If you’ve been listening to our Kings of the Podcast episodes over the past week, you already know – the defense in Ontario should be stacked this season. What about in LA, though? Do any of the Kings young blueliners have a chance to make the NHL roster on Opening Night?
As we did with the forward group in a separate article, we’ll begin the conversation with a look at the veterans who have already solidified their spots and then go from there.
From what we released earlier this summer, here is the MayorsManor opening night roster projection on defense:
Derek Forbort – Drew Doughty
Alec Martinez – Paul LaDue
Joakim Ryan – Sean Walker
Naturally, three of those roster spots are no-brainers. Doughty, Martinez, and Forbort have all solidified their situations. Forbort is having back issues, though, so put in a pin in his spot for the time being.
LaDue is out of waivers, as is Ryan. Like we mentioned with Amadio previously, would the Kings be willing to risk losing either player on waivers at the start of the season? You wouldn’t think so. There just isn’t a sound reason to lose an asset that you don’t have to. They have other options with different players (i.e. guys who can be sent down without waivers).
For a little more context, both players are on contracts expiring at the end of this season. That’s always something attractive to other teams. LaDue is a right-shot defenseman – also something coveted around the league. He’s also 27 years old with only 67 games of NHL experience. Given the number of young prospects coming up behind him, we don’t see him re-signing in LA at the end of the season. Of course, if he has a huge year, that could change. Yet he’s most likely looking at a situation where his time in LA this season is an audition for another team down the road.
Ryan may have somewhat landed in a good spot, if not by accident. With Forbort injured and a timeline for his return yet to be established, new coach Todd McLellan is going to need a left shot D to pair with Doughty. It can’t be Martinez, as he’ll need to spread out the few experienced rear guards at his disposal. This just might leave Ryan in an ideal spot to fight for that top-line pair, at least until Forbort returns.If the team found themselves in a situation where they put Ryan on waivers and he was claimed, it would not have the same sting as LaDue – who they drafted and developed.
MacDermid has cleared waivers before. Could he do it again? It’s always a risk with players like him. Few players are as big as he is and can consistently bring a physical element every single night. He’s arguably the most feared man in the AHL. Having him around as the Kings look to transition some younger players into their lineup could be just the right medicine. Again, you could expose him to waivers and keep one of the true rookies up in the NHL, but why keep a player up as the seventh defenseman when you don’t have to? Whichever prospect doesn’t earn the spot over MacDermid can easily — and should — be sent to Ontario, where they can play regularly. It’s a situation similar to when Slava Voynov was trying to break into the NHL. He had to go down for the first half of the season. They eventually traded Jack Johnson to help clear room for him. Expect a similar situation here.
Now which rookies have the best shot at sticking out of camp? Let’s take a look…
The True Contenders (in order of most likely to least likely)
Sean Walker – We have him penciled into the starting lineup; and, in fact, a case could easily be made to flip him with LaDue and put him on the second pairing with Martinez. … As a right shot, he has a little bit of an advantage over some of the other guys listed in this article. … At the end of the day, he’s a puck mover, skates well, and didn’t look out of place when he was up last year. … For all the talk about high draft picks, here’s another case of the Kings staff earning their paychecks, as Walker was a free agent signing out of Bowling Green and spent close to 100 games with Mike Stothers in AHL Ontario before getting into 39 games with the Kings last year. … It should be noted that Walker runs out of waivers after 21 more games at the NHL level. Thus, he could be sent down to start the season without risk of losing him to another team. It’s just not an option that will exist much longer.
Matt Roy – It was tough to leave him out of our opening night projection. In 25 games with the Kings last season, he looked every bit the part of an NHL defenseman. … Again, you have to give the Kings staff credit. This was a kid selected in the seventh round of the 2015 Draft out of Michigan Tech. He was never highly ranked as a prospect, but that didn’t stop him. Stothers and the team’s development staff continued to work with him and now they have a real player on their hands. … He’s a right shot, So he enters camp in a battle with Walker over that third pairing spot. … Regardless of where he starts the season, we expect to see Roy up plenty over the next six months. Just keep in mind, after he plays 45 NHL games this season, he’ll be out of waivers. Meaning the team will need to time his call-ups the right way.
