Rob Blake’s summer is just getting started.
With a plethora of heavy lifting expected throughout the next few months, his reshaping of LA’s hockey roster is in its infancy. Even so, we can start to whiteboard out an early look of what’s to come. During the process, it can’t be stressed enough just how much of a rough draft this really is. One simple trade involving any of last season’s roster players throws the entire thing into chaos, as filling one hole very likely creates — not necessarily another hole, but various secondary options. For example, if a trade for a defenseman involves (hypothetically speaking) Adrian Kempe and Sean Walker, there are clear ripple effects caused by that deal.
We’ll spare everybody a 5,000 word dissertation outlining 612 different probabilities. Instead, we’ll try to do this in segments over the next two months to make it easier to consume along the way.
LA Kings Projected 2021-22 Opening Night Lineup
Kempe – Kopitar – (OPEN RW1)
Iafallo – Vilardi – Andersson
(OPEN LW3) – Byfield – Brown
Moore – JAD – Wagner
Bjornfot – Doughty
(OPEN D2) – Roy
Anderson – Walker
First Things First
Let’s get the goaltending out of the way first. People love to speculate that Jonathan Quick will be selected by Seattle in the Expansion Draft. We just don’t see it. This isn’t Marc-Andre Fleury and Vegas all over again. Even putting the recent injury and surgery aside, Quick is more than three years older than Fleury was at the time and that makes a big difference. When other goalies like Jake Allen (Montreal), Chris Driedger (Florida), Ilya Samsonov (Washington), Adin Hill (Arizona), and Matiss Kivlenieks (Columbus) could potentially be available, the probability that Quick gets selected goes down dramatically.
On defense, it’s been well documented — and a frequent Kings Of The Podcast topic — that Blake and company will be looking to add a defenseman either via trade or free agency.
Until that happens, it’s difficult to project exactly what happens on the blueline. It could be a guy on the top pair, it could just as easily be somebody who starts on the second pair. For now, we’re putting a place holder on the latter.
Who the player is that’s acquired, as well as how he’s acquired also impacts things here. If it’s via trade, does it cost the Kings Sean Walker? It’s possible. For now, we’ll leave it as is and make note of the other defensive position – the seventh guy in the group.
In part, Olli Maatta was originally acquired to make sure the Kings met the “experienced defenseman” requirement in the upcoming Expansion Draft. Assuming he isn’t taken by Seattle, the Kings are still on the hook for one more season. If they were to included him in any sort of a trade, it could come with them eating some salary, which is possible, but not very likely at this point. He could also end up on waivers to start the season. Yet, if nobody grabs him that leaves about 1M still hitting the NHL salary cap while he waits his turn in the AHL.
Kurtis MacDermid is another option to fill the 7D spot, yet we think the odds are greater than 50% he gets traded this summer. Christian Wolanin (Group 6 UFA) could also be a longshot option. Originally acquired in a deal with Ottawa a few months ago in exchange for Michael Amadio, he was originally seen as a stop gap. However, he showed well and was liked by the coaches in both LA and Ontario. If he’s open to it, we could see him returning for another year in a depth role – even if he doesn’t end up on the NHL roster come opening night.
At the moment, it doesn’t appear Kale Clague or Austin Strand will be on the opening night roster. Again — and this point can’t be stressed enough — this is a point-in-time look at the roster. Following other moves later this summer, we’ll have to readdress if a spot has opened up for either player, or even somebody like Sean Durzi.
Focused on the Forwards
Using the rough lineup posted above, there are likely four roster spots currently up for grabs. Assuming there is a top-six addition from outside the organization, that leaves three openings (unless one of the above players is included in said deal). And at least one of those openings could be filled by a player from the Reign roster.
Thus, a quick look at the current candidates in LA shows that any one of these players could conceivably not be on the Kings opening night roster. In fact, it’s far more realistic to think that no more than two of these players will be with the team in October:
Andreas Athanasiou – faded hard down the stretch, less confident he’ll be re-signed
Carl Grundstrom – earned the trust of coach Todd McLellan and is versatile, in both position and style of play
Brendan Lemieux – has one year left on his deal, didn’t show much in his brief trial run with the team, much of his future in LA could be tied to what happens with MacDermid
Blake Lizotte – was a bridge to Anderson-Dolan, and Anderson-Dolan has arrived, so immediate future is cloudy
Which brings us to Martin Frk. He just might be the biggest question mark today. He’ll be pushing for a spot come training camp after basically what amounted to a lost season. And if there’s any thought at all about putting him back together with Vilardi to rekindle the magic they had, it actually works out better for Andersson, who is being groomed to play the left side.
A move like that, also gives McLellan the option to put either Iafallo or Brown back with Kopitar (we’d be surprised to see both there) – something like:
(OPEN LW1) – Kopitar – Brown
Andersson – Vilardi – Frk
Iafallo – Byfield – Moore
Kempe – JAD – Wagner
Pushing For a Spot (alphabetical order)
How many times will we need to say this – if (insert player name below) isn’t on the opening night roster, that doesn’t mean he’s a bust. All four of the players listed are exempt from waivers, meaning they can go up/down between the NHL and AHL freely. That is a huge roster advantage for a GM. They can fight for a spot during camp, but if they need to go to the AHL to start the year, it’s not an issue. We know there is a segment of the Kings fanbase that wants them to play the kids. Just remember Blake’s comments from last week, “We’re not going to put them in the NHL until we know they’re ready.”
Arthur Kaliyev – of all the players in Ontario this season not named Byfield, we believe Kaliyev is the most likely to be getting regular minutes come October… where and how he fits in will not become more clear until after LA makes some other roster moves… on the plus side, he’s now eligible to play in the AHL (unlike Byfield, who will be either OHL or NHL next season), so LA doesn’t have to shoehorn him into the opening night lineup if they want to give him a little more time to develop
Rasmus Kupari – he’s ready for the NHL, no doubt; the question becomes where… if he’s staying at center, it also means other moves are necessary… like Kaliyev, he could start the year in the AHL, if needed (he’s only one-third of the way through his Entry Level Contract, so waivers aren’t an issue)
Akil Thomas – we recently tabbed him as ‘Most Likely to Breakout in 2021-22’ for our recent feature story on LA Kings Insider… barring a much bigger roster shakeup than we’re expecting this summer, look for Thomas to start the year with AHL Ontario and wearing a letter… he’ll see NHL action next season, odds are it just won’t be as early as October
Alex Turcotte – could potentially push for a roster spot come opening night, yet several things will have to fall into place first… look beyond the simple goals and assists, Turcotte drives offense when he’s on the ice; he did it for Team USA at the World Juniors and he did it for the Ontario Reign… his point-per-game numbers were a smidge ahead of Byfield during their time with the Reign in 2021, (.66 to .63 PPG)… he’s like Mike Richards, in the sense he makes others around him better… we really liked what we saw when Turcotte and Byfield were paired together in Ontario… that could be a very intriguing combo to watch for in the future
ICYMI – be sure to read the articles below for even more context about the summer ahead.
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