lead-up to the draft five weeks later in Calgary.
“No, he was kind of the next prima donnas up there in the top three,” the forward joked. “He didn’t talk to us lower guys.”
There were quite a few misses in the 2000 draft – the seventh through 12th picks were Lars Jonsson, Nikita Alexeev, Brent Krahn, Mikhail Yakubov, Pavel Vorobiev and Alexei Smirnov – but the third selection was knocked out of the park to dead center.
Marian Gaborik was the first ever player selected by the expansion Minnesota Wild, the last original player to leave the team, and still stands as the franchise’s all-time leader goals leader and left the organization as its leader in assists and points before he was overtaken by Mikko Koivu.
“It was an expansion team, so we had all new guys, so it was like everybody was going pretty much to a new team,” Gaborik said.
“I don’t know if I was expected to make the team right away, but I was confident I could, and I did, and we had a good team. Great coaching by Jacques (Lemaire) there, and I think we made the best of it.”
They certainly did; Gaborik contributed with 36 points in his 18-year old season during Minnesota’s expansion year. Shortly after he turned 21, he scored nine goals as part of an 18-game, 17-point postseason campaign in which the defensively attuned, underdog Wild reached the Western Conference Final before they were rebuffed by J.S. Giguere and the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in what remains as the deepest Minnesota playoff run to date.
He’s also now a member of an exclusive club of players that has erased a three-nothing series deficit, experience that should provide a confidence boost as the Kings look to return from a three-two series deficit against the Anaheim Ducks.
“We started to make sure everybody was doing their job in terms of taking care of the puck, managing the puck, lengths of shifts and obviously limiting the goals against,” Gaborik said about the previous series’ resurgence. “That’s been our biggest issue of course. We just have to get back to playing our game, and everybody knows the importance of it, obviously.”
Stoll has experience in making deep postseason runs, a tradition that started during his junior hockey days when he was a part of two Ed Chynoweth Cup-winning Kootenay ice teams, the latter of which he captained and led to a Memorial Cup title in 2002. His Oilers made a run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2006 before losing to Williams and the Carolina Hurricanes in seven games, and has since rekindled his postseason tradition by taking part in 44 of the Kings’ 50 playoff games since the spring of 2012.
“Marian’s been around awhile, Justin’s won two Cups, he’s been in a lot of situations and has been successful. So has Marian,” Stoll said. “We take a lot of pride in our experience and our leadership with what it brings to the team, and I hope it continues to where we keep playing here.”
Of course, there’s another player who may not have the seniority that Williams, Stoll and Gaborik have but has lifted a Stanley Cup and has had a pair of Olympic gold medals draped around his neck. Drew Doughty has quite the resume – and confidence – of a 24-year-old.
“I love these opportunities. I love having the pressure. I know going into these types of games that I’m going to be counted upon and I know that in order for us to win I have to be at the top of my game,” he said. “I just look forward to these opportunities. I just want to go out there and play my game and play well defensively. That’s always been my main thing. Just shut down the other team’s top line. Then after that if I can get involved in the offense, I’m always trying to do that too. I still don’t think I’ve played my absolute best this series, so I’m going to need to do it at home [Wednesday].”
The confidence is shared throughout the Kings’ dressing room, even if the team isn’t happy with its current predicament after jumping out to a two-nothing series lead.
“I’m not happy until we’re shaking hands with them after a win,” Williams said.
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The 29 players remaining from the 2000 draft class: