For the first time in several seasons, salary cap issues are no longer the topic du jour in Los Angeles. Sure, the Kings aren’t completely out of the woods just yet — case in point, there is still plenty of work to do before talks begin with Drew Doughty on a contract extension next summer. However, the most pressing issues on GM Rob Blake’s to do list involve his opening night roster.
For starters, the team is looking to add some scoring punch. After being near the bottom of the league in offense for several years now, new coach John Stevens has been telling anybody who will listen, he and his staff have several fresh ideas they’ve already begun implementing in the hopes of taking some pressure off of goaltender Jonathan Quick and what will be a slightly reconfigured defense in front of him.
The top two lines are all but settled:
Mike Cammalleri – Anze Kopitar – Dustin Brown
Tanner Pearson – Jeff Carter – Tyler Toffoli
As for what happens when Marian Gaborik returns, for anybody to say with absolute certainty is impossible. Until the 35-year-old winger is actually practicing and declared fit for game action, think of Cammalleri and Brown on extended tryouts. If either of them start to light things up during their evaluation period, they’ll make their case for staying with Kopitar. If both earn that right, there is always the possibility that Gaborik will start out on the third line and need to earn his spot back up top.
When it comes to the remaining forwards, that is where things get really interesting. Eight spots need to be filled; six guys for the third and fourth lines, along with two healthy scratches. Most likely, you’ll be looking at the following seven players making the team out of camp:
Regardless of how the bottom six forwards are arranged on a nightly basis, expect a steady diet of guys moving in and out of the line up. For example, a fourth line of Clifford-Shore-Lewis could easily become Andreoff-Dowd-Nolan the next game.
With seven roster spots claimed here, that only leaves one forward position up for grabs. We expect Jonny Brodzinski to be that player when the dust settles in November.
Wait, what? November? The season starts in October.
Exactly. The season starts in October and the Kings have a pair of forwards who would need to go through waivers before being sent down to AHL Ontario – Justin Auger and Michael Mersch. From all indications, Mersch is more likely to make it over Auger. Thus, it only makes sense to send Brodzinski down (since he doesn’t need waivers). Give Mersch a look for 5-10 games and then sort things out. This is similar to what the Kings did with Slava Voynov in 2012. They knew he was NHL ready. They wanted him on the team. They simply didn’t have room. (And, yes, it took them a little longer than 10 games to figure it out back then).
Brodzinski will be with the Kings this season; make no mistake about it. They just need to do some roster shuffling. Plus, in theory, it should be easier to sneak Mersch through waivers in late October / early November when most teams have already set their rosters and have limited space available. Remember, if another team was to claim him, they have to keep him on their NHL roster for 30 days. That’s a tough ask for a guy with 17 games of experience at the moment.
Heading out to the blueline, things are much more clear. There are seven spots, with five of them all but locked up:
One name noticably missing is Kevin Gravel. Hold that thought for just a minute.
To us, it only makes sense to pair the above names as:
Muzzin – Doughty
Martinez – LaDue
Forbort – TBD
Yet, Stevens is talking as if he likes the idea of a Martinez-Muzzin pairing, which would place Forbort on the top pairing. Sure, the latter played all 82 games last season (and that was great experience for the team’s first round draft pick from back in 2010). We just see Muzzin as a better fit for Doughty. Then, if you slot Christian Folin in as the other defenseman, put him on the third pairing and you have a balanced attack of three lefty-righties.
We digress, though. Let’s get back to the seventh defenseman to make the Kings 2017-18 roster.
Four legit names are in the mix – Folin (formerly of the Minnesota Wild, signed to a free agent contract earlier this summer), Gravel, Oscar Fantenberg, and prospect Kurtis MacDermid.
Fantenberg has arrived in North America having played in Sweden and Russia previously. He’s only 25 years old, which bodes well for his future chances. By not needing waivers to go to the AHL, he’s also most likely (barring an incredible preseason) to be in Ontario within a few weeks.
Gravel, like Brodzinski at forward, doesn’t need waivers to go down. So, again, even though Gravel will likely be in LA before Thanksgiving, he’ll probably get caught in a crunch to start the season.
That leaves MacDermid. He packs a punch, there’s no denying that. Standing 6-foot-5 without skates, he’s coming off of 121 and 135 penalty minute campaigns during his first two years with the Reign. The kid can play too. So, for a team still looking to reclaim some of their previous identity (see article linked below), MacDermid will likely get the nod – at least for the first few weeks. Would MacDermid make it through waivers? It’s a risk the Kings will almost surely have to take at some point.
2017-18 LA Kings Projected Opening Night Roster
Cammalleri – Kopitar – Brown
Pearson – Carter – Toffoli
Forbort – Doughty
Martinez – Muzzin
Folin – LaDue
Scratches: Andreoff, Shore, and MacDermid
Where does this leave guys like Andrei Loktionov, Brooks Laich, Chris Lee, and Brandon Prust – who are attending camp on PTOs? Not on Blake’s NHL roster. Perhaps they’ll be offered AHL deals.
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