Grouping players as “wingers” is by far the largest position group we’ll take a look at.
For starters, there are more wingers in an NHL lineup than any other position, but it doesn’t really make sense to separate them by left and right, top six and bottom six, especially considering how the Kings play. We’ve seen players on both sides of the ice, we’ve seen players up and down the lineup on the regular. Would you consider Kevin Fiala a “bottom six” player, because he spent large chunks of last season on the “third line”? I certainly wouldn’t. When you look at the wings, it’s got to be a versatile group of players.
The Kings made some movement in this area this offseason, with expensive moves at other positions requiring a couple of mainstays to leave the organization, which opens up opportunity for younger players to step in and step up. More on all of the dynamics at play below.
Who They Have
Jaret Anderson-Dolan, Viktor Arvidsson, Quinton Byfield, Martin Chromiak, Samuel Fagemo, Kevin Fiala, Carl Grundstrom, Hayden Hodgson, Arthur Kaliyev, Adrian Kempe, Alex Laferriere, Andre Lee, Trevor Lewis, Tyler Madden, Mikhail Maltsev, Trevor Moore, Akil Thomas, Taylor Ward
*Keep in mind that this list is perhaps the most fluid list of all positions. Players like Anderson-Dolan and Thomas are as much centers as they are wingers, but forecasting their most likely position should they be in the NHL mix this season. Players like Francesco Pinelli or Alex Turcotte could easily be listed here, though I’ll include him as a center for now. A player like Quinton Byfield will likely be a wing this season, though his long-term outlook could still be down the middle. All factors to keep in mind when looking at this list.
Where They’re At
If you thought it was difficult to place the Kings lines in order last season, wait until you see this season’s group. Should the Kings opt for consistency up front, we could see the following six wingers occupying spots on the top three lines.
Arvidsson, Byfield, Fiala, Kaliyev, Kempe, Moore
What combination, what order……good luck.
Top six and bottom six are terms that are regularly thrown around in hockey, but this Kings team looks to be one that should have a pretty clear top nine, with a more traditional fourth line supporting. Then you throw in the pair of Grundstrom and Lewis, who would figure to be the top options to start as fourth-line wingers, as well as a player like Anderson-Dolan, who spent the entire season with the Kings. Three others – Fagemo, Hodgson and Maltsev – played NHL games last season, which brings that total to 12 wingers with NHL experience coming into camp. Not to mention Alex Turcotte who can play both center and wing. Lots of competition for not a lot of roster spots, especially when considering the likeliehood that LA will not open with a 23-player roster on October 11.
Starting at the top, Byfield and Kempe proved to be an effective combination alongside Anze Kopitar on the top line a season ago and Kings General Manager Rob Blake indicated over the summer that Byfield will likely continue as a winger in training camp this fall. Keeping him with Kempe and Kopitar makes sense when considering the join success the trio had together (73.8 percent goals for percentage, second best in the NHL last season among lines with 300+ minutes together, via MoneyPuck). Beyond that the Kings have had Moore and Arvidsson outside of Phillip Danault, which has been used regularly throughout the last two seasons. That leaves the newly acquired Pierre-Luc Dubois next to Fiala, with Kaliyev figuring to be the top option as the third member of that line, assuming consistency elsewhere. You know what they say about assumption, though.
Beyond that group, Grundstrom has carved out a place in the lineup, typically starting lower but with a tendency to work his way up as opportunity arises. The Kings know exactly what they’re getting in the re-acquired Lewis, who brings and honest and trusting game to what will likely be a fourth-line role on a cost-efficient contract. Anderson-Dolan has positional versatility and was regularly used as the team’s 13th forward a season ago, while Fagemo and Turcotte were callups as injuries arose. Maltsev and Hodgson were acquired in the offseason and bring both versatility and some NHL experience, while the rest of the group has played largely at the AHL level.
What To Look For
Day 1 combinations will be an important thing to keep an eye on but as we saw last season, Day 1 combinations do not mean Game 1 combinations. This season, however, changes feel more likely to come based on chemistry and desired looks, as opposed to the rise of a player forcing them. There is certainly an opportunity for a player like Grundstrom, or even a younger player like Fagemo or Turcotte to come into camp and do what Gabe Vilardi did last season, but it’s a tougher group to crack than it was a season ago.
Where it could be more likely to see deviation is with how players are deployed. Could we see Viktor Arvidsson tried out alongside Fiala and Dubois, or Kopitar and Kempe? Certainly. Might the Kings want to see how Arthur Kaliyev performs in a longer look on the top line? Certainly. Might they want to break up the defensively responsible duo of Danault and Moore, putting those two players on separate lines with offensively gifted players around them? Also possible. That’s one of the themes to look for entering training camp, especially when looking at the wingers. We know that Kopitar, Danault and Dubois will be deployed down the middle in some shape or form. How the Kings opt to deploy the wingers around them is the next piece of the puzzle.
How the Top 9 aligns isn’t the only storyline to look out for during camp. Grundstrom and Lewis are in pole position for spots on the fourth line, but don’t discount a player like Anderson-Dolan, who played four of LA’s six playoff games, or the rise of a younger player like Fagemo, Turcotte or even say Alex Laferriere, who is more seasoned than your usual rookie. Players like Maltsev and Hodgson represent more veteran options who are comfortable at the NHL level and they’ll get a chance to push for a spot with ample preseason minutes available.
The Kings are a differently molded team this season and will operate as such. This team is stronger than last season’s team, assuming all goes according to plan. The days of having younger players with top-nine aspirations on the fourth line seems to be behind us if that plan forms as intended. The Kings should operate in more of a traditional mold and when injuries occur or performance merits change and the way things adjust this season will be different than they were adjusted last year.
A Look Ahead
One group to go – centers. Perhaps the only group on the team where there is not a positional battle, because the Kings are as strong down the middle, 1 through 4, as they have been in some time. A look at that group to follow, before we prepare for camp to kick off!