Play the Kids. It’s a common rallying cry among Kings fans this season, and management is certainly on board — either by design or recent neceesity, perhaps a good mix of both. Overall, LA is near the top handful of teams with younger rosters in the league.
In this article, we’ll share comments from players who have combined for less than 100 NHL games played. Even with Lias Andersson having already played 66 games with the Rangers prior to the Kings acquiring him from New York, that’s still not enough to get to 100 when you add in Mikey Anderson’s 17 games and Austin Strand’s two games.
Yes, the youth movement is alive and well on coach Todd McLellan’s roster – and the barn is full with a bevy of other young ponies chomping at the bit for their opportunity.
Patience, they say.
All in due time.
For now, let’s hear from a trio of young Kings players who are in the early stages of carving their own path:
Lias Andersson on if he’s starting to feel more and more settled in with his new team
I feel better and better every day, more comfortable and more confident out there. I want to get better every day. I’m trying to be a good teammate and starting to learn the system, getting to know all the guys and all that. I’m getting more confident every day. Hopefully, I can get better and better for each and every game here.
On centering the line of Arthur Kaliyev and Trevor Moore last week
I just wanted to set up Arty, so he could use his shot. He has a great shot and he’s a great player. I think. Trevor and I had one game together before too. Trevor works hard, he’s fast. Arthur is more of a shooter, so I try to mix it all together with them.
Austin Strand on his journey to the NHL
Once the first shift was under my belt, I felt a little bit better and just played the game. It felt great. I’ve come a long way. I always knew I wasn’t gonna take the normal route – being undrafted, kind of coming in and working my way up, proving myself, on and off the ice by working hard. We have such a good development team and I worked with them a lot this summer, during the long off-season. I had a lot of time to work with those guys and they gave me a lot of good tools. I’ve just been trying to implement them into my game as much as I can. I spent a lot of time with [Sean O’Donnell] and [Mike O’Connell]. Those guys have been doing a lot of work with me. Probably the biggest thing they told me was just to simplify my game. I think that’s exactly what I’ve been doing because when I was younger I would just try and do a little bit too much – skate too much with the puck and over handle it too much, kind of look off plays, try and do other things that were unnecessary. Now I’ve kind of matured and come into this mindset of just getting the puck and moving it right away. It’s been working great, just trying to get it into the hands of our forwards as soon as possible, get those guys the pucks so they can do their thing in the offensive zone. Also, being confident – the team brought on Dafna [Aaronson, mental skills coach] this year, I’ve been talking with her a lot. She’s really helped me become a solid, well-rounded player, to have more confidence in myself and be confident in my game. I don’t know where I’d be without the development team that we have here. This is my third year now with the organization and those first two years, working with guys like OD and OC – all that advice and motivation they’d give me. OC is head of development, and both of them are just legends of the game, both have so many games played in the NHL. Whenever those guys are talking, I’m just trying to absorb as much knowledge as I can. I could not have done it without that team, for sure.
On finding a way to utilize his size to differentiate his game from the other defensive prospects
I think with my big size, I’m a good skater, good puck handler. I have a long stick. I think having that well-roundedness helps my game. I like being a big guy. I want to bring more physicality into my game and I have a pretty good shot too, so I’d like to try using my shot a little bit more these next couple of games. I’d like to be a little bit more physical and then jump into the rush when I have the chance.
Mikey Anderson on the most difficult thing to adapt to this early in his NHL career
The schedule is a bit different than than what I’ve been used to in the past, having less practice days and then more games. Day in and day out, playing against some of the the top guys in the world every night, it can be a challenge. It’s about trying to stay level-headed. You’re gonna have a bad shift every now and then, make a bad play, but make sure you just shake it off. It’s that ‘come out next shift’ mentality. I’m trying to not get too high on the highs, too low on the lows, and stay level-headed throughout the game and build off the positives. Then, try and fix the negatives from maybe the night before.
On who he spends more time talking with on the team, i.e. getting advice from the vets or comparing notes with the young guys experience some of the same things
I think there’s a balance of both. Being on the planes and stuff, sitting by Vilardi or being around Clague a little bit more, we kind of balance ideas off each other, how we’re doing or how we’re feeling. Then again, they’re in the same shoes that I’m in. Like you said, we have less than 20 games of experience, right? So it’s digging to Drew or Kopi or Brownie, any of those guys. They’ve been here for a long time, they’ve won in the league. It’s about trying to pick their brains, see what they think on a day-to-day basis. I’m trying to learn from them. That’s when you then can go back to some of the younger guys and bounce ideas off of each other.
On looking for keys for the first pass, specifically as a defenseman in the Kings system
I think if we’re going back for retrieval, the first key is you have to think about trying to read what’s coming. Teams forecheck really well now. They’re hard, they get in the right spots, they’re taking away your options. So it’s going back with a puck and already kind of having an idea of what you want to do with it. That first touch, if you can try and go right up to the forward, you know which guy you have open. If you’re going across to the D-partner, you know where he is. It’s kind of knowing what you’re gonna do with the puck before you get it. The game is too fast now. Guys are too skilled, they pick off passes and strip pucks. You have to know where it’s going before you actually have it on your stick.
On playing with Doughty and what makes him such an effective player
He’s super skilled. He can make plays that a lot of guys can’t. He sees some things differently. Whether it’s a pacing aspect, where he can out-wait a forechecker or draw him a little bit closer, to give the next guy a little bit more time. I’m not sure if everyone can hear it on TV, but he’s non-stop chatter on the ice. That makes him easy to play with. He’s always talking on the bench, whether it’s about a play from the shift before or what we need to do going forward. Throughout a shift, he’s directing traffic he’s calling for pucks, he’s letting you know what you have. Having that out there makes it extremely easy to play with him.
On if that constant communication is helpful for this younger group of defensemen
It’s huge. For a lot of young guys coming into the league, sometimes it can be scary – not to boss around the older guys, but to communicate with them on the ice, tell them what they have, kind of direct traffic. I felt that too, but a guy like Drew makes you comfortable. You watch him, you see the way he is day and day out, the communication he has, and it’s something that is very contagious. You see the success the team has had with that, it can trickle down to the rest of the group throughout a lineup.
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Lead image via Getty Images / LA Kings
Some quotes may have been slightly edited for brevity and/or clarity.