Life is an evolving situation, and the NHL is no different.
This past Thursday, the LA Kings began training camp with the following 36 skaters:
Michael Amadio, Jared Anderson-Dolan, Lias Andersson, Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter, Aidan Dudas, Mikey Eyssimont, Sammy Fagemo, Martin Frk, Carl Grundstrom, Alex Iafallo, Bokko Imama, Adrian Kempe, Anze Kopitar, Rasmus Kupari, Blake Lizotte, Matt Luff, Trevor Moore, Akil Thomas, Tyler Madden, Drake Rymsha, Gabriel Vilardi, and Austin Wagner
Mark Alt, Mikey Anderson, Daniel Brickley, Kale Clague, Drew Doughty, Sean Durzi, Olli Maatta, Kurtis MacDermid, Jacob Moverare, Markus Phillips, Austin Strand, Matt Roy, and Sean Walker
Troy Grosenick, Jacob Ingham, Cal Petersen, Jonathan Quick, and Matt Villalta
Before projecting the team’s NHL roster for Game 1 on January 14, it’s worth mentioning a few things:
— Andreas Athanasiou, who was signed just before camp opened, was cleared to join the team for training camp yesterday after his mandated quarantine period. This year, there is a strict 36-skater limit for all NHL camps (goalies are excluded from the calculation). Thus, to make room for him on their roster, LA assigned Drake Rymsha to the AHL.
— The aforementioned roster limit for skaters can’t be stressed enough, as four Kings prospects returning from the World Juniors are scheduled to join camp as early as Friday. Again, to make room for them, four current players will need to be reassigned to keep the numbers balanced. More on that here.
— Understanding taxi squad rules is important when putting the Kings NHL roster together this season. In brief, think of the taxi squad like a second AHL team. All the same rules apply. If the rules dictate a player cannot be sent to the AHL (i.e. Quinton Byfield), then he can’t be assigned to the taxi squad either. If a player requires waivers before being sent to the AHL (i.e. Matt Luff), the same thing applies – he would need to clear waivers to be assigned to the taxi squad. However, there is one small caveat to the taxi/NHL rules, and it will most likely only be relevant for a short period of time. Until the OHL resumes activity (and they have not currently established a date to return), junior-aged players who would normally be ineligible for the AHL can be assigned to the taxi squad and AHL. Once the OHL resumes, those two options are removed for Byfield and Arthur Kaliyev. If the Kings want to keep either player in SoCal for development, they must be on the NHL roster at that point.
LA Kings Projected Roster for 2020-21 NHL Season
Alex Iafallo – Anze Kopitar – Dustin Brown
Adrian Kempe – Gabe Vilardi – Martin Frk
Andreas Athanasiou – Blake Lizotte – Jeff Carter
Trevor Moore – Mike Amadio – Austin Wagner
Carl Grundstrom – Matt Luff
Olli Maatta – Drew Doughty
Mikey Anderson – Matt Roy
Kurtis MacDermid – Sean Walker
Other Important Questions Answered
— Let’s start with the line combos. The second and third line are somewhat interchangeable in their positioning. Vilardi’s line could actually be the third line to open the season. Even so, eight of the nine players listed on the top three lines are a lock, with Athanasiou being a bit of a wild card. As noted, he came to camp late, plus he’ll need to learn all the new systems. If he acclimates quickly, there’s a possibility he starts the season on the left side of Lizotte-Carter. A more conservative approach would be to give him an extra week or two, with Austin Wagner apparently serving as McLellan’s backup plan at LW3. We’d prefer to see Grundstrom there.
— The final five forwards listed are a bit interchangeable when putting the fourth line together, with the exception of Amadio, who would play center if in the lineup. A different look might see Amadio scratched, Athanasiou at 4C, Wagner at LW3, and any of the remaining players rounding out the fourth line.
— Bottom line at forward, expect those 14 names to be listed at forward on the opening roster. Why? What about Lias Andersson, Sammy Fagemo, etc.? The reasoning is simple, the Kings don’t anticipate being in a position to put anybody on waivers next week to make room for either player — or even to make room for Alex Turcotte or Quinton Byfield, for that matter. The 14 players listed would require waivers to clear a spot for any of these names. So what happens with those guys? For now, they will either be assigned to the taxi squad or the AHL. It really doesn’t matter who goes where first. As we reported a few weeks back, the plan is for the Kings to rotate players between the taxi squad and the AHL, giving guys a chance to both play AHL games and practice with the big club. It’s almost the perfect scenario from a development perspective.
— Once the OHL resumes, we expect Byfield and Kaliyev to return to their respective clubs. Again, neither will be eligible for the AHL at that point and, right now, the Kings don’t plan on putting another player on waivers to make room for them at the NHL level. Perhaps that changes over the next week. Kaliyev, in particular, is coming into camp red-hot off a gold medal performance at the World Juniors. That’s a big ask, though.
— Jaret Anderson-Dolan was originally penciled in for the Kings roster this season, coming off a solid rookie campaign in the AHL last year. However, with the addition of Athanasiou and Andersson, the competition for that roster spot has become a little tighter. Not so much because they have leap-frogged him on the depth chart, but more because of waiver rules in the case of Athanasiou. The Kings can freely send JAD to the AHL (and bring him back up) without him needing to pass through waivers this season. He will play NHL games this season, it’s just not very likely the first week.
— For the cap gurus out there, Vilardi and Lizotte are the only players among the 14 who could still go to the AHL without waivers. However, two things are in play here. First, Lizotte only has five NHL games remaining before that option goes away. Second, we don’t expect the Kings to use that option in the first couple of weeks this season, as he’s pretty much locked into being paired with Carter (and Vilardi is scheduled to be a featured player this year). Thus, scratch that idea off the list.
— So what happens when the Kings want to play Andersson, Byfield, JAD, or (insert name here)? With all of the 14 forwards listed needing to remain on the roster for reasons described above, one of three things will need to take place: put one of the 14 forwards on waivers to make room, place one of the 14 forwards on IR, or… and this is a creative solution… only carry six defenseman for a game, using the ‘seventh D’ roster spot to call up a forward. What happens if they want to play, as an example, Andersson and Fagemo in the same game? They’ll need to employ two of these three options. There will be some roster gymnastics this season, especially early on, while McLellan settles on which players he likes best.
— Speaking of defense, let’s talk about what’s happening out on the blueline. Six of the seven spots are locked in, with Kale Clague being the only real point worth mentioning. Again, as we’ve reported previously, the plan is to rotate Clague and Bjornfot throughout the year between the NHL and AHL/taxi. With only one roster spot among the D-core up for grabs, they’ll need to share it. From a lineup perspective, expect a steady diet of Maataa-Doughty and Anderson-Roy. Then, a mix of MacDermind-Walker-Clague-Bjornfot will likely be deployed on any given night. We’re not sure he’ll ever get to it, yet we’d like to see more of the Anderson-Clague pairing that was featured by coach Mike Stothers in AHL Ontario last season.
— Goaltending is anybody’s guess. We believe there is a rough plan to go with a 60/40 split, favoring Quick. Petersen has long been the heir apparent. How quickly he can take over remains to be seen.
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