This is the first post in a series which will look at the Kings reserve list from several vantage points. Obviously, several players fit more than one category, and I'll address those cases as we go.
Here's a little map of the lines and "boxes" for the forwards:
Penner/Smyth - Kopitar - Williams/Brown
Smyth/Penner - C2 - Brown/Williams
LW3 - C3 - Simmonds
LW4 - C4 - RW4
In this post, I'm looking at top-six forwards. Brackets -- [ ] -- indicate the player is unsigned. Parentheses -- ( ) -- means the player is RFA. Double parentheses -- (( )) -- means he's UFA.
- Anze Kopitar - his name is written in pen at C1.
- Jarret Stoll - one more year on his deal, and where he plays depends on three things: (1) if Michal Handzus doesn't re-sign, Stoll is the logical candidate to center the defensive "stopper" line; (2) Schenn -- if he makes the team -- he could play any of three center positions not Kopitar's; Schenn could play C2 or C4, whereas (3) Loktionov can't; for Lokti, it's C2 or Manchester. I think it's highly unlikely that neither Schenn nor Loktionov make the team in the fall; it's probably most likely that one makes it and the other starts in Manchester, and they swap them in and out all season. If that happens, I think we're looking at Kopitar/Schenn-or-Loktionov/Stoll/Lewis down the middle next year, and (hopefully) Kopitar/Loktionov/Schenn/Lewis the year after.
- Andrei Loktionov - he's under contract and he appears to be ready for the NHL, provided he is 100% recovered from shoulder surgery. I choose to expect his shoulder to be better than new (surgery having corrected its tendency to pop out). It's reasonable to expect him to duke it out for second line center with Schenn. There will be, of course, people who say he's too small and/or needs to bulk-up and/or needs to be more physical, to which I say (1) see my post on short people and (2) not every player on a team has to embody every virtue prized by the team, any more than a nail must embody all of the virtues of a screw; (3) speed and creativity, two things the Kings need more of.
- Brayden Schenn - It's not hard to picture Schenn thriving between Smyth and Brown. But I also wonder who will bury all these scoring chances. As I said earlier, I think Loktionov and Schenn will probably trade off at C2; but with one year left on Stoll's deal, I also expect (hope) to see Kopitar/Loktionov/Schenn/Lewis down the middle starting year after next.
- Justin Azevedo, Jordan Weal, [Garrett Roe] -- three small, speedy scorers. Where do any of them fit in the Kings' plans? Of the three, Roe seems to be the grittiest, and also always stands out whenever I see him at rookie/prospect camp. But it remains to be seen if Lombardi even plans on signing Roe (he's done with college now). The only way any of these guys see Staples is obviously through inj**y.
- Justin Williams, Dustin Brown -- locked-in (somewhat interchangeably at RW1 and RW2) for the foreseeable future. With Wayne Simmonds fairly secure at RW3, that makes life difficult for the next three guys, none of whom is built to thrive on the fourth line.
- (Oscar Moller) -- there are of course rumors that Moller is going to return to Sweden this year; the Kings would retain his rights in that event, and it might even be for the best if he spends a year or two in Europe. But I would be very f-ing sad if this happened. In my delusional, perfect fantasy world, we have Williams/Moller/Brown/Simmonds down the right side. But that's beyond unlikely. (It would be great, but it's not really Terry Murray's style.)
- Brandon Kozun -- he's in the same boat as Moller, but without the experience. I didn't see this first-hand, but I read once or twice that he was having some trouble adjusting to the jump from juniors to the AHL. My guess is that he won't be a viable option for the Kings this year. That's okay. He and Roe are the best of the super small prospects, if prospects camp is any indication.
- Tyler Toffoli -- I have (possibly irrationally) high hopes for this scoring machine that he turns out to be a less gangly Matt Moulson, Moulson being the last not-great-skater who just happened to have a weird knack for scoring goals the Kings had in the system. He's still got a year of junior left, and even I have no illusions that he'll be NHL-ready for another year or two. At that time, I hope we're talking about Toffoli, Moller and Kozun duking it out for a top-six RW spot. But that of course would require (down the road) some movement, or at least decisions to be made, re Williams and Brown.
- Dustin Penner, Ryan Smyth -- like Williams and Brown on the other side, Penner and Smyth have dibs on the two LW spots in the top-six. Penner, I can see periodically dropping to LW3 a la Ponikarovsky; Smyth, no. Both of these guys have one year left on their deals. So, after that things open up considerably for the prospects. Maybe Toffoli or Moller flips to their off-wing. Or maybe it's Parse or Kitsyn.
- Scott Parse -- Parse, also, is in a contract year, and he needs to stay healthy and play like he did when healthy the last two seasons. Parse is likely to be the guy who plays wherever Penner and Clifford don't, which means he'll be a thorn in Penner's side, ready to jump up into the top-six whenever Penner is perceived to falter. I expect him to have a great year, but I expected that this past season and look how that turned out. Also, I'm afraid of Terry Murray's doghouse, which already has some of Parse's doodles on its walls.
- Bud Holloway -- if someone gets injured, Holloway might get a shot to prove he's not a lifetime AHL-er. I honestly have no idea if he's any good. He sometimes looks good in camp.
- [Maxim Kitsyn] -- I hope he's our LW1 or LW2 in a couple of years. I would be surprised if he's ready this year, though.
Top-six, what I expect:
Penner - Kopitar - Williams
Smyth - Stoll - Brown
Top-six, what I hope for:
Penner - Kopitar - Williams
Smyth - Loktionov or Schenn - Brown