A fine Monday afternoon to you, Insiders. The LA Kings took the TSPC ice shortly before 10:30 a.m., and while they showed the following alignment, there are likely to be changes.
First, this morning’s groupings:
— Similar to Thursday and Saturday’s skates, this isn’t how they’ll line up tonight when they face Anaheim (7:30 p.m. / FOX Sports West / FOX Sports GO / LA Kings Audio Network) to begin a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule that caps the preseason. Expect Rasmus Kupari to play in place of Nikolai Prokhorkin, who remained on the ice with Kyle Clifford, Alec Martinez, the Kempe line and the Ryan-Roy pairing. Kupari and Mikey Anderson skated with the Ontario group prior to the morning skate. Jonathan Quick remained on the ice for extra work and isn’t expected to start tonight. I’m projecting Cal Petersen, who took an abbreviated skate with Ontario, to start against the Ducks.
— Please abide by LAKI’s golden rule: Pay No Attention To Preseason Lines. This rule is both good and true and should be followed universally amidst rare exceptions. Such exceptions took place today when
A) Jeff Carter was to the right of Ilya Kovalchuk and Blake Lizotte
B) Tobias Bjornfot was Drew Doughty’s partner
Let’s begin with A. As you recall, there was the thought process that came to light early in the off-season that Jeff Carter could be moved from center to wing, and such a decision would ultimately be made by the coaching staff. So, Todd McLellan, is Carter a center or a wing? “Forward,” he answered. “They’re all forwards, in my mind.”
This is important as it relates to McLellan’s history. For a very visible example – one the coach cited on Monday – San Jose relied on an extremely versatile group of forwards. Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski were all players often used interchangeably between the middle of the ice and the wing, and Carter appears to be in the same boat. More on that shortly.As for B, what better way to get a firm read on a player than to play him alongside Drew Doughty and against the opposition’s top talent? It sounds like the Kings’ top defenseman already has a pretty good handle on who he’ll play with tonight.
“He’s a smooth skater, he’s confident with the puck, good poise, good defensively, but he’s 18 years old, so he’s got a lot of time to develop still,” Doughty said of Bjornfot. “But he’s going to be an NHLer one day, that’s for sure.”
That Bjornfot is still in Los Angeles while other high-profile players targeted for minor or European leagues – Kale Clague, Samuel Fagemo and Matt Luff among them – is not a coincidence. The rookie is a veteran presence internationally for Sweden’s national junior team and has channeled his poise and unflappability into his first NHL training camp.
“For a young man that hasn’t lived here, he hasn’t spent a lot of time in North America, he’s come over to a National Hockey League camp and there’s been a little bit of pressure, I’m sure, because of his draft status, but incredible poise, very few errors or mistakes, positionally sound and unfazed when things go wrong. He’s able to recover really quick,” McLellan said. “A lot of players at that age, you use them for a little while and they try and make up for it. Toby, he regroups and away he goes, so it’s been impressive.”
More on the context of both Carter and Bjornfot’s placement:
Todd McLellan, on Jeff Carter and maneuverability between wing and center:
My development opinion: if every player could be trained as a center, it’s perfect, because they can go to the wing, they can always come back. I think that transition is easier than always being trained as a winger and going into the middle. We can go all the way back to San Jose where we played Marleau, Pavelski and Thornton on a line – three centers. They were forwards. They just filled in for different positions, different faceoff hands, and that’s how I look at it with Carts and whoever he’s playing with. [Reporter: Those teams often led the league in faceoff percentages too, I recall.] With the new rules, and you’ve got a lefty and a righty out there and they’re both capable of winning one, I’d take advantage of it. There’s another area of the game we’ve got to work on. [Reporter: No coincidence then that a lot of the young, impressive guys are centers that are pushing right now.] Teams put such value on the players that can play in the middle of the rink. For me, I personally think Anderson-Dolan’s a better center than he is a winger, but he’s got to learn both positions. Hopefully when he gets here and he arrives, he’s playing a long time for the Kings down the middle. But the ability to swing both ways is really important. [Reporter: For some of those guys, if they’re ready to make the roster right away, but maybe it’s as a wing, how do you weigh that where if they go back down they can stay in the middle?] It’s part of ‘are we ready for them?’ Do we have that slot open? There’s so much more that goes into planning the team and building the team and throwing the team out on the ice than just putting the skates on and executing the play. There’s the business aspect, the cap management, the waiver aspect, the development process and down the road what’s better for that individual, so a lot of that goes into the decision process.
McLellan, on what he hopes to get out of playing Tobias Bjornfot against Drew Doughty:
A good game – obviously that’s what we’re hoping for. Drew plays against some high-end competition, some of the better players in the league, and for us to drag Tobias into that, he’ll have to play with him tonight. We want to evaluate him against Getzlaf and those type of players, so that puts him in a position for us to do that.
