It’s well-documented that the LA Kings are set for years to come with the current depth of their prospect pool. Except for goaltending, the Kings have managed to find incredible prospects for every position, creating a solid and fruitful future for themselves. For many years to come, the LA Kings will be set on offense and defense as they’ve drafted and traded for legitimate talent that will slowly but surely take over the NHL.
One of the most impressive and sumptuous aspects of their prodigious prospect pool is their stock of right-handed defensemen. Rob Blake and the scouting system in Los Angeles have found endless amounts of future NHLers (as well as some current ones), and the right side is comprehensively filled out.
With ingenious players like Jordan Spence, Brock Faber, and Brandt Clarke, they’ve created a futuristic defensive core that will be the fear of all other 31 NHL teams sooner than later. Not to mention the talent of Drew Doughty will stay with the organization for a few more years, and some other smaller– but worthy– players like Matt Roy and Helge Grans will make the defensive core so much more thrilling than it already is.
But with great power comes great responsibility, and in this case, the responsibility is finding a way to play all of those players without any of them going to waste. The Kings are currently stacked on their right side, employing Sean Durzi, Drew Doughty, and Matt Roy. That’s a very satisfying right side for a team battling for a playoff spot.
Doughty is a star in the NHL and has finally been rejuvenated this season, Roy has determined himself to be a top-4 defenseman on the team, and Durzi finally solidified his spot on the roster as an offensive defensemen with some work to do on the back end.
By the time the 2022-23 NHL season rolls around, will there even be enough space for some of the players on the Kings RD depth chart? Look at it this way: Sean Durzi belongs in the NHL, and so does Roy and Doughty, obviously. But what about Sean Walker, who will presumably be healthy by October? Where does he slot into the lineup once he’s back? Or what about the highly-regarded prospects like Brock Faber and Brandt Clarke, who evidently have shown that they deserve a spot on an NHL team?
This will be an issue for the LA Kings this upcoming off-season. Finding room to play players and ensuring that you don’t get rid of anyone essential will be a long and well-thought-out process for Blake and his crew to make in the summer.
First off, here’s the depth chart of all the right-handed defensemen in the LA Kings System:
I’ve gone ahead and included their current roles, their projected roles, SPAR (standing points above replacement), and EVD (even-strength defense goals above replacement) for the 2022-23 season.
Helge Grans and Jordan Spence’s 22-23 projected SPAR’s and EVD’s aren’t included, and that’s because their AHL statistics haven’t been tracked onto a database yet, therefore leaving us with no actual values. Unlike prospects like Brandt Clarke and Brock Faber, we don’t have access to their career growth in SPAR and EVD.
It’s always better to work with what he have rather than guess, so we’ll leave them at that for now. Either way, neither of them will presumably make the LA Kings roster come opening night of the 2022-23 NHL season.
Now that all of that is out of the way, let’s discuss the potential players on this team for next year. On the analytical depth chart above, six right-handed defensemen have justified chances at playing on an NHL team. The problem is that the LA Kings also have Mikey Anderson and Tobias Bjornfot up in the NHL.
So for the sake of this making sense on a hypothetical basis, let’s say that the Kings stay away from finding a left-handed defenseman at the deadline and refuse to sign any in free agency. Theoretically, let’s pretend that they also don’t re-sign Olli Maatta or Alex Edler during the offseason.
That gives us the flexibility of moving a RD to the left side. Again, guessing, put Sean Durzi to the left side because of his powerful one-timer and his experience playing on the left side in the OHL for a few games.
That still leaves us with Doughty, Roy, Sean Walker, Clarke, Faber, Strand, Grans, and Spence on the right side. To release a bit of stress and not have too much of a pile-up, the Kings would have to send Jordan Spence, Helge Grans, and Austin Strand down to the AHL to create a bit of room within the team.
Sure, sending those three players down to Ontario of the AHL will help them get some seasoning and leave the Kings with more flexibility, but they’ll still have five right-handed defensemen while being completely full on the left side.
This is where it starts to get dubitable.
Are the Kings forced to send Brock Faber down to the Ontario Reign even though he looks and feels NHL ready? That might have to happen. It would be unfortunate to see a second-round pick who’s made an appearance at the Olympics at age 19 get cut from a good team. But with the limited amount of space the Kings have, they may be forced to do so.
Sending down Brandt Clarke won’t work because he’ll be automatically assigned back to the Barrie Colts of the OHL, and he wouldn’t be able to be called up for the rest of the season because of OHL/NHL rules. And fairly, why would you even want to send him down in the first place?
Brandt Clarke (LA) jumps into the play, opens up and finishes it off.— /Cam Robinson/ (@Hockey_Robinson) November 6, 2021
He's up to 12 points (3+9) in 8 OHL games on the season. His 1.50 point-per-game output is good for a share of tops among all blueliners. pic.twitter.com/Yi92ryYcGh
To me, it feels like having Brandt Clarke up with the Kings is a must. He’s way too skilled to not be on the team. Having him as a seventh defenseman won’t really work, either. If you’re going to waste his first year on his entry-level contract, you’ll have to have him play as a regular and not occasionally in and out of the lineup.
Now you’re down to Sean Walker. He appeared in six games this season before getting injured and being told that he would be expected to miss the rest of the 2021-22 NHL season.
Although it was a horrific injury and it seriously hurt the Kings at the time, it was a blessing in disguise for the LA Kings. Durzi has earned a spot on the roster in Walker’s absence. Since being called up, he’s been an offensive tank who constantly generates offensive opportunities.
Although he hasn’t quite yet mastered the defensive part of NHL hockey quite yet, he’s been one of the missing pieces to LA’s struggling offensive-sided defensemen.
Ask yourself this, who would you have, Sean Walker or Sean Durzi?
To me, the answer is unequivocally Sean Durzi.
As mentioned previously, Durzi’s defensive play isn’t outstanding, and it really does need work, but he can score, and he is an offensive machine.
He deserves so much more hype, and he’s sincerely earned a few Calder votes for his play this season.
With Durzi taking over, this should make Walker expandable. Even when he is healthy, it feels like he’s lost his job in LA’s defensive corps. You never want to see a good player lose his job, but he’s been beaten out by better players. If the Kings choose to keep Walker as an extra defenseman, they would be paying him 2.65 million dollars against the cap until 2024.
I can only speak for myself, but I’m not comfortable with paying a seventh defenseman 2.65 million dollars a year to cover for a few guys here and there. Plus, there are better guys available on the depth chart who are projected to have better seasons next year. If they don’t want to use their own depth players, they can always find a replacement-level defenseman to take over in free agency. Replacement-level players should be making league minimum, by the analytical standard, at least.
2.65 million bucks goes a long way, and the way I see it, is that the Kings should move Sean Walker to a team looking for a physical RD who can take on his contract and be fine with paying out the rest of it. The Kings would receive a pick or two in compensation, and open up that money in cap.
The Kings will have to deal with the “too many defensemen” issue sometime this upcoming summer; it’s inevitable. But there are ways that the LA Kings could benefit from it. They can move on from lesser players and receive compensation for losing them.
They can always send down players, and they can always find ways to make space. There should be a ton of options on the table going into the 2022-23 season, and it’s very intriguing to see what the Kings actually do to solve this problem that they have.