Does Willie Mitchell's injury mean the Kings need to start thinking about making a move for an established replacement?
Willie Mitchell had surgery on his knee during the lockout, has been slow to heal, and it is up in the air as to when he might return to the line-up. Currently the Kings defensive line-up looks like this:
Do the Kings need to add a top four defenseman? Or a better question might be, is Alec Martinez ready to step in and be a part of the top four?
Traditionally, Dean Lombardi has set up the roster so that each defensive pairing has one physical defenseman and one puck mover. The Voynov-Martinez pairing features two players with the reputation of being offensive minded backenders who sometimes have some lapses in their defensive responsibilities.
Is this reputation warranted? Slava Voynov has the 4th best goal differential among defensemen since he has been in the NHL (relative to ice time). He also has the 4th fewest goals given up in that span (also relative to ice time). You probably won't get much argument that Voynov shouldn't be a regular in the Kings top four. He was fairly visible as an important element for the Kings during their run for the Cup a year ago. On the other hand, the thought of Martinez being a regular in the top four may make some uneasy-- but perhaps people should get a little more used to the idea.
Alec Martinez is a 25 year old defenseman who was selected 97th overall in the 2007 draft. He was never a highly regarded defensive prospect and surprised some when he stuck with the club in '09 out of training camp. He has seen very soft competition over the course of his career and has mainly been used as the bottom pair, puck moving counterpoint to Matt Greene.
Given his soft third pair minutes, Martinez has had spectacular results. Over the course of his career, Martinez leads the NHL in puck possession numbers. It is true that he has seen very easy assignments, but even when we narrow the field down to top 6 forwards he has seen significant time against (including Pavelski, Doan, Sharp, Ryan, Statsny, Oshie), his numbers are still excellent (56.9 FenF%).
In addition, the effect Martinez has had on his defensive partner is striking. Over the past 3 years when Martinez and Greene are on the ice, the Kings have generated 59% of all shots attempts. When Greene is on the ice without Martinez, that number drops down to 51%. Martinez' number without Greene remains high at 58%.
He has exceeded expectations with his results in both soft assignments and in a small sample of more challenging ones. He has also been a boost to his veteran partner's game. The time has come to trust him with a more challenging role.
Given Martinez' success, the Kings would be better served giving him a shot at the top four rather than risk losing picks or prospects in an effort to acquire an established veteran defenseman should Mitchell be lost for any significant time. A better question would be if the Kings need to acquire a bottom pair/7th defenseman.
Jake Muzzin is currently slotted to be the 7th defenseman but struggled in his first call up 2 seasons ago (30th worst in the NHL in puck possession among defensemen). Drewiske on the other hand, has proved to be capable as a fill in with the bottom pair when called upon (41st in puck possession since 2008 among NHL defensemen).
The Kings could add another defenseman should they want to shore up their defensive depth, but if they choose to do so it should be a low cost/ low risk option (Wade Redden?). If they do decide to stand pat, they should be more than fine with what they have in a worst case scenario where Mitchell is lost for a significant portion of the season.