Daniel Brickley – Another candidate for that left shot defenseman role should Forbort’s situation linger. … We would put up behind Roy in this scenario. In fact, there are probably twice the odds in Roy’s favor currently. … Brickley, signed as a college free agent in 2018, came into last year’s camp with much fanfare. He was even paired with Doughty throughout training camp and was hyped a fair amount by then-coach John Stevens. When push came to shove with the initial roster, he was optioned to Ontario, where he ultimately played 42 games for Stothers. … Overall, it was not a great season for Brickley, both on and off the ice. As mentioned on a recent Kings of the Podcast edition, we’re willing to give him a mulligan for the past 12 months and are expecting bigger things from him this coming year. … We encourage you to read this scouting report on Brickley.
Kale Clague – As we reported last season — and Blake recently confirmed at the team’s State of the Franchise event for season ticket holders — Clague was on the brink of being called up to the Kings last season when he broke his foot. … We’ve checked in with him throughout the off-season and he’s ready to go. … Clague had a fantastic season last year from about December 1st on. He’s ready for a shot and it will come soon, if not at the beginning of the season. … As a left shot, he does provide another option to replace Forbort, if needed. However, we don’t see that as the long-term future for Clague.
Mikey Anderson – We’ll keep this short for fear of writing 3,000 words on him. Read here and we’re doubling down on our previous statements. Anderson will definitely wear a letter in Los Angeles. … If there was a defenseman in the Kings system who was the spirit animal of Jaret Anderson-Dolan, it’s Anderson. He’s a coach’s dream and just seems to do everything the right way. As a first year pro, he’s just a tick behind Clague on our depth chart at this time. If he somehow found a way to make the Kings opening night roster, we’d be the least surprised of anybody.
Tobias Bjornfot – This is a real tough one. After being selected in the first round of this year’s NHL Draft, Bjornfot’s stock has somehow risen in the LA organization and hasn’t even played an actual game yet. … Coming off a fantastic showing at the World Junior Summer Showcase and another impressive outing over three games at the NHL Rookie Faceoff, the buzz on Bjornfot is already at near record levels. … Just read here for what Stothers had to say about him for a very small taste. … Bjornfot is good and will only get better. Remember, he also just celebrated his 18th birthday a few months back. … The plan all along was for him to come over for camp and then most likely return to Sweden for one more season. Could the Forbort injury change all of that (even if only for the first month of the season)? It’s certainly possible that could just be the perfect storm of circumstances.
Sean Durzi – More of an offensive-minded defenseman — somebody who can truly shoot the puck and be actively involved on the power play — Durzi is still a work in progress. … We did like what we saw from him, defensively speaking, at the recent NHL Rookie Faceoff. While the Kings staff hasn’t had much time to work with him since acquiring him in the Jake Muzzin trade, you could already see improvements in some areas. … Another first-year pro who will benefit from a stint in the AHL.
Marcus Phillips – We have a full scouting report on him here, where you’ll see he’s a tier behind the Clague-Anderson-Durzi trio. … He was part of Team Canada’s top pairing at the most recent World Junior Championships and has really improved his stock as a prospect. … Phillips has successfully morphed his game into being a shut down D-man. He’s only a first year pro, though, so he’ll need to be patient before legitimately fighting for an NHL roster spot.
Austin Strand – Originally signed as a free agent out of WHL Seattle, Strand served as the team’s captain during the recent NHL Rookie Faceoff. While this may have been a nice reward for his pro experience and time he’s put in with Stothers and the Reign, we still have him with the longest odds of making the Kings roster come opening night. A lot of things would have to go wrong for that to happen. … He’s an offensive-minded player who likely has an uphill battle in front of him in Ontario. Just look at the list of names that will most likely be spending time on that Reign blueline for the next few months – Clague, Roy, Brickley, Anderson, Durzi, Phillips. That should be a difficult group to leapfrog. And one that should make Stothers awfully happy considering the revolving door that was Ontario’s D-core last season.
Note to webmasters/reporters: When recapping news or interviews from this site please remember to include a link to www.MayorsManor.com