As Todd McLellan searches for the best partner for the newest LA Kings defenseman, here’s a look at who that might be.

We’re five games into Vladislav Gavrikov‘s time as an LA King, and through those games, for the most part, so far, so good. Buoyed by three dominant games against the Montreal Canadiens, St. Louis Blues, and Washington Capitals, Gavrikov has an impressive 58.2% CF% and 70.3% xGF% at 5-in-5 per Natural Stat Trick.

In his first game against Montreal, Gavrikov was partnered with Sean Walker on the team’s third pairing—a good way to ease him in. Since then, he’s spent the bulk of his shifts on the second pair with Matt Roy. The first two games went well (81.2% CF%, 90.4% xGF%), while the next two did not go so well (38.4% CF%, 48.1% xGF%). But really, it’s only a handful of games; there’s a lot of noise in these numbers in small samples, so I’m not leaning too much into those at this point.

In an effort to figure out who would be the best fit with the 6’3″ left-shot defenseman, I’m looking more at the style of player that I think would work best with Gavrikov and in LA’s system.

Let’s start with Gavrikov himself. The hulking blueliner is known for his strong defensive zone play. Blocking passes, getting in lanes, and blocking shots. As one analyst told me, “he is what he is,” which isn’t necessarily a negative. I think he’s adapted quite well to LA’s system as he’s been active in the offensive zone like we’ve seen through much of this season with the Kings’ blueliners.

Historically, Gavrikov has been OK when it comes to defending his own blueline but struggles with retrievals and zone exits.

*All player cards courtesy of All Three Zones & all video clip courtesy of InStat.

However, as a left defenseman in the LA Kings’ 1-3-1 neutral zone system, he doesn’t really need to be all that good at retrievals. That is primarily the responsibility of his defense partner. In his early days with the Kings, Gavrikov has been a good fit in playing on the left side of the neutral zone and defending his own zone.

Matt Roy

When we consider who might be the best fit with Gavrikov, it would make some sense to have someone who is a good skater, comfortable going back to get the puck, and able to make a play with it. In the past three seasons’ worth of data, that hasn’t been Matt Roy’s strong suit. When he can get to the puck, he can make a play out of the zone more often than not, but going back and retrieving the puck isn’t something he has excelled at:

In the recent game against the Colorado Avalanche, Gavrikov and Roy spent a significant amount of time in their own zone. One reason for this is that the duo simply is not great when it comes to their mobility and moving pucks efficiently.

In this following clip, we see an example of where Gavrikov will be tasked to be effective in retrieval. We saw Colorado do this from time to time, and some of the top teams may look to take advantage of this. The Avalanche would attack down the left wing (the right side of the LA defense), leaving either a forward to defend or, in this example, a hard dump-in that forces Gavrikov to retrieve. Neither he nor Roy handles this too well, and though it eventually gets out of the zone, it comes right back in and leads to a dangerous chance after Roy mishandles a pass attempt:

There are plenty of things Matt Roy does well, but long-term I don’t think the pairing with him and Gavrikov will be positive.

Sean Walker

Gavrikov’s second most common partner has been Sean Walker. They haven’t seen as much time together (just 13:33 at 5-on-5 compared to over an hour with Matt Roy), but I think the fit is better here.

When it comes to retrievals and zone exits, this is something Walker is very good at.

It’s pretty clear in watching Walker how much more comfortable he is going back to get pucks behind his own net. In this clip, you see him motioning to Phillip Danault to keep an eye on the oncoming forechecker well before Walker even gets behind the goal line. He has scanned his surroundings and knows exactly where he’s going before he gets the puck. He collects it and makes a nice soft play to Gavrikov, who has an entire zone to skate out of:

Here again, Walker is calm going back; there’s no panic as he’s aware of where the pressure is coming from and is patient with the puck before making another soft chip to his defense partner.

What I also like is Walker’s offensive instincts. Because he is a good skater, he isn’t one to just settle into a position in the defensive zone. Here, other defensemen may continue to sag back for support; Walker, though, immediately jumps up to join the play and ends up leading the rush. Had he hung back, the play would stay in the zone.

As we see, none of these is exactly earth-shattering type plays that Walker is making here. Walker isn’t Drew Doughty, but he doesn’t need to be. He just makes life for his defensive partner a little bit easier. I think that’s what a player like Gavrikov needs.

Sean Durzi

Sean Durzi has spent virtually all of 2022-23 on the left side with Matt Roy. So, we see here that his zone entry defense is excellent, while his retrievals and exits are more of a mixed bag (this data includes the 2021-22 season):

Does this mean he’s Mikey Anderson-esque at defending zone entries? Not necessarily.  Again, things may be a bit skewed in the left defenseman’s favor in LA’s system. That said, Durzi has done his job on that side. In the sample of games that we have for Durzi, he is very good at retrieving the puck but is risky when it comes to actually moving that puck out of the zone efficiently. Or, the opposite of Roy. This seems to check out with the “eye test” as well. Durzi is a very good skater with good hands, but he isn’t afraid to take chances.

There was a play that stuck out in the St. Louis game, where Durzi was back on his right side. He makes a really good play to help get the Kings out of the zone, but it was under pressure, and he goes right in front of the goaltender.

I have no problems at all with this type of play. It shows he’s confident in his abilities and isn’t afraid to make somewhat of a dangerous play to go to the most effective option. Other defensemen may send that out to the neutral zone into a likely turnover. By making this play to Alex Edler, it allows the Kings to string together tape-to-tape passes and enter the offensive zone.

After the St. Louis game, McLellan noted the adjustments that Durzi will face when back on the right side, “tonight we saw Durzi in a different position that he should be used to but isn’t,” McLellan explained. “Now he has to retrieve a lot more, and that has to get polished up.”

In my opinion, Sean Durzi is a capable option. My concern is that, due to him being so high-risk and high-reward, I’m not sure if that’s the best option for Gavrikov, who I think needs someone a little bit safer.

Jordan Spence

I’ll at least give a mention to Jordan Spence. It’s worth noting his sample size is much smaller, of course, but as you might expect, he’s pretty good with that whole skating and puck-moving thing:

Gavrikov – Spence, anyone?

McLellan has 15 more games before the playoffs begin to figure out what works best for the LA Kings blueline. The injury to Durzi is unfortunate because it almost forces McLellan to play Gavrikov with Roy (which, hey, he may prefer anyway). Still, seeing the big Russian with a slightly better skater and puck mover would be nice.

(Main Photo Credit: Harry How / Getty Images)

2 thoughts on “LA Kings: Finding the best partner for Vladislav Gavrikov

  1. Thanks Joe for an illuminating article re: Gavrikov’s best partner. I thought Roy might be best but retrieving & puck movement out of the zone by Walker has changed my mind. But will TMac agree with you? That is the question. And need Kaliyev back for PP and Spence to quarterback the PP2 while Durzi is out. And how about some JAD on Kupari line half the time? Grunny & MacEwan shouldn’t always play.

  2. Despite Quickies record in Vegas the Kings got better with the deal. 9 goals against in five games speaks volumes.
    The Kings have a good track record of welcoming trade deadlines into the family which goes a long way to creating success. Carter, Gabby, etc…
    Regarding D-pairings I liked the Gavy-Roy pairing. Unless Durzi is out indefinitely I think spence is a no go for partner. If spence was top 6 I think they would make a great pair. But as it stands now you’ve convinced me walker and Davy should be a pair. I think it would open up walkers O skills knowing he’s got an above average D centric partner. Just like voynov-Mitchell and Martinez-Greene.

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