Stability will not be a common theme in 2021. Instead, it will likely be a heaping helping of Expect the Unexpected.
On a nightly basis, the Kings will need to be prepared for at least the possibility of a few Tommy Lasorda-worthy curveballs (that was his pitch, look it up).
‘We’re not going to be the only team that’s going through this,” said coach Todd McLellan. “We better be able to gel and change on the fly quickly.
After nearly being lulled to sleep through training camp, with some pretty smooth sailing for the first week-plus, reality hit on Saturday and then followed up with a liver punch on Monday.
First, it was announced Gabe Vilardi, Kurtis MacDermid, Sean Walker, Cal Petersen, and Matt Villalta were unfit to play. No timetable has been set for their return, yet it’s all but confirmed they will at least miss Thursday’s season opener vs. Minnesota. Ditto for forwards Martin Frk and Alex Turcotte, who have been tabbed as week-to-week with lower body injuries.
Sunday afternoon was not a day of rest for McLellan and his assistant coaches. Instead, it was back to the drawing board to examine their options. And to hear McLellan tell it, the results are more Beautiful Mess than Beautiful Mind.
“There are different scenarios,” he explained after Monday’s practice. “There’s a scenario if everybody’s available, here’s probably what it’s going to look like. What happens if we get these guys back, what happens if we only get one back, too many situations, too many variables to lay it all out.”
While the LA staff was hunkered down in El Segundo, we produced our own initial look at how to fill the holes, with the biggest void being the absence of Vilardi on the second line. Here’s what we posted on Sunday:
Now, if McLellan called to ask for some input (and he’s not, don’t worry), we’d prefer to mix things up a little bit. Andersson has spent most of his recent time in camp playing on a line with Grundstrom and Luff. So we’d like to see:
Alex Iafallo – Anze Kopitar – Dustin Brown
Andreas Athanasiou – Blake Lizotte – Jeff Carter
Adrian Kempe – Mike Amadio – Austin Wagner/Martin Frk
Carl Grundstrom – Lias Andersson – Matt Luff
In the same article, we suggested the most likely starting six on defense would be:
Olli Maatta – Drew Doughty
Mikey Anderson – Matt Roy
Kale Clague – Mark Alt
Apparently McLellan was thinking along the same lines because Monday’s practice was showing:
Iafallo – Kopitar – Brown
Athanasiou – Lizotte – Carter
Kempe – Amadio – Wagner
Moore – Byfield – Luff
Grundstrom – Andersson – Kaliyev
Maatta – Doughty
Anderson – Roy
Clague – Alt
Bjornfot – Strand
— John Hoven | The Mayor (@mayorNHL) January 11, 2021
And while the thought of rookies Quinton Byfield and Arthur Kaliyev is enough to get some daydreaming with giant smiles, the reality is, they most likely will not play on Thursday.
“They’ve got a lot to grab and it may be unfair to them, or us, to throw them in right away,” noted McLellan. “Give them a few more skates and then see where we go.”
Perhaps one of the more interesting developments on Monday was McLellan’s comfort level with defenseman Tobias Bjornfot. Again, that’s something we speculated about on Sunday and he seemed to confirm it after the big Swede took part in his first practice with the team since returning from the World Juniors.
“From a comfort level, he is further ahead than the others,” said LA’s bench boss. “He’s not necessarily competing with the younger players. He’s competing with ones that have been here in training camp for two weeks now.”
If any of the five missing players can get cleared in time for Thursday’s game, it would certainly give McLellan more options. However, if the status quo can hold for just another 48 hours, the lineup — at least for one game — is rounding into shape.
Regardless of where they’ll be placed in the lineup, when GM Rob Blake submits his opening night roster to the league before today’s 2pm deadline, it will most likely include the following players:
Michael Amadio, Jaret Anderson-Dolan, Lias Andersson, Andreas Athanasiou, Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter, Carl Grundstrom, Alex Iafallo, Adrian Kempe, Anze Kopitar, Blake Lizotte, Matt Luff, Trevor Moore, and Austin Wagner
Mark Alt, Mikey Anderson, Tobias Bjornfot, Kale Clague, Drew Doughty, Olli Maatta, and Matt Roy
And two other players (there is a four-player minimum)
As other players cleared protocols, the roster shuffling will begin. For example, Vilardi and Frk will rejoin Kempe to form the second line – most likely pushing JAD and Andersson off the NHL roster for the time being. It’s a similar situation for Alt and Bjornfot, who are expected to be replaced by MacDermid and Walker once they’re cleared. In net, when Petersen is cleared, he’ll be paired with Quick on the Kings roster, pushing Grosenick to the taxi squad and allowing Ingham to be assigned to the AHL.
Wait five minutes, though, and it could all change again.
UPDATE: 11:30am on 1/12/2021
And for the record, hearing Lias Andersson and JAD are fine. Nothing protocol related. There's just some roster shuffling going on today. Sure McLellan will address after practice. https://t.co/hkaw37Xuyn
— John Hoven | The Mayor (@mayorNHL) January 12, 2021
On a somewhat related note, with the Ontario Reign on the verge of opening up their AHL training camp, it does give Kings management another option to possibly get some looks at Byfield and/or Kaliyev in some game action before turning them loose in the NHL. As we first reported a few days ago, the plan is to have the Reign play a few exhibition games before their season officially starts on Feb. 5.
Ontario Reign Preseason Schedule:
January 16 at 1pm – at San Diego (Irvine)
January 17 at 3pm – vs. San Diego
January 22 at 3pm – vs. San Jose
January 24 at 1pm – vs. Tucson
January 25 at 1pm – vs. Tucson
January 30 at 5pm – vs. Bakersfield
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