SAN JOSE The Los Angeles Kings made arguably the biggest single acquisition this summer, when they landed Mike Richards in a blockbuster trade. L.A. sent highly regarded prospect Brayden Schenn, along with forward Wayne Simmonds and a draft pick, to Philadelphia in exchange for the player who was the Flyers captain at the time.
Tonight, the Sharks will get their first look at Richards in a Kings sweater. Along with Anze Kopitar, he provides L.A. with a superb one-two punch at center.
Hes a great passer, and obviously he can play a physical game, too, said Colin White, who has the most experience of anyone on the Sharks roster playing against Richards, as a long-time member of the New Jersey Devils. Hes a great player. He makes people around him better, and calms the play down. He knows when to slow it down and speed it up.
Even though he played on the East Coast for the first six years of his career, a couple of Sharks stars are pretty familiar with Richards from the Olympics. Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau were teammates of Richards when they won gold together at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
Thornton, especially, was surprised when Richards was dealt from Philadelphia.
I thought he did a great job in Philly, said Thornton. When I saw that trade, I was kind of like, Wow. They traded Mike Richards? I was kind of surprised.
Thornton has something in common with Richards. Both were named captains of their respective teams when they were just 23 years old, and both were scrutinized, either fairly or unfairly, for not living up to the expectations of wearing the C.
Thornton was asked if it was harder for a young guy like Richards to be a captain in a hockey-crazed town, as he was.
I dont think so. He has a pretty good personality where nothing fazed him, from what I saw at the Olympics, said Thornton. I think being a captain in a good hockey town wouldnt affect him at all.
Regardless, Richards is now on the other side of the country, trying to help the Kings unseat the Sharks as reigning Pacific Division champs. Hes off to a good start, with 10 points (2g, 8a) in his first 13 games, tying him with Justin Williams for second on the team.
Kings head coach Terry Murray thinks Richards is adjusting well to the West Coast and to his new team.
Its always a difficult move for a player of that caliber, and he was an impact player with the Flyers, said Murray. Now, you join a new hockey club, and its an emotional roller coaster you have to go through from the time that happens.
"But, his adjustment has been good. Hes settling in every day. I think hes really becoming a confident player with the L.A. Kings and hes having a big contribution to our hockey club now.
Richards himself admitted to not knowing a whole lot about the rivalry, but is looking forward to his first Sharks-Kings matchup.
When you have a divisional game and play each other this many times, with two good teams, it obviously becomes a rivalry. Im looking forward to getting my feet wet tonight, he said.
And, as for playing in HP Pavilion? Hes a little used to hostile environments when he was still in the highly competitive Atlantic Division.
Its a tough building to play in, and from what Ive heard it amps up that much more. I dont think its going to be any difference to what Im used to playing in Pittsburgh and New York, but its going to be nice just to get in this building to see what its all about, he said.