Tough calls on rookies - LA Kings Insider

Following yesterday’s poll results — Brayden Schenn pulled ahead, and Thomas Hickey led throughout — it seemed possibly pertinent to discuss roster dynamics a bit. I saw more than a couple comments imploring the Kings to keep both Schenn and Andrei Loktionov and/or both Hickey and Jake Muzzin. For a handful of reasons, most likely that’s just not plausible this season.

Terry Murray indicated today that the Kings might start the season with 14 forwards and seven defensemen, meaning two spare forwards and one spare defenseman. Were it simply a matter of identifying the 14 most talented forwards, I don’t think there’s much question that both Loktionov and Schenn would make it. But, almost always, roster dynamics are more complicated than that.

While there is certainly some flexibility, it’s almost standard for teams to carry at least two players (one forward, one defenseman), and perhaps three, who are part-time guys, who can be plugged into the lineup when needed but who, otherwise, regularly sit and watch. It’s a very tough job, both mentally and physically, to stay sharp when playing once a week, at most. And that’s why, under almost no circumstance, would a young player be exposed to that situation.

In saying that both Loktionov and Schenn should make the roster, you’re saying one of four things. One, that one of them should be a 13th forward, just for the sake of being on the roster. Two, that one should be moved to wing and play out of position. Or three, that one of the other veteran centers should be traded, meaning that two of the Kings’ four centers would be rookies, each with one game of NHL experience. If I’m a coach, none of those sound good to me. Same goes on defense. Keeping both Hickey and Muzzin would mean either pairing two rookies with zero experience or making one of them a regular healthy scratch.

I’m fairly confident in saying that any coach would tell you that a young player is better off playing than sitting, even if it means playing at a lower level. This is why players such as Trevor Lewis and Peter Harrold have an edge, because they’re older and more experienced and aren’t going to have their development stunted by regularly being healthy scratches, and they’re mature enough to handle the part-time role.

Would it be possible for a center to switch to wing? Yes, no question, but both Loktionov and Schenn appear to have bright futures at center, and the wisdom of putting them in potentially uncomfortable roles, at an important time in their development, is questionable. To test my instincts on this, I asked Terry Murray if Loktionov’s skills were specifically suited to center, and if that would preclude a move to wing…

MURRAY: “He’s going to be a really good center iceman. He’s a talented guy. Just some of the plays that he was making in the game the other night, they happen as soon as he gets the puck. It’s not getting it, then pivoting, looking and making it. It’s `right now.’ That’s special. The good players do that. They know their options before they receive the puck. That’s why he scores the goal the goal that he scored. It’s that quick play. It’s give-and-go. He’s on the mov. His timing is really good. He’s going to be a very good player.”