EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Not long after Los Angeles Kings GM Dean Lombardi was announced as a finalist for GM of the year, we were sitting with defenseman Alec Martinez talking about skeet shooting and the journey to self-discovery as an NHL player.
It sounds like two separate things, but it's really not.
Seriously. Bear with us.
The building of a team is a constant exercise in self-discovery, especially if you're talking about building a winner like Lombardi has done with the Kings. That journey may have obvious signposts along the way, like the Stanley Cup the Kings won in 2012, but it never really ends.
Martinez illustrates this journey, as do the other young Kings defensemen who have emerged as key contributors since 2012.
Assistant coach John Stevens noted that during that magical 2012 run, the Kings used pretty much the same lineup every single night. The team was healthy and veterans like Rob Scuderi (now in Pittsburgh), Willie Mitchell and Matt Greene provided important depth behind star minute-muncher Drew Doughty.
"It's kind of been different the last couple of years with some of the injuries we've sustained on the back end, so we've really had to ask more of our young guys and fill those gaps by committee," Stevens told ESPN.com.
Martinez, who played youth hockey in Northern California before moving to Michigan, and fellow youngsters Jake Muzzin and Slava Voynov have followed a trend set by Doughty in following a steep learning curve at the game's most demanding position.
As Doughty's game has grown and broadened and the demands on him have likewise grown and broadened, it has fallen to the younger defensemen to take on more responsibility. One is not possible without the other; it is the yin and yang of a team's growth.
"He [Doughty] probably deserves as much credit as anybody for helping these young guys along," Stevens said. "Those guys that you talked about, Muzz and Marty and Slava, I think they're guys that can help us offensively but Drew's a great example of a guy that's a really good offensive player that puts his defense first," Stevens said.
"We're not asking these young guys to be young guys anymore. We're asking these young guys to be good players that help us win."
In Game 2 of the Western Conference finals, it was Muzzin's power-play goal in the third period, set up by Martinez, that proved to be the winner in the Kings' shocking 6-2 come-from-behind victory over the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks that evened the conference finals at a game apiece.
Doughty and Voynov were in on the tying goal moments earlier, and so it goes.
While the Blackhawks' defensive unit has come in for heady praise this playoff year for its skill and mobility up and down the lineup, there is an element of the Kings' defensive group that is sometimes overlooked.
Longtime NHL netminder John Garrett, now a broadcast analyst in Canada, said there is a lot that impresses about the young Kings defenders.