When a wave of injuries affects a team as much as it did the LA Kings this past season, it’s easy to make excuses. That, however, was not the case for head coach Todd McLellan and company. “Next man up” quickly became the mentality across the organization. And the much-talked-about prospect depth had to be utilized earlier than expected.
The blue line felt most of the pain concerning players lost to injury. Throughout the season, the Kings were forced to use 14 different defensemen, tied for most in the NHL.
Veterans Drew Doughty, Sean Walker, and Alex Edler, all expected to be essential pieces for an LA team desperate to get back to the playoffs, were absent for long stretches. But luckily for the Kings, some of their promising young defensemen were ready.
Rookies Sean Durzi, Jordan Spence, and Jacob Moverare, players many didn’t anticipate being on the LA Kings roster this season, stepped in admirably and proved they should be full-time NHLers sooner rather than later.
Now that Sean Walker and Drew Doughty will be ready to go come training camp, a crowd among the defensemen has emerged, and General Manager Rob Blake might be forced to entertain offers for his young defensemen.
Blue-line Depth Chart
|Mikey Anderson*||Drew Doughty|
|Tobias Bjornfot||Matt Roy|
|Jacob Moverare*||Sean Walker|
|Kim Nousiainen||Sean Durzi*|
*Restricted Free Agent
It’s still surprising to see the depth chart above and the amount of quality young talent in the LA Kings’ organization. A chart that is missing drafted players Brock Faber (Univ. of Minnesota), Brayden Doyle (Boston Univ.), and Ben Meehan (UMass Lowell).
Also not included are the unrestricted free agents of Olli Maatta, Alex Edler, and Troy Stecher. While all three players played significant roles with the Kings this past season, it’d be surprising to see any brought back for another stint in LA.
You can cross off Kim Nousiainen and Helge Grans from the NHL lineup to make things a little less crowded. Both are expected to start the year in Ontario with the Reign and should be vital pieces for that team.
Jordan Spence, one of the bigger surprises among all the rookies last season, should also start in the AHL and continue to build on a tremendous first professional year. With Nousiainen, Grans, and Spence in the AHL, the list of available defensemen is brought down to eight players.
Drew Doughty – Obviously a lock.
Mikey Anderson – He made a name for himself during the playoffs and is also a certainty to stay.
Matt Roy – I say it’s 80% he stays with the Kings. He’s a steady presence on the blue-line and is quickly becoming an on-ice leader for LA. However, his low cap hit and experience could be a valuable piece in a potential deal.
Sean Walker – I thought he could be an excellent piece to add in a trade, but Rob Blake’s remarks during his exit interview have made me think he stays with the Kings.
Sean Durzi – He’s good on the ice and in the locker room. He should stick around.
Tobias Bjornfot – Maybe the Kings’ best defenseman to trade from their standpoint. He’s an excellent young player and could be combined with another valuable prospect to bring in established talent.
Brandt Clarke – The biggest wildcard in all this. More on him later.
Jacob Moverare – I don’t think he’d be sought after in trade. He showed promise last season and could be a viable seventh defenseman with a minimal cap hit.
Defensive scoring is the biggest off-season need for the Kings
If LA were to make any big moves this off-season, defensive scoring should be at the top of the list. The Kings haven’t had a defenseman eclipse ten goals in a season since Drew Doughty in 2017-18. That pure offensive threat on the blue-line has been missing in LA since Lubomir Visnovsky.
While newcomers Sean Durzi and Jordan Spence showed impressive offensive instincts in their first NHL seasons, bringing in an established scorer from the blue-line should be considered.
The first name that comes to mind is Jakob Chychrun, and it just makes sense for the LA Kings. At 24 years old, he’s already had multiple 10+ goal seasons. Including his NHL-leading 18 goals during the shortened 2021 season’s 56-game schedule.
While the cost to obtain the Arizona defenseman will be steep, the Kings have the prospect pool to facilitate. And should very much be in the running for Chychun’s services.
Outside of Chychrun, there’s not much on the free-agent market that moves the needle for me. So a trade could be the only avenue. The smooth-skating Travis Sanheim out of Philadelphia is an interesting name that has come up in rumors.
He wouldn’t cost as much as Chychrun and could improve the offensive production from the blue-line. Another interesting name out there is Esa Lindell from Dallas. And could a Jake Muzzin reunion be in the cards?
Brandt Clarke is the wildcard
Now, it’s entirely plausible Rob Blake sees the eight players under team control and thinks that may be the best option to start the year. Especially if Brandt Clarke, the 8th overall pick from the 2021 draft, shows management that he is ready for a look with the Kings. The biggest wildcard in all these scenarios.
Brandt Clarke continues to tear up the OHL.
• 28 games played
• 6 goals
• 27 assists
• 33 points*
• 1.18 points per game*
— Russell Morgan (@NHLRussell) January 24, 2022
Brandt Clarke, just based on need, could be the most prized prospect in the system for a franchise so desperate for defensive scoring. In 55 games with the Ontario Hockey League’s Barrie Colts, Clarke finished with 59 points (11 goals, 48 assists), making the Nepean, Ontario native second among all OHL defensemen with 1.07 points per game.
If management does consider him ready, he would be eligible to play up to nine games before the first year of his entry-level contract would kick in.
With Clarke in the lineup, I envision the versatile Sean Walker would most likely be the one to move to the left side and pair with either Roy or Clarke. Making the defense look something like this:
Mikey Anderson – Drew Doughty
Tobias Bjornfot – Matt Roy
Sean Walker – Brandt Clarke
While this may not look like a Stanley Cup-winning defensive group right now, the chance to give Clarke an early stint with the LA Kings could be good to start developing the young core’s chemistry and save money to make upgrades upfront.