Brandt Clarke impressed many throughout LA Kings’ training camp and during the preseason. At the start of the year, however, he was held out of game one, which puzzled many fans and pundits alike. And the inconsistency of using him continued as he was in and out of the lineup until his ninth game.
Why nine games are significant is largely due to the fact that once a first-year player 20 years old or younger reaches ten games played, the first year of their entry-level contract is burned. The Kings sat their rookie once he reached the all-important nine-game mark, and they still seem to not know if they want to keep him in the NHL or send him back to the juniors.
The decision should be simple, sending him back to the juniors is not in the best interest of either the Kings or Clarke and having him watch games from the box does nothing to further his development. While saving that first year of Clarke’s entry-level contract may seem lucrative to management, he is just too good not to be playing in the NHL. Through Brandt Clarke’s nine games, and despite being a rookie, he has not looked at all out of place. In fact, some nights, the argument could be made that he was the best Kings’ defenseman on the ice.
Quinton Byfield started the season with the Kings and tallied three assists in eight games before coming down with an illness. Byfield has since been with the Ontario Reign on a prolonged conditioning assignment and has tallied seven points in eight games.
Again, as in the case of Clarke, the Kings need to be giving the youngster more opportunities if they want him to become a future franchise player. Playing him 11 minutes a night with no power play time and seeing almost no minutes in the third period is not how you effectively develop a player.
Many people point to when Kopitar was the same age as a comparison for what Byfield should be doing on the ice. While Byfield could be showing more in terms of using his full skill set in the NHL, Kopitar was being given top six minutes right when he entered the League, and his productivity grew with the added support from the organization.
When a player is given opportunities and shown trust, confidence will begin to grow.
Arthur Kaliyev is having a breakout year despite how the Kings have handled his development. So far this season, he has played mainly on the fourth line, the second powerplay unit, and still only averaging approximately 11 and a half minutes on ice. Yet, despite this, he has 16 points in 25 games, thus establishing himself as one of the team’s best scorers.
Allocating under 12 minutes of ice time to Kaliyev is completely unacceptable, given what he has shown the organization this year.
Tobias Bjornfot was one of the most permanent players on the roster and established himself as a solid defenseman on the Kings’ blueline last year until he was injured.
Bjornfot was called up from the Ontario Reign on Thursday before the game against the Arizona Coyotes; a game in which he recorded an assist in an eventual 5-3 victory for the Kings. What seemed to finally force the team to make a change on the blueline was the nine goals they gave up to Seattle on Tuesday night.
Before calling up Bjornfot, they had instead tried Sean Durzi on his opposite side for the majority of the year, with predictable outcomes. Bjornfot is a lefty d-man who has over 100 games of NHL experience. The question is, why did it take so long for him to see a game this year?
The time has come for the Kings to not only play their prospects but also give them big minutes in situations that may make them uncomfortable. Getting the experience they need is not only necessary for their own development but also essential for the long-term success of the team.
Right now, however, it seems the Kings are afraid of their prospects making mistakes, yet current players, who realistically won’t be part of this team in three years, are given plenty of leeways when they make glaring errors.
The King’s prospects need to be thrown into the lion’s den now to see who comes out a star.