Projected lineups; Wagner at least a week out; Clague hurt; young D - LA Kings Insider

INSIDERS. A good afternoon to you from the banks of the mighty Gila. The LA Kings held an optional skate in Glendale, and while there weren’t any line rushes, this forward group is projected:

Iafallo-Kopitar-Brown
Leipsic-Carter-Kovalchuk
Grundstrom-Kempe-Toffoli
Clifford-Lewis-Brodzinski

Notes!

–The vitals: There was some movement yesterday in the defensive pairings, so I’m not confident that the same blue line that took the ice Thursday against St. Louis will do so today in Glendale. It’s possible that Paul LaDue could re-enter the lineup, but that’s not a stone-cold lock. I wasn’t at today’s skate, but Jack Campbell was the first goalie off the ice per those on the scene and will be projected to start versus Arizona, against whom he is 1-0-1 with a 2.40 goals-against average and a .902 save percentage. More on Carl Grundstrom’s recall is available here.

–Their vitals: It’s Darce. That’s “Darce,” as in “rhymes with sparse.” You may remember that Darcy Kuemper has been quite good against Los Angeles in his career, going 3-3-2 with a 2.39 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage. He’s been an excellent story for an injury-pummeled Coyotes team that hasn’t gotten a minute out of Antti Raanta (IR / lower-body) since November 27. Arizona will also be without Nick Schmaltz, Derek Stepan and Kyle Capobiano, all of whom are on injured reserve with lower-body injuries. Per Alan Robinson of NHL.com, the Coyotes are expected to line up with forward groups of Panik-Dvorak-Keller, Grabner-Richardson-Hinostroza, Galchenyuk-Cousins-Fischer and Crouse-Kempe-Archibald with defensive pairings of Ekman-Larsson-Hjalmarsson, Chychrun-Goligoski and Oesterle-Demers. The Coyotes have won seven of eight, boast the second-best penalty kill in the league and have 13 shorthanded goals, the second most in the league. They’ve lost 328 man-games to injury; the Kings have lost 233.

Willie Desjardins praised Arizona’s youthful energy and speed as well as their veterans. He’s particularly fond of Oliver Ekman-Larsson as well as Brad Richardson, an underrated leadership figure during his Los Angeles tenure and a versatile forward under Desjardins in Vancouver. “I think you look at a guy like Brad Richardson, maybe he’s a third or fourth line guy, but he’s a great guy, he’s a good leader, he always shows up on teams and finds ways to win,” he said. His former Los Angeles teammates would agree.

–Austin Wagner’s return isn’t “imminent” – more like “on the semi-distant horizon.” The winger, sidelined for the last two games with a lower-body injury suffered March 2 against Chicago, skated yesterday at Toyota Sports Center in a track suit and helmet. “He’s probably more than a week out, I think,” Desjardins said. “Maybe close to a week, but when you’re not skating [ED: -in gear?] right now, you’ve got to be skating to be close, and he’s not that close.” It was shared yesterday, but to repeat, he’s no longer on crutches.

–Per hockey operations: Kale Clague, who didn’t return after blocking a shot last night, has flown back to Los Angeles for evaluation. The Reign’s road trip continues tonight in Tucson before they fly to Colorado for a Tuesday-Wednesday set in Loveland, just outside of Ft. Collins.

Clague has seven goals and 29 points in 52 games during his 20-year-old rookie season. He’s also a minus-20, but that’s more of an effect of him playing a wide role on a team with a minus-42 goal differential. When players like Sean Walker and Matt Roy have been in Ontario, they’ve pushed Clague down to the second pair, where he’s played his best hockey.

–Speaking of the young D, there were some evaluations this morning.

“If I look at Roy, he’s come a long ways. He defends pretty well. We’ve put him in tough situations defending. He skates well, so I like that,” Desjardins said. “You look at Walker, he has certain upside to his game. I think there are certain maybe tendencies he has to break a little bit, and those always take a little bit of time. But both guys have come in and work hard.”

There are significant challenges for NHL rookies and how they adapt and respond to the NHL rhythm after the excitement of their first call-up dissipates.

“The first part is just finding out what the NHL’s about, and then it’s you adjusting to it and growing,” Desjardins said. “I think they’re in the initial phase still where they’re still finding out what it’s about a little bit, like the day-to-day, when you play back-to-backs, when you come in and play heavy teams, when you’re banged up. So, I think they’re still learning it, and then it’s going to come ‘what do you want to do with it?’”

–That’s it for now, Insiders. I’ll share a Rosen Report during the LA Kings Live pre-game show introducing several high-profile NCAA free agents who are drawing interest around the league. I got to speak with a pair of them during one of my recent broadcasting assignments and look forward to breaking down their games and skill sets. Tonight’s officials are referees Tom Chmielewski and Kendrick Nicholson and linesmen Brian Murphy and Mark Shewchyk. Let’s talk soon.

–Lead photo via Norm Hall/NHLI

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