An old saying about ‘The best laid plans…’ is all that comes to mind today.
Just 48 hours ago, we were close to having it all figured out. We had all but secured the intel needed to complete the puzzle that is the LA Kings 2021 opening night roster.
We had even some of the data points in previous articles — i.e. Andreas Athanasiou is expected to open the season on injured reserve — but had one key piece in our pocket. We were saving it for today’s article.
Then, Tuesday night, it all went up in flames.
After spending the summer thinking that 2020 first round selection Quinton Byfield would most likely begin his 2021-22 campaign in the American Hockey League, plans changed over the past few weeks. Only about a month removed from his 19th birthday, the 6-foot-4 forward came into training camp and simply imposed his will on the situation. Determined to show management he was ready to play in the NHL, Byfield did just that – consistently. As one LA executive put it to us, he’s not only up for the challenge, he’s simply better than every other player under consideration. Byfield had arrived.
One question still remained, how would they get him enough minutes to further his development? With the Kings set down the middle with Kopitar-Danault-Vilardi, that left the 4C as Byfield’s only viable option. That’s why they put him there on Tuesday night’s game. More specifically, they wanted to see what type of minutes he could actually play in that type of rotation; including some possible time on the second power play unit, if it was warranted.
Provided everything went as planned, Byfield was going to make the opening night roster we were told. They felt that although he would get more minutes in Ontario — and getting him 20 more games of pro experience down there could certainly help him — the pendulum was starting to swing back the other way. Having him around coach Todd McLellan and practicing with the Kings players, learning that NHL life on a daily basis, would bring an equal value that couldn’t be dismissed. And, again, he was showing to be one of the better bottom-6 players in camp. Starting him out on the fourth line and letting him earn more minutes was an attractive alternative to the original plan. Who knows, on some nights, he could be even be flipped with Vilardi at 3C to provide an additional spark.
Everything changed in the second period of Tuesday night’s game.
Byfield has a fractured ankle. Official word coming soon.
— John Hoven | The Mayor (@mayorNHL) October 6, 2021
As we reported on Wednesday, Byfield has a fractured ankle and he’ll be out at least a month.
Then there’s Rasmus Kupari.
Building on what we’ve included in other recent articles, there has been a strong internal push for Kupari to make the opening night roster… as a winger. He comes with the bonus of being another option on faceoffs today, as Vilardi is the only other Kings right shot down the middle of the lineup.
The Kupari dilemma was already complicated and now it’s even more muddled with the Byfield injury.
We were assuming a lineup of something similar to this:
Arvidsson – Kopitar – Brown
Kempe – Danault – Iafallo
Tkachev – Vilardi – Andersson
Moore – Byfield – Athanasiou
Plus one of Grundstrom, Kupari, Lizotte, and Wagner
Of that foursome, all but Kupari will require waivers to be sent down. Thus, taking Kupari as one of the 14 forwards would put the Kings in a position where — at least in theory — they could lose three experienced forwards on waivers.
Prior to the Byfield injury, we believed Grundstrom and Lizotte were headed to waivers. The question was, would the Kings keep Wagner or Kupari?
Now, with the Byfield injury, a knee-jerk reaction would be, just keep both.
It’s not that easy, though.
In the above scenario, Byfield was the 4C. Kupari was being kept as a winger. Now, the Kings are down a 4C.
On the positive front, coach Todd McLellan has many different options to fill that role over the next month. Moore can play center, at least he did at the World Championships (we doubt that’s where LA will use him). More likely candidates would included a healthy Athanasiou, Kupari, Lizotte, and Jaret Anderson-Dolan.
Oh yes, the JAD situation.
He’s gone from starting the year in the AHL — simply because the Kings didn’t have room for him in the NHL and he was one of the few players exempt from waivers — to now being a viable option at 4C.
Well we haven’t even circled back on Athanasiou heading to IR yet, which will open another roster spot for about the first week or so.
So let’s re-set.
If the top three lines are set, the Kings are trying to solve the final five roster spots at forward (essentially, the fourth line and two additional forwards). Moore and Lemieux are locked in. Which leaves three openings for now. And one of them needs to be a center.
Candidates for those three spots include: Anderson-Dolan, Grundstrom, Kupari, Lizotte, and Wagner
And then there’s Kaliyev.
He’s a longshot in all of this. Why? Because the roster decisions are tough enough as is. Yet, the guy just won’t go away. When they put him in the lineup, he scores. And the Kings could certainly use goals after last season’s dismal offensive performance. Did he do enough on Wednesday to force the issue, though?
If so, could the three players be Kaliyev, Kupari, and JAD? Which would put the Kings right back in the previously mentioned conundrum of placing three experienced forwards on waivers this Sunday.
If he’s still currently on the outside looking in, what if Kaliyev plays Saturday and scores again? Then what?
Oh, ‘Now do the defense’ you’re saying? Sure, no problem.
LA’s opening night defense is expected to be:
Anderson – Doughty
Bjornfot – Roy
Edler – Walker
Maatta is on track to play in Saturday’s preseason finale. Provided he’s healthy and good to go for the regular season, he’ll be the seventh defenseman. Austin Strand and Christian Wolanin are just a tick behind him in the pecking order, yet there won’t be a roster spot available for them, so they’re expect to hit the waiver wire on Sunday morning. If they clear on Monday, they would then be assigned to AHL Ontario, where they’d join an already deep Reign blueline.
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