We’re quickly approaching Opening Night, and as of this afternoon, it appears we know exactly who will be on the Los Angeles Kings’ roster on Thursday, October 5.
Justin Auger, Paul LaDue, and Jack Campbell all acquitted themselves well in Kings uniforms over the past month (or in LaDue’s case, the past six months), but they became the final three cuts in a cutthroat competition for LA’s Opening Night roster. The competition and subsequent demotion of several Kings has worked out nearly as well for LA as they would’ve hoped. Although the Kings lost Jordan Nolan (literally the only waiver-eligible player to be claimed in the past few weeks) to Buffalo, they held onto Auger, Campbell, and Michael Mersch, all who could have been picked up by another team. Keeping Campbell is especially nice, as it allows for the Kings to trade or otherwise let go of Jeff Zatkoff and roll with a tandem of Campbell and Cal Petersen in Ontario. Campbell will presumably get the call if Jonathan Quick or Darcy Kuemper is injured.
According to Jon Rosen, the Kings do intend to rotate some of their less-experienced defensemen between Los Angeles and Ontario. LaDue, Gravel, Oscar Fantenberg, and Kurtis MacDermid are completely waiver-exempt, so they can move at will between the NHL and AHL. In other words, this competition probably isn’t over, and even Christian Folin (who is not waiver-exempt) probably can’t rest easy; LaDue and Gravel have shown themselves to be capable replacements if needed. It’s still great news for both Fantenberg and MacDermid; while Fantenberg’s inclusion on the China roster and repeated camp opportunities made his inclusion less of a surprise, MacDermid making the squad wasn’t expected, at least by me. (This was especially true when I found out he wouldn’t be exposed to waivers if he was sent down.)
A limited forward rotation makes sense too, especially after Auger and Mersch cleared waivers. That’s because LA probably won’t have to re-expose any of the guys who cleared waivers for a while. That’s per CBA Reference 13.2(b), which states:
the Player has not played in ten (10) or more NHL Games cumulative since Regular Waivers on him were last cleared, and more than thirty (30) days cumulative on an NHL roster have not passed since Regular Waivers on him were last cleared.
So if the Kings decide that they want to give Adrian Kempe or Jonny Brodzinski a night off or a week in Ontario, they could easily promote Auger or Mersch for a short time and send them back without consequence. That will depend largely on how the Kings’ young players take to their new roles; just ask Mersch, who got a pretty decent stay in LA in 2015-16 before ultimately being demoted. It’ll also depend on Alex Iafallo, who is the most surprising inclusion on LA’s 23-man roster (24 if you count Marian Gaborik). If that sounds negative, it’s not; Iafallo was really impressive throughout the preseason, and made easily the most memorable individual play of any bubble player in September.
So where does this leave everyone going into Game One? Folin appears to be defenseman #5, as the only right-shooting d-man other than Doughty. Fantenberg strikes me as a more natural partner for Folin than MacDermid, whose redeeming qualities largely mirror Folin’s, but MacDermid was Folin’s partner in the final preseason game. Other than that decision, it’s cut-and-dry: Doughty-Forbort, Muzzin-Martinez, and (MacDermid/Fantenberg)-Folin. Kuemper backs up Quick, and that leaves... the forwards.
Pearson-Carter-Toffoli is a given. So is Clifford-Shore-Lewis, if preseason lines have been anything to go on. Kempe has been centering the third line lately and Kopitar (obviously) centers the first line, meaning there are four wing spots for six players. Dustin Brown and Mike Cammalleri will fill two of them, leaving Iafallo, Andy Andreoff, Nic Dowd, and Jonny Brodzinski as the battlers. Iafallo and Dowd played in the final preseason game, but Brodzinski is the only one of the four who has received shifts with Kopitar, and Andreoff is the most experienced in terms of games played. So let’s say the other two lines are Cammalleri-Kopitar-Brown and (Andreoff/Iafallo)-Kempe-(Brodzinski/Dowd), and I think all five of those guys get nights off.