EL SEGUNDO, CALIF. - Dustin Penner sees a lot of the Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks in these Los Angeles Kings.
That's kind of a coincidence because the Kings are starting to see a little of the 2007 Dustin Penner in him.
Penner was still feeling his way around the NHL when he last ventured this deep in the post-season, helping Anaheim to a Stanley Cup title with his hard game and soft hands, and he can't help wondering if this journey might end in the same place.
"The one thing I've noticed with this group is a willingness to believe in the system and believe in ourselves as a team," said the 29-year-old winger. "We have that quiet confidence, a bit of a calmness because we're so focused and intense."
The irony of Penner speaking to L.A.'s focus and intensity isn't lost on many; those words haven't been used in a lot in discussions about the former Edmonton Oiler recently but he looks a driven man right now.
Kings coach Darryl Sutter had a hunch that the scent of a deep playoff run might awaken the 6-foot-4, 245-pounder and so far it is paying off. Penner, having struck a pretty effective chemistry with Jeff Carter and Mike Richards, has a goal and three assists in L.A.'s two wins over the St. Louis Blues and six points in seven playoff games.
This, after just 17 points in 65 regular season starts.
"He's played well, he's been playing well for a while now," said Richards. "He's starting to get bounces, a nice bounce in Vancouver, a nice bounce the other night to score the empty netter, but he's earning his bounces, he's working hard for them. He's getting in the right spots and he's a big body, he's hard to move."
Penner's been engaged physically and emotionally, drawing on championship experience and passion that seemed lost during his well-documented struggles in Edmonton and L.A.
"It's good to see that emotional investment from Dustin, right?" said Sutter. "Good to see and good for him. I said it before the series, we need him to have a good series."
No question, he's holding up his end of the bargain as the Kings have jumped out to a 2-0 series lead.
"I'd like to believe I've earned a few bounces," said Penner, whose goal came on a long bank shot into an empty net in Game 1. "They don't come without hard work. That's what I'm focusing on. Any player who gets bounces will tell you it's a by-product of working hard."
Again, the irony...
But there's no disputing that for about seven games now, Penner's found an extra gear. And when he's at his best, he can be a difficult weapon for the other team to deal with.
"He's hard to move," said Richards. "When he protects the puck, there's no one in the league that can take the puck from him. The first goal was him playing hard, getting the puck to the net and using his big body to cause havoc."
Sutter was right. Getting a taste of the playoffs has made Penner hungry.
"When you get down to eight teams I think it's natural for guys who are competitors and professional athletes to understand where you are, what opportunity you have," he said. "I won it my first full year in the league and I didn't get a sniff for the next four years. It's a great opportunity for us, and the work isn't nearly done."
Penner's stock dropped through the floor this winter, a lethargic campaign that saw him scratched from the lineup and publicly chastised by Kings general manager Dean Lombardi.
A strong playoffs will undo at least some of that self-inflicted damage.
"I can't speak on my future," said Penner, who's at the end of that five year, $21.25 million offer sheet he signed with the Oilers. "I don't know what my future hold for me. I'm focused on Game 3."