NEWARK, N.J. - Mike Richards is back with the Los Angeles Kings because they need him.
Richards has played 16 games in the American Hockey League since late January. The Kings waived him due to his declining production (five goals and 10 assists in 47 games this season), and while he didn't perfect his game he did enough to warrant another shot.
An injury to Jarret Stoll and the Kings' precarious playoff positioning earned him the call-up.
"Obviously we've lost Jarret in the middle of the ice and we really haven't been very strong in the middle of the ice when you look at our team from early in the year and years prior," coach Darryl Sutter said Monday after his team's morning skate at Prudential Center. "I still believe Mike's a really good player. I trust him and he trusts me. That's a big part of it."
Richards is an 30-year-old veteran with 704 games of NHL experience.
With the AHL's Manchester Monarchs, Richards had three goals and 11 assists on what he joked was a mini-vacation. On the ice with his teammates in the building where the Kings won two games during the 2012 Stanley Cup final, the Kenora, Ont., native seemed glad to have the chance to prove himself again.
"It's where you work toward getting," Richards said. "It's not an ideal situation, but you try to handle it as best as possible, and when you get a chance like I've been given you try to make the best of it."
Richards was a major contributor during the Kings' 2012 Cup run and less of one last spring. A bit player for much of this season, the Kings now need him to fill an important role as a third-line centre in Stoll's absence.
Once an 80-point player (in 2008-09), Richards helped Canada win the gold medal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and was captain of the Philadelphia Flyers team that reached the Cup final a few months later. His teammates haven't forgotten that.
"He's a great player when he's on his game," winger Justin Williams said. "I expect him not only to come into the lineup but be a huge factor in the games."
Richards has the opportunity to be a difference-maker as the Kings try to climb out of a hole to make the playoffs. They went into Monday night outside the playoff picture in the Western Conference with time running out.
"This is the fun time of the year to be a part of a team in the NHL," Richards said. "I'm just going to do whatever position I'm put in, like I've done in the past when I've been here. Nothing is going to change now."
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