LA Kings: Four best training camp battles to watch
Training camp is right around the corner for the LA Kings, and there will be several interesting competitions to keep an eye on.
It’s that time of year again.
LA Kings players are beginning to make their way to Los Angeles for the start of training camp, which kicks off on Sep. 17. The Kings are hoping to take a step forward competitively this season, and camp will be the first opportunity for several players to show that they can help them do that.
With that in mind, these are some of the biggest roster battles to keep an eye on in camp this year.
1. Kopitar’s wingers
For most of the last four seasons, the Kings’ top line of Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, and Alex Iafallo has stayed intact.
When the Kings signed Iafallo to a four-year, $16-million contract extension at last season’s trade deadline rather than deal the pending unrestricted free agent, it made it clear that they see him as a player who will continue to be a big part of the team as they take the next step.
But, will it continue to be on Kopitar’s wing? Or would the Kings try someone with a little more offensive potential, such as Viktor Arvidsson, with Kopitar, and put Iafallo on Phillip Danault’s wing?
With Danault on board, it’s possible his line could take on more defensive responsibilities while allowing the Kopitar line to focus a bit more on offense.
Cal Petersen received more starts than Jonathan Quick last season, 33 to 22, though that was partly due to time Quick missed with injury. Despite three straight sub-par seasons, Quick, who will turn 36 in January, looks set to return for another season with LA.
This begs the question: Are the Kings ready to hand the reigns to Petersen and make Quick the clear-cut backup? If Quick doesn’t impress in camp and early on in the season, they may have no choice.
It’s an awkward situation given Quick’s status in Kings lore and his contract, which still has another year left after this one at a $5.8 million cap hit. If not for that, we may not even be talking about this being a battle.
But if the Kings are serious about taking a step forward this year, Quick’s playing time must be based solely on his performance, not his contract or history.
3. Sixth defenseman
Five regular spots on LA’s blue line seem to be spoken for by Drew Doughty, Mikey Anderson, Matt Roy, Sean Walker, and Alex Edler. The sixth spot seems up for grabs, though.
After playing in 33 of the team’s 56 games last season, Tobias Bjornfot may have the inside track. The Kings would love to see the 2019 first-round pick have a strong training camp and stake his claim to that spot.
If that doesn’t happen, Olli Maatta is still with the team, though he is coming off a rough debut season in LA. Christian Wolanin could also be in the mix.
Wolanin played in just three games for the Kings after being acquired from the Ottawa Senators in a mid-season trade for Michael Amadio but was re-signed to a one-year, $750,000 contract.
So he seems like someone they’d like to get more of a look at. Being a right-handed shot may work against Austin Strand, but he could be in consideration as well.
4. Third and fourth-line center
The signing of Danault gave the Kings a bit of a logjam down the middle, with an even bigger one coming soon.
In addition to Kopitar and Danault, the Kings’ center options include Gabriel Vilardi, Jaret-Anderson Dolan, Blake Lizotte, Lias Andersson, and perhaps even Quinton Byfield, at least at some point in the season.
Some of these players will have to end up on the wing, with the Ontario Reign, or perhaps traded. Anderson-Dolan worked his way into a pretty regular spot in the lineup by mid-March last season. Vilardi showed flashes of his potential as well in an up and down rookie season.
Andersson tore up the AHL, and the Kings protected him in the expansion draft, so evidently, they still see something in him. Lizotte has been a regular down the middle for the last two years and was re-signed to a one-year contract.
Training camp will be an opportunity for these players to separate themselves from the rest of the pack and earn one of the other two center spots behind Kopitar and Danault.
LA Kings: A few thoughts on The Athletic’s fantasy projections