Discussions of line combinations are a continuous topic in hockey circles, and even more so in Los Angeles of late, where Kings coach Darryl Sutter has often been channeling his inner-Terry Murray. Gone is the early 2012 era, a time period in which Sutter went with nearly the same line-up every night. More recently, largely due to injuries and lack of performance, he has been forced to shift his forwards up, down, and around.
While nobody would wish the situations that befell Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson this past weekend (mono and a broken leg, respectively), as Sutter put it, this will create an opportunity for guys who had been “bitching about ice time.”
The length of Toffoli’s absence remains in limbo, but could be a several week affair. Pearson, meanwhile, has already been placed on injured reserve and isn’t expected back any time soon following surgery for a broken leg.
Enter Nick Shore, a 22-year-old center called up from the Manchester Monarchs. Originally selected by Los Angeles in the third round (82nd overall) in 2011, the Colorado native had been leading the Kings’ AHL affiliate with 20 goals in 37 games. Spoiler alert – he is also set to be listed as the Kings top prospect when the MayorsManor Midseason Rankings are released later this week.
Now comes the tough part, though, how should he be used during his initial foray into the NHL? Three thoughts here, as follows…
Dean Lombardi has continually preached a “slow development” process for his top prospects and it is something Sutter believes in, as well. Seeing Shore play on the fourth line would not be at all surprising, even though it doesn’t really give you a chance to see what he is truly capable of, especially offensively speaking. Knowing that Jeff Carter’s explosive scoring touch might be better served on the wing at the present time, you could see a lineup that looks like this on Wednesday vs. the Devils:
Marian Gaborik – Anze Kopitar – Jeff Carter
Dustin Brown – Jarret Stoll – Justin Williams
Dwight King – Mike Richards – Trevor Lewis
Kyle Clifford – Nick Shore – Andy Andreoff
For starters, this lineup would at least keep some significant continuity with how the Kings opened up Monday’s game vs. the Maple Leafs. Additionally, Shore and Andreoff played together in Manchester last season, so there is some familiarity between the two forwards – something that could aid the former this week.
While it is too early to tell for sure, most likely, Shore will be the third line center next season (and we’ll go ahead and pencil Stoll in as the fourth line center come October). Assuming as such, starting Shore out on the third line for his NHL debut would give him ample minutes to show off his talents, yet not fully throw him to the wolves. In doing so, we would suggest the following:
Marian Gaborik – Anze Kopitar – Justin Williams
Dustin Brown – Mike Richards – Jeff Carter
Jarret Stoll – Nick Shore – Trevor Lewis
Kyle Clifford – Andy Andreoff – Dwight King
Given what was said up above about Carter, some of you may ask why flip right wings Carter and Williams on the top two lines? Good question, with two logical answers. First, there has never been much evidence of chemistry between Kopitar and Carter when they’ve played on the same line. That can’t be said for Kopitar and Williams, who have complimented each other rather nicely for long stretches. Second, if you’re going to move Richards up to the second line, he should be given the best opportunity to succeed, and that almost surely means putting Carter on his wing. Win-win.
If Shore gets a spot on the third line, placing Stoll on his wing gives everybody an insurance policy. Stoll is available to take any key faceoffs, if needed, and he can practically mentor the young centerman in real-time on the ice. This option is far better than placing Stoll on the fourth line.
Further, if the idea of Richards on the second line is not preferred here, Stoll could remain as the 2C. That leaves Richards as the 4C, which more than likely also bumps Clifford or King up to the third line. If it were me, instead, I’d move Andreoff off the fourth line in that scenario and put him on Shore’s left wing (again, playing off their familiarity with each other from Manchester). This would create a bottom six of Andreoff-Shore-Lewis and Clifford-Richards-King.
GOING FOR IT
With two Stanley Cups in three years, slow and steady has won the race for Sutter much more often than rolling the dice in a big way. However, the Kings have clearly been a in a funk this season and have yet to find the magic combination of forwards to generate consistent offense. Thus, it would be rather intriguing to see Shore start out on the second line, using a lineup like this:
Marian Gaborik – Anze Kopitar – Justin Williams
Dustin Brown – Nick Shore – Jeff Carter
Kyle Clifford – Jarret Stoll – Trevor Lewis
Dwight King – Mike Richards – Jordan Nolan
For reasons stated above, this keeps Carter off the Kopitar line. However, the Brown-Shore-Carter combo is ultra-appealing here, as it creates the “near-perfect” line favored by many in the organization – one featuring a power forward, a play making center, and a pure sniper.
The other thing of note here is the absence of Andreoff, which is definitely not something we would normally entertain, as he has way more to offer than what he’s been allowed to give in just 10 sporadic games this season. However, if King and Richards are going to play together, putting Nolan on their right wing just looks better on paper. Placing Andreoff in the Nolan line is really splitting hairs though. If the success of the lineup comes down to who is playing RW4, the Kings are in big trouble anyway.
Now it’s your turn. Which option do you prefer?
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