The Los Angeles Kings reside in the NHL's second-largest market, and their owner, Philip Anschutz, is an extremely wealthy man who owns hockey and soccer clubs around the world.
Like the Vancouver Canucks, their first-round opponent in the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Kings have a 40-year history of losing, and they are returning to the postseason for the first time in eight years.
Yet, given all their built-in advantages, and their fans' waning patience, the Kings did not succumb to quick fixes - building with expensive free agents like the New York Rangers, their big market bookend on the opposite coast, did. That has served the Kings well in the salary cap era, and it's about to pay dividends.
Los Angeles has taken the longer route to competitiveness, building through the draft and developing a farm system that The Hockey News has ranked as the NHL's best over the last two years. That draft-and-develop culture existed under former general manager Dave Taylor, and continues under Dean Lombardi, who assumed GM duties four years ago.
The Kings enter their Western Conference quarter-final series against Vancouver with seven key contributors who have never been to the postseason, but with huge optimism for the future.
Here's a look at five players who have been building blocks this season, and who figure to be franchise pillars over the coming years:
The Kings would not be in the NHL playoffs this spring, had a 2005 draft-day gamble not paid off. Los Angeles selected Kopitar with the 11th-overall pick, a choice that was going to be boom or bust. Kopitar hails from Slovenia, not exactly a hockey hotbed, and thus at that point had played against lesser competition. Scouts had to determine whether this 6-foot-4, 220-pound centre was simply dominating inferior players or whether his skill and size would carry through to the NHL. Five years later, the answer is clear. He was perhaps the best player through the first quarter of the 2009-10 season. The 22-year-old likes to carry the puck, and he'll dip below his own goal line to retrieve it. Once he has it, beware his speed.
The 13th pick in the 2003 draft, Brown was named team captain in October of 2008, and brings to the ice an impressive set of intangibles. He is a productive goal scorer (netting at least 24 in each of the last three seasons), but his play without the puck is also strong. Brown, 25, is known as one of the league's most aggressive fore-checkers, and he is also an antagonist. The winger was second in the league this season with 287 hits, and he led all players last season, drawing 63 penalties - 20 more than anyone else. "You're definitely checking your shoulder twice when he's coming," Canucks defenceman Shane O'Brien said. "He hits like a truck. He'll take an extra stride [before delivering the check] and he hits to hurt."
Sports Illustrated recently portrayed the defenceman as a hockey savant, and that seems appropriate given the 20-year-old logged huge minutes for Canada's 2010 Olympic team. The second pick in the 2008 draft is a James Norris Memorial Trophy candidate in just his second NHL season, and has already established a signature move (the spin-o-rama). His 59 points were third-best among defencemen this year. Competitors and teammates marvel about his sense of calm, poise and confidence at such as a young age. Doughty's 6-foot-1, 219-pound body is still, well, doughy, but his hockey sense has already matured.
The American defenceman knows what he wants, and goes about getting it. For example, he wanted to play U.S. college hockey, despite being the third pick in the 2005 draft, so he enrolled at the University of Michigan for two seasons. That decision put him on the outs with the Carolina Hurricanes, and led to his October of 2006 trade to the West Coast (for defenceman Tim Gleason and forward Eric Belanger). Since then, he has become an Olympian and a heavy minute man. Canucks players said his skill set is comparable, if not exactly the same, as Doughty's. Johnson, 23, also shares Doughty's confidence.
He was a winner in high school and college, but had he simply developed into an NHL backup, or an organizational goaltender, no one would have been surprised. Instead, Quick received an opportunity to play in the big league in December of 2008, and earned two shutouts in his first three starts. That cemented his place in the NHL, and it bumped the former third-round choice ahead of Jonathan Bernier, a first-round selection, in the organization's goaltending queue. Quick, 24, has struggled of late, losing six consecutive decisions, and ultimately, he may still have to fend off Bernier's challenge. But for the moment, the U.S. Olympian is Los Angeles's starter.