WHO: Los Angeles Kings (1-1-0) @ Anaheim Ducks (0-0-0)
WHAT: NHL Preseason Game
WHEN: Sunday, September 24 @ 5:00 PM Pacific
WHERE: Honda Center – Anaheim, California
HOW TO FOLLOW: VIDEO: None – AUDIO – iHeart Radio – TWITTER: @ShafReign @LAKings
TONIGHT’S MATCHUP: The Kings complete a very unique 3-in-3 this weekend as they visit the Anaheim Ducks to begin the stateside version of their 2023 preseason schedule.
HEAD-TO-HEAD: The Kings swept the season series against Anaheim during the regular season, including a pair of victories at Honda Center. Of the group expected to play today, none would have faced the Ducks last season with the Kings.
KINGS VITALS: This will be a younger lineup for the Kings. The players who played in Australia are currently traveling back to Los Angeles and will obviously not play today. Today’s lineup will be made up of players who have been skating in El Segundo over the last few days, including several players who played at the 2023 Rookie Faceoff in Vegas and a collection of veteran players who got training camp underway on Thursday.
The expected game group for tonight is as follows –
Forwards (13) – Martin Chromiak, Samuel Helenius, Hayden Hodgson, Charles Hudon, Alex Laferriere, Kaleb Lawrence, Andre Lee, Tyler Madden, Mikhail Maltsev, Francesco Pinelli, T.J. Tynan, Taylor Ward, Koehn Ziemmer
Defensemen (7) – Angus Booth, Kevin Connauton, Joe Hicketts, Cole Krygier, Jacob Modry, Steven Santini, Wyatte Wylie
Goaltenders (2) – J-F Berube, Jacob Ingham
This is a group with a ton of opportunity in front of them and it’s an opportunity that can come in a variety of different forms to help players in a variety of different ways.
That opportunity might be as wide as earning a player a look with Group A once they get back underway next week. Maybe it nets a player an extra exhibition game that they might not have been scheduled for otherwise. Maybe it pushes a player from the bottom six to the top six in those exhibition games. Maybe it even just gives a guy more of a look when the Ontario Reign’s season rolls around.
Who knows. But there is opportunity and Reign Head Coach Marco Sturm will be eager for his group to seize it.
“It’s very unique, you don’t get this kind of opportunity very often for those kinds of guys,” Ontario Reign Head Coach Marco Sturm said. “Hopefully they enjoy it, hopefully they take advantage of it and that’s all I’m asking for.”
How exactly this group will align in terms of lineups and line combinations remains to be seen. We’ll have a contingent of folks covering today’s game in Anaheim – Jesse Cohen with the Kings plus Jared Shafran and Josh Schaefer with the Ontario Reign – who will be able to provide coverage from warmups as well as the game itself.
The Week Ahead
“We’re definitely going to the watch the games [in Australia] but there’s league rules, so when they come back, there’s a few days off and they’re not allowed to play right away. Usually we get together, with Blakey or Todd, they will probably tell us who they might want to see for some of our games……it all depends a little bit how it turns out. If there’s a guy not playing in Australia, I think there’s a good chance to see him at least in the last game of the week in San Jose. That’s the plan to see how everything goes and see how everyone performs and then maybe we’re going add a few pieces on the end.”
That was Ontario Head Coach Marco Sturm giving the overview of where things are at heading into the week.
What we know certainly is that the first two exhibition games in the US – in Anaheim and in Vegas – will consist of players who are exclusively at the camp in El Segundo.
From there, we could see the possibility of some players who are currently in Australia re-integrated into the game group, with Sturm pointing out that it would likely come no sooner than the game in San Jose on Saturday, meaning we’re more than likely looking at three games with the players who are currently stateside.
The other wrinkle in that picture is defenseman Brandt Clarke, who has been cleared to practice but hasn’t skated in the scrimmage settings thus far in camp. Sturm indicated that he could perhaps factor into the equation this week, but he will not play today in Anaheim later on today.
As noted above, Sturm recognizes the opportunity for the players who are here to play in games. Whether it be a veteran like a Tynan or a Maltsev, trying to showcase themselves for NHL minutes, a Laferriere or a Pinelli hopeful to surge into the picture, or a Clarke just trying to get healthy, there is opportunity to be gained in these games.
Experience On The Blueline
Okay, so Drew Doughty and his 1,100+ NHL games won’t be in Anaheim tonight. No worries. It is exhibition season after all and we’ve got an idea of having a less-experienced lineup in this game.
The Kings won’t be short of experience on defense, however, as they’ll bring a trio of blueliners with NHL experience to today’s game against the Ducks.
Leading that pack is veteran Kevin Connauton, who was acquired by the Kings over the summer as a part of the trade that sent Cal Petersen and Sean Walker to Philadelphia. Connauton has skated in 360 NHL games throughout his NHL career and nearly 700 as a professional. The 33-year-old is highly regarded around the league as a teammate, he’s strong in his own zone and certainly won’t be overwhelmed by any sort of NHL action.
Now with a new organization, Connauton’s focus is on settling in with a new group and a new team, with eyes on the camp ahead.
“The [first day’s] scrimmage was nice to get back into some more structure, summer kind of drags on with the loose scrimmages and all the skill drills and everything, so it’s nice to feel some pressure on the forecheck and things like that,” Connauton said. “It’s just been about settling in, it’s a new system, a new coach, a new group of guys so I’m just feeling that out and looking forward to [the game].”
Expected to join Connauton in tonight’s lineup are a pair of free-agent signings, Joe Hicketts and Steven Santini. Both players were inked to one-year contracts on July 1, as a pair of veteran signings who can either play towards the bottom of the lineup at the NHL level or the top of the lineup in the AHL.
For Santini, he’s very familiar with that role. He has played in at least one NHL game now in eight consecutive seasons. The bulk of his NHL time came with the New Jersey Devils earlier in his career, the organization that drafted him, but he’s proven to be able to fill in when asked in the NHL as well. Now, having joined the Kings over the summer, he’s looking to get acclimated as soon as he can early in training camp.
“The tempo of the practices and scrimmages have been good,” Santini said. “It’s a little bit different with the group in Australia right now, but all the guys are here just getting better, trying to get acclimated, learn the systems and just keep getting better every day. That’s kind of the goal in camp.”
Hicketts is a bit younger, with less NHL experience (22 games with Detroit), but he provides a different skillset and a different makeup to either Connauton or Santini. While both of those players take care of their own end first, Hicketts can produce offensively, with 48 points last season with the AHL’s Iowa Wild. Hicketts had a realistic look at his situation, understanding that he’s likely to begin in Ontario, but he also sees the potential upside when looking at the left side of the blueline here. There could be opportunity for him and he was excited about both sides.
“It’s a team that wants to win, wants to push to put a run together, they have a lot of great players here and I knew this was an organization that took care of guys well and wants to put the best team forward,” Hicketts said of choosing the Kings organization over the summer. “In the same token, there’s also an opportunity to maybe get called up as well. I’m looking to have a good training camp and go from there.”
Kings and Ducks will be underway this evening, 5 PM Pacific time……now the only time zone we need to worry about for the forseeable future.