LA Kings Opening Night Roster: Take Two – Down to Just a Few Decisions

Life can come at you pretty quickly. Just when it looked like Kings GM Rob Blake had one primary decision heading into the second part of training camp – whether to keep 13 or 14 forwards on the Opening Night roster – everything changed last Thursday.

During a split-squad game in Vancouver, the skates of Canucks defenseman Michael Del Zotto became tangled up with Kings forward Jonny Brodzinski. LA’s 25-year old prospect went into the boards and was immediately pulled from the game. The next day, Brodzinski had an MRI and this Thursday he’s scheduled to have surgery for a separated shoulder. What a difference a week makes.

It’s a terrible situation for a player who put in all the work requested by management and came into camp in phenomenal shape. Unfortunately, all the body fat statistics and weight measurements meant little in the end. Instead, a different side of pro sports reared its ugly head once again – where injuries impact the story. It’s hurtful. It’s cruel. Yet, it’s a next-man-up reality.

Where do the Kings go from here?

As outlined in our Take One article from this series, training camp roster cuts have been coming in hot and heavy over the past few days; all of which have allowed the Kings list to get down to a more manageable number.

At present, here is where things stand:

– Goaltending is largely the same as it ever was. Top prospect Cal Peterson is still up with the big club at the moment, yet expected to be assigned to the Ontario Reign soon. He’ll be the primary starter in the AHL this season, with Peter Budaj serving as the backup (he just cleared waivers, so he’s good to go).

– Defensively, the team has nine players vying for seven spots. With Drew Doughty, Derek Forbort, Jake Muzzin, Alex Martinez, and Dion Phaneuf all being givens, that really leaves four players in a battle for the final two openings. And this is where you’ll find a fair amount of intrigue and debate.

* Kurtis MacDermid is the least likely out of the four remaining players to survive the final cut. Love his toughness, yet probably doesn’t bring as much to the table as the other three. MacDermid will also require waivers if he’s sent down. After spending 34 games in the NHL last season, some other team may have seen enough of him to show some interest. We’d put it at 50/50 he gets claimed.

* Daniel Brickley, on the other hand, should probably be considered as a near-lock at this point. If Forbort’s back issues aren’t cleared up in time for the October 5th season opener, not only does Brickley definitely make the team, he’s starting on the top pairing alongside Doughty. Conversely, if Forbort is back (no pun intended), Brickley could, should, and probably would still join the team. Remember, he was one of the top college free agents earlier this year and was said to be chased by around a dozen different teams. Kings management was beyond thrilled when they landed him and coach John Stevens has been impressed in his brief time as a pro. If Brickley is in and MacDermid is out, that leaves a two-man race for the final blueline spot.

* Oscar Fantenberg vs. Paul LaDue is where all the debate really lies. If it comes down to this, it’s likely more about who Blake thinks he can sneak through waivers, as both players need them before starting the season in the AHL. Given Fantenberg’s one-year contract and play down the stretch, especially in the playoffs, he could very easily get scooped up. LaDue might be a little easier to push through waivers considering he carries a two-year NHL contract. However, he’s also a year younger and is that elusive right shot, the near-unicorn level attribute among blueliners in recent years. Perhaps you could flip a coin on this one… or you could even ask, why risk it? Blake could play the safe hand and send Brickley down (he doesn’t require waivers) keeping both and delaying the inevitable decision. If we were placing a wager, though, we think LaDue gets the nod and Fantenberg goes on waivers.

Forwards – At one point, the question was, if the Kings only go with 12 forwards to start the year for cap saving reasons, does that mean Brodzinski goes on waivers or will Amadio (who doesn’t need waivers) be sent down to start the season? Now, with the former injured, it may be just the window Jaret Anderson-Dolan needed to sneak onto the team.

From what we’ve been able to gather over the past few days, there’s been a change in direction since the Brodzinski injury. There is now a very real possibility JAD (as he’s commonly referred to) will make the team out of camp; giving Blake and the Kings an opportunity to see the 19-year-old forward in actual NHL games. It still remains doubtful he would play more than the nine games allowed. However, at this point, anything is possible.

Don’t sleep on Amadio either. Once penciled in for a fourth-line role, the 22-year old forward came into camp ready to show off his skills; something management has taken notice of already. Word is, Amadio will be given every chance possible to earn a top-9 spot, where they believe his versatility and strong two-way game can support more offensive responsibility.

Taking all of the above info and putting into the hopper, we project the Kings currently posting an Opening Night roster that looks like this:

Ilya Kovalchuk – Anze Kopitar – Dustin Brown
Tanner Pearson – Jeff Carter – Tyler Toffoli
Alex Iafallo – Adrian Kempe – Jaret Anderson-Dolan / Mike Amadio
Kyle Clifford – Nate Thompson – Trevor Lewis

Derek Forbort – Drew Doughty
Jake Muzzin – Alec Martinez
Dion Phaneuf – Daniel Brickley
Paul LaDue

Jonathan Quick
Jack Campbell

As we always mention, this isn’t about the actual line combos, as much as it’s about which forwards ultimately make the Opening Night roster. Blake and Stevens are committed to having three scoring lines this season; they want a productive top-9. Throughout the month of October, and perhaps even into November, look for Stevens to routinely rotate guys, especially in the bottom-6 –where guys will cycle through third line, fourth line, and sitting out other games.

A few additional notes:

– Earlier this week, the Kings loaned Jacob Moverare to Frolunda of the Swedish Hockey League. As outlined during our Top 10 Prospect Rankings, this needed to be a big summer for Moverare, one in which he took a step forward in his development. While he looked good early in the recent NHL Rookie Tournament, it just wasn’t enough. On the positive side, we’re told this isn’t the end of the road for him as a prospect – unlike many before him, who have gone home to Europe only to never be heard from again. This was more of an ideal situation, where he can get more playing time in a comfortable environment; and at the same time, the Kings organization can open up a contract spot this season.

– What about Emerson Etem, you may be asking? We’ll stick with our original hypothesis; while he has been a great redemption story throughout camp, we just don’t see him making the Kings roster. He could very easily be signed for a spot with AEG-owned Eisbaren Berlin of Germany or to an AHL-only contract with Ontario. The question you’d have to ask yourself if you’re Etem, would you rather play for more money in Europe or in front of NHL scouts every night with an AHL team?

– Kale Clague, Sheldon Rempal, and Gabe Vilardi – expect all three of these players to make their NHL debuts at some point this season. Yet, they don’t factor into the plans early on. Vilardi is the player we’re asked about most. Until he begins skating with the team during practice, any update is really just speculation at this point. Put a pin in it and come back to these three at a later date.

RELATED CONTENT:

Stevens on Dimming Doughty’s Fire and Pairing Him With Brickley

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Comments

  1. flashdzyner says:

    JAD really puts some more much needed speed on the ice that I like.