EL SEGUNDO — The Kings gave Devin Setoguchi a chance this month. It was all he could ask for after a serious drinking problem derailed his hockey career and his life in 2014-15, forcing him into a rehabilitation clinic in Malibu.
He emerged clean and sober, a changed man.
“That’s all I really wanted,” he said. “I talked to (assistant GM) Rob Blake and I told him I was ready to come play, so for me it’s just that I really have nothing to focus on other than just playing the best I can, and with the opportunity I get, making the best of it.”
After spending last season in Davos, Switzerland, Setoguchi joined the Kings for training camp this month on a pro tryout basis. It’s the most tenuous of contracts, with no guarantee of a roster spot on the NHL team or with its American Hockey League affiliate.
So far, Setoguchi has impressed the Kings’ coaching staff. He’s played with an energy and effectiveness that recalled his earliest days in the NHL with the San Jose Sharks, who drafted him in the first round (eighth overall) in 2005, three spots ahead of Kings center Anze Kopitar.
Setoguchi set career highs of 31 goals and 65 points with the Sharks in 2008-09. He hasn’t topped 20 goals in a season since he had 22 in 2010-11, and played with the Minnesota Wild, Winnipeg Jets and the Flames before hitting rock bottom in the minors in 2014-15.
The Kings don’t expect him to score as he once did with the Sharks.
But he produced noteworthy results during their 6-1 exhibition victory Wednesday over the Ducks at Staples Center, scoring one goal and setting up another while playing left wing on a line with veteran Dustin Brown on right wing and prospect Adrian Kempe at center.
“You have to give him a lot of credit,” Kings assistant coach John Stevens said of the 29-year-old Setoguchi, who last played in the NHL in 2014-15 with the Calgary Flames, who assigned him to their AHL team in Glens Falls, N.Y., after only 12 games.
“He was out of the league for a little bit and I didn’t know what to expect, but to his credit he came here in a very good condition and was ready to go and wanted to put his best foot forward to win a position on the squad. I think for me it’s exciting to see that, just coming in here prepared.
“He’s going to give himself a good chance to perform well, so it’s good to see.”
The absence of Kopitar and Marian Gaborik, who played with Team Europe at the World Cup of Hockey, created an opportunity and Setoguchi has taken advantage. Kopitar could miss almost all of training camp to rest after the World Cup, and Gaborik is out for two months because of a broken foot.
“Two of their top guys aren’t playing, so I get a chance to play,” Setoguchi said.
Of his style of play, and whether he’s getting an opportunity to showcase his skills, he said, “Yeah, I mean my game is pretty cut and dry. It’s north-south, get in on the forecheck, skate, try and create chances offensively by taking the puck to the net.
“I did a tight turn on the power play (Wednesday) to try and go to the net and ‘Brownie’ scored. I didn’t get many shots, but I felt like I was effective in other ways as far as pressure and forecheck and making plays that led to scoring chances.”