Practice Notes – Athanasiou ready, plan to play tomorrow + transactions & Anderson interview

Good Afternoon, Insiders!

The Kings were back on the ice this morning, following their third consecutive victory last night, a 3-2 shootout decision over St. Louis.

For the first time this season, we saw forward Andreas Athanasiou skating on a regular line. Athanasiou returned to the full group on Tuesday in a regular-contact jersey and was activated from injured reserve before yesterday’s game against the Blues. When speaking with Todd McLellan yesterday, he indicated that Athanasiou needed another practice, by the player’s own admission, before he was ready to get back with the full group.

Not on the ice today was forward Lias Andersson. Todd McLellan confirmed with us that Andersson did not skate today, and will not play tomorrow, but did not specify details at this time, beyond that the team will “see how he is as the week goes on.” McLellan also confirmed that Athanasiou would be the lineup replacement tomorrow, so we can expect to see that in terms of personnel.

“That is the plan, is to get Athanasiou in the game [tomorrow],” McLellan said. “I fully expect him to play, he’s ready. There is no exhibition season for him, you get right into it, but he did that last year, so he can do it again this year.”

Today’s Alignment –

Kaliyev – Kopitar – Brown
Kempe – Danault – Iafallo
Grundstrom – Kupari – Moore
Lemieux – Lizotte – Athanasiou

Quick / Petersen

That doesn’t mean, however, that it will be a 1-for-1 in terms of lines. This morning, Arthur Kaliyev took rushes with Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown, with Athanasiou slotting in alongside Blake Lizotte and Brendan Lemieux. It would be a pretty big ask of Athanasiou to step in and immediately assume big minutes. McLellan said that “there’s a chance” Kaliyev could feature on that line tomorrow, though he did not commit.

Kaliyev was slotted on that line once before, against Buffalo on Sunday, but the circumstances that night were the back half of a back-to-back, with McLellan admitting that Kaliyev’s engine just wasn’t there to play that role, in that situation. It’s a learning moment and one that ponders a bit of reflection to exactly where Kaliyev would be under normal circumstances. McLellan added the other day that Kaliyev would get another look on the top line at some point.

“If we didn’t run into COVID, Arthur Kaliyev would be six weeks into his pro hockey career,” McLellan said. “He would have played, probably, 4-5 games with us or 5-6 in the American Hockey League that’s how young he is and we’re asking him to do a veteran’s job up front. Not everybody is Auston Matthews, Connor McDavid, or Jack Eichel for that matter, it takes time. They’re great players, they’re going to be really good players, but they have to learn.”

Tomorrow’s game presents, potentially, another opportunity to see him in that spot.

Athan-a-siou Tomorrow?
With McLellan’s news that Andreas Athanasiou is expected to feature tomorrow against New Jersey, it’s been a bit of a road back here for the 27-year-old forward, who suffered an upper-body injury early in training camp, and has yet to feature in a game this season.

Athanasiou signed a one-year contract to return to the Kings, his second in as many seasons, though this season’s financial commitment was greater than the one before it. He was a contributor for the Kings last season, at right around a half-point-per-game, showcasing his speed and offensive capabilities throughout the season.

That brought him into training camp with a lot of optimism, making the injury a tough blow, though he tried to take it all in stride.

“Yeah, I mean it’s never fun getting injured, but in this game it’s a part of it,” he said. “You take it in stride, deal with it and I look at it as an opportunity, I had a lot of time to work on my skating. It’s something I got to work on these last few weeks, so I should be skating pretty well.”

Athanasiou in many ways represents a player who should thrive in an aggressive, up-tempo system. He’s as good of a skater as anyone on the Kings roster, and as he joked a bit about, he’s had a lot of time to skate considering his injury and rehab process.

He believes that his style of play should mesh well with what the Kings are attempting to do more of here this season.

“I think so, I think I can play at a high pace with a lot of speed, and that fits right into the team’s plans. I’m just excited to get back.”

Having had the opportunity to watch games this season, Athanasiou has had a first-hand account of how the season has gone so far for the Kings. From his time as a spectator, he’s noticed the younger players who have stepped into the lineup and brought a new element of energy and excitement to the group.

Those contributions, combined with the veterans who he will now get the chance to play with for the first time, have been bright lights from Athanasiou’s perspective.

“We had a lot of young guys who are ready to go and it’s fun to see,” he said. “These guys are battling hard and playing well, these guys can step into the lineup and be really good. It’s kind of cool to see, having that much depth with the young guys, and that brings a level of speed and excitement to the game. It’s fun to watch, and it will be fun to get back in action.”

Roster Moves
The Kings announced the following roster moves this afternoon, with the biggest one noted being that defenseman Drew Doughty was added to long-term injured reserve, moving over from injured reserve.

The announced transactions also featured defensemen Kale Clague and Austin Strand assigned to the Ontario Reign, and forwards Alex Turcotte and Vladimir Tkachev recalled to the Kings. This move leaves the Kings with just five defensemen on the active roster, so you can probably read between the lines that they will not enter the game tomorrow versus New Jersey with only five defensemen. More to follow on this front.

All Sides Anderson
Additionally, hear from defenseman Mikey Anderson following today’s practice. More to come here on Anderson, and his new, effective pairing with Tobias Bjornfot, but hear from him on a variety of topics below, including meshing with Bjornfot, skating on the right side, and a couple of takes on the overall situation coming out of yesterday’s win over the Blues.

We’ll have a feature coming up from contributor Jack Jablonski on Kings prospect Francesco Pinelli, who was recently named as the captain of his OHL team, the Kitchener Rangers. Pinelli is off to a strong start to the season, at over a point-per-game, and is the leader of a Kitchener team off to a 6-4-0 start. A good look at a highly-regarded prospect, featuring exclusive interviews with Pinelli and Kitchener Head Coach Mike McKenzie.

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