Wagner close; Kempe's play, evaluating young D; Saturday: Osment joins HNILA - LA Kings Insider

INSIDERS. The Kings were back at it Tuesday morning in El Segundo, taking the Toyota Sports Center ice just prior to 10:00 a.m. and remaining there for the better part of an hour. There was a heavy amount of rush-and-flow activity – for line rushes, click here – before practice segued into more competitive battle drills, one of which brought the nets and goalies close together for some reduced range, shoulder pad-to-shoulder pad combat.


–Austin Wagner skated as a full participant in practice. His return is on the horizon. Could that be Thursday against Nashville? Perhaps. “Yeah, everything felt good,” he said. “Just trying to work my way back into the lineup, and hopefully I’m in this week, but if not, I’ve just got to keep working hard and trying to get better every day.”

He said he skated on his own “three or four times” before joining his teammates today at practice. “It looked like he was good today, but we’ll have to see after tomorrow where exactly he is – if he gets sore from practice, or whatever,” Willie Desjardins said. “But it looked like he might be good to go.”

–It’s interesting – when the Kings forged ahead with an evolution away from heavier, possession-driven hockey and towards the model of a faster and more skilled team, John Stevens used highlight clips of Adrian Kempe driving through the center of the ice with the puck on his stick to demonstrate their focus.

Obviously, this is still a work in progress. But as Kempe has played his best hockey this season over the last month, he’s showing an improved aptitude at playing with the puck and making more plays, which comes from improved confidence. It’s led to six goals, 12 points, 36 shots on goal, a plus-one rating and possession rates well in the black over the last 18 games.

“Starting from the D zone, if I get the puck, I think I’ve been using my speed a little better and taking care of the puck a little bit more, and I think on the power play and breakouts, making some good plays,” he said. “Overall, better confidence out there playing the game, and it just helps a lot when you play better and you have more confidence. You can do more stuff with the puck and you’re not afraid to lose it, so that’s obviously a big thing that’s going to make me a lot better, as well.”

Desjardins has been happy with Kempe’s makeup, noting that he thrives with added responsibility and minutes. Getting rewarded has boosted this confidence and gets his gears going. “I think whenever he skates, he plays well,” Desjardins said.

His numbers remain down from last year because he logged just one assist over a 14-game stretch that followed the Christmas break. If he were to register 12 points over the final 13 games, he’d equal last year’s total.

But his overall game has surged recently, and the new Grundstrom-Kempe-Toffoli combination has generated a disproportionate number of shots and scoring chances over the last two games, accentuating Kempe’s second half trajectory.

But how integral are his numbers to his overall evaluation? As a former first round draft pick who scored his 16 goals through the first 52 games last season, should this production be the norm, rather than the exception? Or would the team be content with him in a similar role as a third line center who earns hard minutes and plays responsibly, with goals as added value?

“With a younger player you never want to put the burden on them that they have to produce offensively, but I don’t see him as a younger player anymore,” Desjardins said. “I see him as a guy that we need to contribute, so I would expect that to be part of his performance, that he’s going to contribute offensively. But more important, I would like to see him as a 200-foot player. I want to see him at both ends of the rink, but if he plays that way, he will contribute offensively, he just will, so that’ll happen.”

–More evaluations. On defense, Paul LaDue entered into the lineup in Arizona and stayed there against Anaheim, totaling one assist, two shots, three hits and two blocked shots in 12:28 of action. Line rushes Tuesday morning suggested that he could remain alongside Dion Phaneuf for this Thursday’s game against Nashville.

Should he remain in, Desjardins wants to continue to see him build his consistency. “You always love to see intensity, you always love to see guys going hard, but he works hard. He works hard off the ice in practice, he always is a hard worker, and that’s always good to see,” he said.

Matt Roy took a page out of Drew Doughty’s book and dove to break up a Ryan Getzlaf two-on-one feed to Rickard Rakell on Sunday, providing the most visible representation of his style of play in his own end of the ice.

“He’s moved through the lineup. He’s moved up,” Desjardins said. “He skates well and he defends well, and those are two good assets to have. He played that two-on-one, and he did a great job on it. I know his teammates appreciate that. One thing too, I just think that he’s going to keep getting better. I don’t think he’s reached the best he can be. I think he’s still got an upside.”

And that’s good! But as for the here-and-now, Roy has appeared in 11 straight games since his debut last month in Boston. There, of course, were plans for a defensive rotation – before Alec Martinez was injured. Is Roy still a part of that evolved rotation, or has his play elevated him into a new tier?

“I wouldn’t say he’s played his way above that, because you always evaluate, and we’ll want to see different guys in the lineup. I can say that he’s played his way up the lineup,” Desjardins said. “I think he’s played well, and if he keeps playing like that, it would be difficult to take him out.”

–Happy trails: NCAA free agent and Princeton junior Max Verroneau, who included Los Angeles in his training camp circuit last year, has signed with his hometown team, the Ottawa Senators. This was reported by Bob McKenzie of TSN, who also reported Princeton forward Ryan Kuffner will sign with Detroit and Princeton defenseman Josh Teves has chosen Vancouver.

One additional player to keep an eye on today and tomorrow: skilled Michigan State junior forward Taro Hirose, who the Kings took a long look at. I can’t say for certain that they offered a contract, but they had representatives scouting him live and on video and given the option very serious consideration internally. Per McKenzie, Toronto is one of the final few teams he’s considering, for what it’s worth. The Leafs are also expected to sign Mercyhurst defenseman Joseph Duszak.

–Haley Joel Osment, who earned an Academy Award Best Supporting Actor nomination for his role in The Sixth Sense, will be this Saturday’s guest on Hockey Night in LA. He’s also a Los Angels native and a Kings fan.

Via the LA Kings:

Academy Award-nominated actor Haley Joel Osment will serve as the special Celebrity Guest of Honor for Hockey Night in LA presented by Attendee.com this Saturday, March 16, when the Los Angeles Kings host the Florida Panthers at STAPLES Center. Game time is 1 p.m.

Osment has been one of Hollywood’s most versatile performers over the last 25 years. Ranging from dark, dramatic roles to off-the-wall comedic performances across film, television and the stage, Osment has proven time and again why he is one of show business’ treasures.

This year Osment stars with Josh Hutcherson in Season 2 of the Hulu science fiction comedy Future Man, directed and produced by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg. Osment plays Dr. Stu Camillo, a former classmate of Hutcherson’s who survives into the 22nd century as a hologram and attempts to resettle human civilization on the planet Mars. Later this year, he will also be in Seth Rogen’s The Boys for Amazon which centers on a group of vigilantes who set out to take down corrupt superheroes who abuse their superpowers.

Osment will soon appear on Netflix in the true crime thriller and 2019 Sundance Film Festival Selection Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile starring Zac Efron as Ted Bundy, and featuring Lily Collins, Kaya Scodelario, Jim Parsons and John Malkovich. Osment plays a coworker of Collins’ character who seeks her affections as her husband’s legal woes pile up. He was also featured in Bridey Elliot’s film Clara’s Ghost at Sundance in 2018.

Osment’s recent television appearances have included Silicon Valley, for which he received rave reviews as VR entrepreneur Keenan Feldspar, and a special episode of The X-Files in a chilling dual role. Earlier, he appeared in two seasons of the epic IFC comedy miniseries The Spoils Of Babylon alongside Will Ferrell, Kristin Wiig, Tobey Maguire and Michael K. Williams.