A National Hockey League regular season takes seven months, which is a large enough sample size for trends to rise, fall and rise again. Over the course of 82 games, players who remain on the active roster have a wide enough opportunity for their ability to come to light.
So while Teddy Purcell is stuck on two assists through 12 games and has been a healthy scratch for the last two, there’s still ample time for the forward’s game to come around.
“I’d like to get in to the lineup and contribute, but obviously I’ve got to show the coaches more, so I’ve got to try and find a way in practice to keep my confidence up and wait for my chance,” he said.
Purcell referenced his confidence several times in a short chat on Tuesday. Signed to a one-year, $1.6-million contract as a skilled forward who had averaged just shy of half a point per game during the term of his previous three-year, $13.5-million contract, he hasn’t been able to transfer such production into the first quarter of games with Los Angeles.
Eight of Purcell’s 10 games missed were due in part to a lower-body injury suffered near the outset of the season, an interruption to the start of the year that may have impacted his rhythm at an important time. While there have also been questions raised about his battle and competitiveness for loose pucks, Darryl Sutter wasn’t as interested in addressing the particular aspects of the winger’s game that he’d like to see improved.
“There’s a competitive balance in our forwards now. It’s not about Teddy. We only have a 23-man roster,” Sutter said. “It’s not about Teddy, it’s about the team. We’re trying to win games. He’ll be available, he’s available, and maybe he’s playing tomorrow. I’m not really going too much past that. Two weeks ago we were trying to get 12 forwards who were healthy. It’s not an issue for me.”
That 23-man roster is figuratively bursting at the seams with the impending activation of Andy Andreoff, who has been cleared to play after undergoing early November thumb surgery. One way that the Kings would be able to delay making a roster move that could hypothetically expose a player to waivers would be to place Purcell on a conditioning assignment with AHL-Ontario – an assignment that Purcell would have to agree to – but according to a source in hockey operations, that particular option is not being considered.
For the time being, the focus will be to continue to work with Purcell to acclimate him to when he’ll be in the lineup again. Though Sutter said “maybe he’s playing tomorrow,” he was still grouped with Kyle Clifford, who was also scratched on Saturday, and Andreoff, who is nearing his return but remains on injured reserve.
While his most productive seasons came with the Lightning, Oilers and Panthers, there are different expectations and styles of play in Los Angeles.
“I mean, those teams haven’t won in the past X number of years and they have here, so they have their philosophy and obviously it works, so I’ve just got to try to do better at it and gain their trust.”
It’s far from a perfect comparison, but one example of how a player’s fortunes can change is inherent in the travails of Dustin Penner, who was a healthy scratch for a stretch of games in mid-February, 2012. Two months later, he scored the game-winning goal in the third period of Game 1 of the team’s first round series against Vancouver. One month after that, he scored the overtime goal against Phoenix that sent Los Angeles to the Stanley Cup Final.
Purcell and the Kings both have a ways to go before that comparison is at all applicable. But it is a reminder that over the course of an 82-game season, things can change, and all hands will be needed on deck.
To get there, the first goal will be for Purcell to regain his confidence. From there, the other aspects of his game should free up.
“I’m a player that likes to make plays. It probably didn’t happen enough when I was playing,” he said. “You’re playing in and out of the lineup and playing eight or nine minutes, it’s tough mentally to stay sharp so I’ve got to do a better job of being ready for it. I think harping on play away from the puck so be better on the forecheck, be better on the walls, stuff like that that will gain their trust a bit more and then go out and do your thing.”