With a myriad of players being cut from Kings training camp on Sunday — either via assignments to AHL Ontario or by being placed on waivers (for the purposes of sending them to the Reign) — their 2023-24 Opening Night roster has come into sharp focus.
For all practical purposes, the only significant surprise packaged up in those moves was forward Sammy Fagemo heading to waivers so soon. Since our lineup/cap projection articles first started appearing in June, Fagemo has been identified as one of the bubble players — guys who could possibly make it as the last forward included or be sent down. Despite having completed three years of pro hockey in North America now, he has yet to define his game in such a way that he’s solidified an NHL roster spot in Los Angeles. It’s not to say it will never happen; it just hasn’t happened yet, and with each passing month it’s becoming more difficult.
And there is serious concern he will get claimed off waivers on Monday.
Now. Let’s start by taking a look at the 20 players who are believed to have spots on coach Todd McLellan’s roster thus far:
Now, let’s take a look at the three decisions remaining this week:
1. From everything we’re hearing, only one of either Brandt Clarke or Jordan Spence will make the Opening Night roster. Both players are eligible to be sent to AHL Ontario without first passing through waivers. However, due to cap reasons (more on that in a minute), only one of them will start this season in the NHL. At some point, both players will get time with the big club in 2023-24, just not on Game 1 — and likely not for the first few weeks. Which one will it be? It could be argued either way. Given that Spence has been biding his time in the AHL for quite some time now, where by all accounts he’s been ready for more NHL action, he would seem to have the slight edge. Clarke is still just 20 years old, and despite being a potential generational talent, there’s nothing wrong with letting him start the season in Ontario. He’d get big minutes there, playing on the defensive unit and the No. 1 power play. Logging those minutes would certainly accelerate his career progression at a quicker rate that getting third-pair minutes with the Kings in October and November.
All of that said, flipping the two and keeping Clarke up hasn’t been ruled out and a final decision is not expected until after the team plays their three games this week — and this, along with everything said below — always assumes that everybody is healthy later this week.
2. Considering the salary cap situation above, with the Kings projected to have about $1.1 million remaining, they’ll only be able to add one additional player to their roster. They’ve carried as few as 22 guys quite often in recent years (one less than the league maximum of 23), yet this is a whole new level of ‘being up against the cap.’
McLellan and GM Rob Blake will need to decide if they’re going with a configuration of 12+7 (meaning they’re carrying an extra defenseman) or 13+6 (i.e. carrying an extra forward). From the intel we’ve been able to gather, the team is more likely to carry a seventh defenseman as their extra player / healthy scratch. Part of the rationale is it’s easier to slot a defender in at forward in the event of an injury up top, compared to having a forward as the only available player to sub in should an injury occur on the blueline.
Here’s a fly in the ointment no matter what they decide, there will be at least one more player placed on waivers in order to trim the roster down to 21.
3. The final decision will only come into play after the previous decision is reached.
If the Kings decide to carry an extra forward, here are the players still under consideration: Alex Turcotte, Alex Laferriere, and Jaret Anderson-Dolan.
If the Kings decide to carry an extra defenseman instead, the only player under consideration is Andreas Englund.
Looking at the forwards first, Turcotte has looked good in preseason, but he is entering the final year of his Entry level Contract — which means he can go to AHL Ontario without passing through waivers first. This essentially eliminates him from the conversation. Add in the fact that Blake has already said that what they’re really looking for at this point is for their No. 1 pick in 2019 to just play games and be healthy, Turcotte is about as close to a lock to start in Ontario as you’ll find.
But, but, but… look for him to be among the first call-ups should a forward be needed to round out McLellan’s lineup.
Laferriere is perhaps the most intriguing of the four players still fighting it out for the one roster spot open. He’s proven to be a dynamic talent who has only elevated his game since leaving Harvard at the end of last season and turning pro. Mayor’s Manor founder John Hoven has gone on record as saying he expects Laferriere up in the NHL by mid-season. The team was very high on him coming into training camp and his stock has only elevated over the past few weeks. He’s a rather electric player on the ice, something Assistant General Manager Nelson Emerson spoke about in early September.
Like Turcotte, Laferriere is waiver exempt, so the safer decision is to send him to Ontario for now and wait for a roster spot to open up with the Kings. If the option is to keep him as the 13th forward in LA or give him top line minutes in Ontario, it’s the Clarke decision all over again — just let him play with the Reign and continue his development. If McLellan is even entertaining the idea of putting Laferriere in the spot where Kaliyev is penciled in, this is a very different conversation.
Assuming both Turcotte and Laferriere are AHL bound, this leaves Anderson-Dolan as the most likely option should the Kings opt to keep a forward as their one extra player.
If Blake and McLellan are thinking about a defenseman for the 21st spot on the roster, it’s Englund who will stick around.
Either way, at least one of Anderson-Dolan or Englund are going on waivers before Opening Night because the salary cap will only allow LA to keep one extra player beyond their 20 highlighted in green boxes above.
Three Other Players Not Mentioned
Technically speaking, the Kings have 28 players still on their training camp roster at the moment. Three of them weren’t mentioned in the roster analysis above since none of that trio are likely to be part of the team’s final decisions.
Tyler Madden was originally scheduled to go on waivers on Sunday. However, he was banged up in the game against Anaheim last Friday, so that process will have to wait a few days.
Andre Lee, who was having a great camp, also suffered an injury against the Ducks (in a different game). He was to have surgery a few days ago and will be out of action for at least a month. Injured players can’t be assigned to the AHL out of camp, so he’ll be a paper transaction until he’s back up and running. Lee won’t impact the final set of 21 players on the Opening Night roster from a salary cap standpoint.
Goaltender David Rittich is still up with the big club at the moment. Provided Cam Talbot and Pheonix Copley are healthy after the next three games, he’s expected to hit the waiver wire, with the intention of assigning him to AHL Ontario after he clears.
All of this was discussed in detail during a new Kings Of The Podcast episode linked below.
Lead photo via ALo Images
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