Three rookie defensemen have broken into the Kings' lineup this year, with varied roles and varied success. The blue line is crowded, though, and with three spots locked down for the foreseeable future, it's tough to say who will be here next year, let alone down the road. It's a fun question, though, so our writers will answer the question:
JJ: Darryl Sutter and Dean Lombardi strongly prefer the established players, so I gotta play the percentages and say that Derek Forbort will play the most games with the Kings. Forbort has done well to establish his role with the team this season, showing more passionate, physical play, moving laterally to establish the ideal shot angle, and even getting minutes alongside Drew Doughty. LaDue is highly touted by the Kings and shoots right, so he likely has a future with the Kings as well. On the other hand, Gravel handles the puck well, but hasn't wowed physically or statistically (no goals and 3 assists in 38 games), and was recently scratched in Florida. The Kings have too many left-shooting defenseman and Gravel's physical upside is unknown, but Gravel will stick around if the Kings decide to part ways with Brayden McNabb (or even Jake Muzzin or Alec Martinez).
Derek: Can I say none of the above? Or maybe more accurately, I don't think it ultimately is going to matter. All four of them are 24 years old (turning 25 this year) with limited upside. Forbort has a chance to be the guy lost in expansion, but I honestly wouldn't be that surprised if he was picked and still ended up with the most games in a Kings uniform, just due to his 26 game head start on Gravel and 67 game head start on LaDue.
Jack: Derek Forbort will play the most games in a King uniform. Paul LaDue is the best of the three but my sense is he will be traded by the Kings for a piece that helps them win now. Forbort and Gravel could both wind up out of the league in a few years but Forbort will be given every opportunity to show he is worth the first-round pick the Kings used on him.
Sarah: Paul LaDue. LaDue's name keeps coming up in trade talks, and speculation keeps getting shut down with the insinuation that he's largely untouchable. Where there's smoke, there's often fire, but LaDue's promise as a prospect may mean that he will stick around for a while. While he doesn't have much pro experience under his belt yet, he's continually been able to adapt his game to fit each level. What makes LaDue potentially more valuable as a keeper is the fact that he plays on the right side, something that's often a rarity for defensemen. Retaining LaDue and letting him develop with the Kings means they don't have to shift another defenseman to play on his off wing, or go on a wild chase to find a comparable right shot.
Eric: It's probably silly to pick Kevin Gravel, but I think the chances of him sticking around are better than those of Forbort and LaDue. LaDue hasn't yet had a chance to solidify a role in LA and it's plausible to see him as part of a trade, while Forbort has gotten a value boost from playing top-4 minutes and could conceivably be a Vegas Golden Knight next year. Gravel feels like a Matt Greene, who plays third-pair minutes, has a special teams role, and gets scratched occasionally but sticks around.
Robyn: It's hard to figure out who will remain healthiest in his career with the Kings, which will obviously play into who will play the most games but I'm going to go with Paul LaDue. The Kings have been fairly high on him since they drafted him as a 20-year-old over-agers still playing in the USHL. Overall, he's had a pretty good college career, with noticeable improvements each year and even being named to the NCHC all-rookie team in 2013-14. Maybe he'll be as important to this team as Jake Muzzin has become.
James: Ugh, this is tough...but I'll go with Derek Forbort. A left handed shot, I think he is just untalented enough to fall into that netherworld of 5-6 defenseman that sticks around for a long time. He's not bad enough to go to the A, not good enough to be attractive to other teams, and likely holds a special place in Dean's heart/ego. Gravel will probably stick around until he overprices himself as a UFA, and LaDue will get dealt. Good times.
Carlos: It is always tempting to pick the new, mysterious rookie over the less exciting known quantity, but I think I will succumb to that temptation and say the answer is Paul LaDue. The simple fact that he is a right-shot gives him a leg up in the Kings’ lefty-heavy defensive corps. They have also pushed his development very aggressively, telling me that they are far more excited about his skill set than they ever were about the other two. I can see a scenario where LaDue gets a full-time gig and Forbort and Gravel share time as the sixth man (assuming all three remain on the team).
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