McLellan, on whether he needs to see “more” or “more of the same” from Bjornfot:
Again, there’s two sides to that. Is Toby ready, and are we ready for Toby? And we have to continue to ask ourselves those questions. For a young player to stay, there’s prospect success paths that are well-chronicled and then there are failure paths. We have to make sure we keep him on the successful path, so that’s our job to make sure we’re ready for him. His job is to continue to evolve and continue to grow. This week the competition will be stiffer than it was last week, and we’re still in the evaluation process, that’s all we’re doing.
Drew Doughty, on playing with an 18-year-old on defense:
I enjoy helping young guys. When I was a young guy I the league I relished the opportunity to play with veteran guys, so I’m sure he’s doing the same thing. From watching him in the one game I did play, I thought he’s got a lot of poise for an 18-year-old, a lot more poise than you see out of other 18-year-old defensemen. He’s a really good player and I’m going to try to help him as much as I can and teach him anything I’ve learnt over the years. If he has any questions, he’ll ask me. I’m just good at talking on the ice – that’s how I help my partner the most, so I think maybe he’ll learn a little bit of that.
— The first week of training camp has given way to the second week, and with that, the roster has been whittled down and the focus has narrowed with the goal to be ready to go when the season opens in Edmonton a week from Saturday.
The group has only been together for a week and a half, though McLellan has been encouraged by the group’s willingness “to try and make it work.” He’s been happy with “their attention to positioning and understanding why we’re doing certain things,” which is important to impart upon a group led by veterans who are reprogramming their actions and reactions in a variety of situations.
“From my perspective, it’s exciting, honestly,” Dustin Brown said. “My brain’s been working a little bit harder than I want it to, but that’s part of the process of learning, especially for some of the guys that’ve been here forever. We’ve played the same system pretty much since Terry – maybe even prior to that, if I really had to think about it. So, I’m leaving the rink thinking about it, and that’s probably the only different part. But now that we’re starting to settle in, I’ll get my second game, I’m hoping to play more. And when you get those two-to-four preseason games with the new system, like I said, you’re a little more comfortable and you kind of just get used to the system.”
The start of the season is just that. It’s not an end date or an ultimatum. “We’ve got so much more work to do, and we’re not going to be fully up-and-running when the season starts,” McLellan said. “We’ll continue to add on, we’ll expand, we’ll grow different areas of our game, but we want to get the foundation and the basis down and then play from there.”
The team is still implementing its structure, which requires a more concerted touch than the team had experienced in recent years, given the adjustment in the forecheck and the push to become more aggressive on both sides of the puck.
Even as the team is still “pounding the X’s and O’s every day,” according to Brown, this is still a week players across the league use to get their bodies ready for the 82 games that follow. “Every year it’s the same – you’ve just got to get your body used to the grind again, and once you get into this phase, then it’s really focusing on getting your game where it needs to be for October 5.”
— Ben Hutton admitted it was somewhat strange to jump right into a game against his former teammates, but that quickly getting into Saturday’s preseason win over the Canucks was important to assimilate with his new teammates. “When you battle with guys, that’s when you become the closest with them, so jumping on the ice with the squad was nice for sure,” he said.
Hutton, who assisted on Jaret Anderson-Dolan’s first period goal, is focused on continuing to learn the systems – and everyone’s names. As he shared last week, he didn’t know anyone in the dressing room when he joined the team after agreeing on a one-year, $1.5-million contract.
“Just getting more and more comfortable every day with the new systems and the guys,” he said. “Everything’s kind of new to me, so the more comfortable I get, I’ll play more confident, so that’s probably the number one thing.”
— Blake Lizotte will look to transfer his motor to a more skilled spot in the lineup alongside Ilya Kovalchuk and Jeff Carter. “His mistakes are by commission. He’s making them because he’s giving everything he has. There’s no floating, there’s no overthinking, so we appreciate that,” said McLellan, who noted that such work makes the veterans happy because it provides them “a little pop.”
Asked for a young player he’d coached whose energy and motor were noticeable before they’d established themselves in the NHL, McLellan referenced Darren Helm. “When he came into the league, he had a tenacity to him that was contagious – it kind of spread around the locker room and he took pride in it.”
Tobias Bjornfot, on remaining with the team in the second week of the preseason:
I love hockey and I love to play hockey, so it feels good to be here.
Bjornfot, on whether he’s gotten to know Drew Doughty well:
I had lunch with him, I’ve talked with him on the ice and the bench. He’s a funny guy, so it’s funny to be around him.
Bjornfot, on what he has learned from playing on the small ice:
I think you need to have your head up. I know I have a good hockey IQ, and when it’s on the smaller ice, I need to use my Hockey IQ all the time and look up and see where I can make plays. It’s a faster game, and you need to know where you should play.
Looks like Ryan Miller and Anthony Stolarz are tonight's Ducks goalies in L.A. The potential lineup vs. Kings:
— Eric Stephens (@icemancometh) September 23, 2019