Who will be the odd man out once Matt Roy returns?
Matt Roy was just one of the many players hit by the injury bug that struck the LA Kings this season. As his return nears, who comes out?
With Mikey Anderson, Matt Roy, Drew Doughty, and Alex Edler all missing time with injuries, it allowed the Kings to give larger NHL roles to players like Jordan Spence and Sean Durzi. Edler, who had missed a large chunk of the season due to an injury he suffered in December, is the only one to check back into the lineup.
Ever since Edler’s return, he’s helped the Kings in the offensive and defensive zones heavily. The veteran defenseman has been one of the strongest players on the Kings’ blueline this season and has arguably been the most under-appreciated player on the entire roster.
Even though the presence of players like Roy and Doughty is missed on the back end, it’s given the younger players valuable minutes. Spence has played just over a dozen games with the Kings, but he’s been given the role of a top-four defenseman right out of the gate.
A day before the trade deadline, Rob Blake acquired some help on the back end for a “just in case” scenario, bringing in right-shot defenseman Troy Stecher from the Detroit Red Wings for a seventh-round pick. Stecher has solidified his place on the roster as a fast-paced and energetic bottom pairing defenseman.
Players like Olli Maatta and Durzi have also stepped up to the plate to help the Kings. Maatta has brought a strong defensive game, while Durzi has excelled as an offensive-defenseman.
Although the current defensive corps has stepped up admirably, the injured players are starting to slowly return to action.
Quite recently, players like Brendan Lemieux and Dustin Brown began skating. But one of the biggest returns out of all of this is Matt Roy:
Practice getting underway here at TSPC.— Russell Morgan (@NHLRussell) April 6, 2022
• Andreas Atahansiou is on the ice in a red jersey.
• Matt Roy in a regular black jersey.
• Brown and Andersson in purple jerseys.#GoKingsGo
Roy has appeared in 58 games with the LA Kings this season and has recorded one goal and 17 points. Although the points don’t jump out at you, he’s been one of the best defensemen in LA this year. His defensive game continues to be his calling card, and he’s been playing like the definition of a top-four defenseman.
He’s also been a part of one of the best defensive pairings in the entire NHL this season. The Edler-Roy pairing was ranked 5th overall among all NHL defensive pairs in xGF percentage, with 60.9%.
They’re also fourth in the NHL via xGF/60 with 3.57. That pair is a must-see once Roy returns to the Kings lineup. Although the Edler-Stecher pairing has worked out very well, that was supposed to be a mere replacement until everyone got healthy. Edler and Roy should be reunited.
Who comes out?
Whereas getting the 27-year-old Roy back certainly helps the Kings, this means that there must be a penance. A defenseman will have to be an odd man out.
Once Roy is back, one of Maatta, Edler, Tobias Bjornfot, Durzi, Spence, or Stecher will have to come out.
It would seem that Edler, Durzi, and Maatta are the three players that are locked into the lineup. Durzi’s had the chance to show off his offensive skill, and he’s been a key piece on the powerplay since his call-up. He’s also been one of LA’s most successful zone exit and entry players. His standout stats have been his possession exits, his entry passes, and his carries.
In addition to Edler’s strong play, his veteran leadership will only further lock in his spot. The 35-year-old Swedish native is too good to sit.
Maatta has proven himself as one of LA’s best defensive defensemen, and there’s no chance that Todd McLellan benches him while he’s hot.
That leaves us with Stecher, Bjornfot, and Spence as the three players that aren’t guaranteed a spot in the lineup.
As we’ve discussed, Stecher has been phenomenal with the LA Kings so far, showing off his identity as the ideal third-pairing defenseman:
Great work by Stecher to tip the puck away, then takes away the scoring opportunity a second later, then joins the offensive rush, and gets a shot on net.— Pavel (@blueonthecharts) March 27, 2022
All of this for just a seventh. #GoKingsGo pic.twitter.com/T6jnDd86Ti
So why isn’t he guaranteed a spot on the team once the injured players make a comeback? That’s because when the LA Kings traded for him, they saw him as a cheap replacement-level defenseman. If they wanted a guy who they would keep long-term and someone who would’ve played a greater role, they would have given up more than a seventh-round pick on an expiring UFA. Even though Stecher has been a great addition to the back end, his time in LA is likely limited, and he may be out of the lineup soon.
At this time, he shouldn’t be the player that’s forced out of the lineup, though. When a player finds his step, he’s destined to stay on the team. While it’s likely Stecher loses his role in the near future, right now is not that time.
Now it comes down to Spence and Bjornfot. The two 21-year-old defensemen have been given top minutes this season. Spence has appeared in 14 games, scoring once, and has a total of five points. Bjornfot on the other hand has played in 67 games and has eight points. He’s been held goalless all year long.
While the coach’s decision will likely be to sit the player who’s played less in order to give the more experienced player more playing time, that may be the wrong decision here.
Despite being small, Spence has shown himself as an NHL-ready defenseman with a pep in his step. A hard-working kid, Spence has been playing his first few NHL games like he’s been in the league for years. It’s safe to say he’s ready to take on the challenge of a full-time NHL defenseman.
Bjornfot has had his issues and still looks shaky in most games. This giveaway in the game against Calgary proves the point:
Johnny Gaudreau (@johngaudreau03) goes backhand shelf for his 95th point of the year. 🔥 pic.twitter.com/2L2nztxOo4— NHL (@NHL) April 5, 2022
Bjornfot has had a few of those mishaps this year. Did the Kings rush him into an NHL spot? It may be a little too early to determine that, but he doesn’t look completely NHL ready.
If Bjornfot does come out, that would move Durzi to the left side. He played there in the prospects game last summer and looked good. He’s also played on his off-side on the powerplay, so playing the left side isn’t completely new to him.
While sitting Spence may be the final verdict based on previous decisions we’ve seen made, the best decision would be to sit Bjornfot once Matt Roy returns.