It’s no secret that Los Angeles GM Rob Blake has his work cut out over the next three months. He’ll need to hire a coach, make some trades, and carefully navigate around a series of potential landmines while the rest of Southern California is barbecuing and off at the beach enjoying the summer months.
To the surprise of nobody reading this, we’ll be delving into Blake’s handiwork throughout the process. Up first, let’s take a look at the situation up front. Many people have asked questions like, ‘Why would the Kings consider moving Jeff Carter?’ or ‘What happens with Jonny Brodzinski?’
Just like throughout much of the organization at the moment, there are a plethora of questions at forward. In fact, you could make the case for more than 20 different players potentially having a legitimate shot at the Kings opening night roster.
Without turning this into a 5,000 word dissertation, we’ll begin with a high-level overview and sprinkle in some analysis/observations along the way.
Under any scenario, they’ll need 12 forwards to fill out their four lines, and will most likely carry one to two additional forwards (healthy scratches). To make things easy, we’re going to assume the 2019-20 roster will feature 14 forwards. That’s the magic number we’ll work with here.
We should also note there a myriad of ways to begin this exercise. For example, you could start with who is already under contract and try to piece things together that way. Instead, we’re just going to jump right into the actual lineup part of things and put the pedal to the metal.
Based on our current projections, we see 11 of the 14 spots already spoken for – with a potential lineup looking similar to this:
Alex Iafallo – Anze Kopitar – Tyler Toffoli
Dustin Brown * – Adrian Kempe – XXX
Carl Grundstrom – Jaret Anderson-Dolan – Matt Luff
Kyle Clifford – Mike Amadio – Austin Wagner
Healthy Scratch A
Healthy Scratch B
* NOTE: Brown can play the left or right side, we chose to put him on the left side in this mock up. Also worth considering, there is just as good of a chance he ends up on the right side of Kopitar. We’re just guessing that a new coach may choose to break up the two and spread out the offense to start the season.
Option B using the above players could easily be:
Alex Iafallo – Anze Kopitar – Dustin Brown
Carl Grundstrom – Adrian Kempe – Tyler Toffoli
XXX – Jaret Anderson-Dolan – Matt Luff
Kyle Clifford – Mike Amadio – Austin Wagner
Healthy Scratch A
Healthy Scratch B
Yet, that’s just another way of ending up at essentially the same place; with 11 of the 14 forward spots already spoken for.
Now comes the fun part (aka the way more challenging part) of the exercise.
There are at least 12 other names worth vetting in the initial search for three more forwards:
Jonny Brodzinski, Jeff Carter, Draft Pick Guy (the No. 5 selection in this year’s draft), Rasmus Kupari, Ilya Kovalchuk, Brandon Leipsic, Trevor Lewis, Blake Lizotte, Artemi Panarin, Nikolai Prokhorkin, Sheldon Rempal, Nikita Scherbak, and Gabe Vilardi.
Panarin? Well, there were reports a few months back the Kings may be interested in signing him. Sure, on some level it makes sense. LA is a star driven town and the Kings could certainly use the pop that would come with adding such a big name. However, the team is not expected to be good next season (it will likely be a season with growing pains, as younger players get their NHL legs under them). Given what it’s going to take for a team to sign the highly-skilled free agent – perhaps $8 or $9-million plus — that would be an awfully expensive first year of his contract just to have him in the fold for the 2020-21 season (and beyond), when the Kings are expected to be much more competitive. Could it happen? Sure. LA loves stars and just think about it… He’s 27 years old, a point-per-game player and the idea of him replacing Iafallo as Kopitar’s left wing… Now stop it. Back to reality. This most likely isn’t happening, so we’re going to eliminate his name from consideration.
Draft Pick Guy? With the Draft Lottery not doing the Kings any favors earlier this week, Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko are now headed elsewhere. There are still plenty of other good players available in the first 10 picks (so calm down, people – CALM DOWN!). Yet, we don’t anticipate said selection to play in Los Angeles next season, so we’re eliminating this future prospect from 2019-20 consideration.
Kupari? The Kings first round selection from 2018 has had a phenomenal season over in Europe. He’s also only 19 years old. For our full scouting report on Kupari, see here. We expect him to start the season in the AHL, as he begins his acclimation to North America.
Lizotte? He was just signed to an Entry Level Contract a few weeks back and will not require waivers to start next season in AHL Ontario. Taking nothing away from his skills, that’s his most likely destination when all things are considered. Could he surprise everybody and snag a spot on the opening night roster via a fabulous training camp? Sure. And that could be a great thing for the organization. They need to see some kids rise up and demand a roster spot. We’re putting this down as unlikely until it happens. So, he’s being removed from this pack of 12 candidates.
Scherbak? Skilled player, no doubt. We just haven’t seen enough from him in Ontario that suggests he will force his way onto the NHL roster at the start of next season. He’s also a Restricted Free Agent (RFA). A more likely scenario might be for him to return to the organization, but with AHL Ontario. There, the former first rounder could work on developing his game and perhaps get his career back on track. There are also reports he’s headed back to Russia this summer and will sign with a KHL club.
Vilardi? We covered it all here. Obviously his talents would be a huge boost to a Kings team looking to inject a major dose of youth and offensive firepower into their lineup. For now, though, we’re removing him from this exercise.
This pares our original dirty dozen down to a slightly more manageable group of seven – Brodzinski, Carter, Kovalchuk, Leipsic, Lewis, Prokhorkin, and Rempal.
We’ll take them one at a time…
– Most people reading this are well versed on our opinion of Brodzinski. As a natural goal scorer, ala Toffoli, he should give the Kings something they desperately need. Unfortunately, last September’s injury may prevent it from ever happening. He’s an Unrestricted Free Agent (UFA) this summer and the expectation is he’ll have several offers to mull over. And that is the real problem here. Given all the work the Kings need to do, Brodzinski most likely won’t be their first issue to solve come July 1. If they aren’t able to make the trades needed at the Draft, they’ll have to wait and see how the UFA market shakes out for other teams, and then look to flip some of their assets in the post-UFA frenzy. By the time they circle back to Brodzinski, he could have already been scooped up by another team. It’s a bummer; it’s just a harsh reality of where he may fall on the priority list at the moment.
– As examined in detail here, we don’t anticipate Carter coming back. Great player; and one who deserves a lot of credit for helping the Kings earn two Stanley Cups. One of the best trades in franchise history. However, he just doesn’t seem to be a good fit for what they’re trying to accomplish moving forward.
– Kovalchuk. Hold that thought.
– Leipsic was all energy this season. He creates a buzz, but does he add enough offense to receive a qualifying offer from Blake? We’ll assume he gets one. It’s a fairly low risk move actually. If another player beats him out of an NHL roster spot in camp, the Kings can put him on waivers. In that scenario, he would either be snagged by another team or start next season in the AHL.
– Lewis is another one of those heart-and-soul guys from the Kings 2012/14 Cup years. He’s also one of those guys that when you see things objectively, it’s very difficult to imagine him on the Kings roster next season. They have little room within their bottom-six and he’s under contract at a very reasonable cap hit. Another team, one that more resembles a playoff contender, should be happy to have him. We expect him to be moved this summer.
– Prokhorkin is said to be coming over from Russia, so he’ll have an opportunity to earn a spot. He’ll be battling for one of the three open spots we’re addressing here. While there are no guarantees, one would think if Kovalchuk remains with the Kings, Prokhorkin’s odds of making the opening night roster would increase, even if just slightly.
– Rempal (pictured above) is a head-scratcher. After having a great first-half to his season – including making the AHL All Star team – he didn’t score a goal in February and followed that up by scoring in only three games last month. In Ontario’s two most recent games he’s been a healthy scratch. That’s not trending in the right direction. Still, he has the speed and talent to make the NHL next season. And with an impressive off-season, he could easily be tabbed as the Most Improved Player when camp rolls around. One other item worth mentioning – he does not require waivers to go back to Ontario next October. So if the Kings get into a pinch, that could happen just until things sort themselves out over the first month (or so) of the season.
Where does this leave things?
With Brodzinski, Carter, and Lewis most likely removed from the conversation… Kovalchuk, Leipsic, Prokhorkin, and Rempal would be fighting for the three remaining roster spots.
This could lead to some interesting combinations, such as:
Brown – Kopitar – Toffoli
Grundstrom – Kempe – Luff
Prokhorkin – JAD – Kovalchuk
Clifford – Amadio – Iafallo
If Kovalchuk opts to leave for another team (with the Kings most likely retaining about $1.5M in cap space under that scenario), it would free things up for perhaps something like this:
Brown – Kopitar – Toffoli
Prokhorkin – Kempe – Grundstrom
Iafallo – JAD – Luff
Clifford – Amadio – Wagner
The possibilities are endless. Perhaps we should build an online simulator to keep everybody busy for the next few months.
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