At this point, we shouldn’t be surprised when the Los Angeles Kings offer professional tryout agreements to veterans. Not every PTO has worked out, and none of them were long-term successes, but the Kings have gotten a decent hit rate from the veterans they’ve reached out to in past seasons. Peter Budaj turned into an AHL fixture and a surprisingly good NHL injury replacement, Devin Setoguchi had stretches of good play after a long comeback, and even Paul Bissonnette found a niche as a leader and “fan favorite” in Ontario.
So while Andrei Loktionov is looking to recapture the good parts of his Kings tenure with his own PTO, it’s the other three recipients of professional tryout agreements who can really be compared to LA’s prior successes. We’ll talk about Chris Lee in a separate article, only because his case is so unique. (And because he’s a defenseman. That changes things too.) But do Brandon Prust and Brooks Laich have any chance of making an impact for the Kings this season? You might know bits and pieces about each player, but the 2017 version of each is probably different than you’d expect.
Let’s start with Brooks Laich, the player who’s experienced the most success in his NHL career and who was just announced as a camp invite. The 34-year-old Laich has 134 goals and 331 points in 764 career NHL games, but only 53 of those points have come in the last five seasons. Not great, considering that Laich scored 53+ points in a season a couple times earlier in his career. So it seems clear that Laich isn’t going to be a scorer, but can the center be useful in a fourth-line role? Based on last season’s results, no; Laich only played 27 games at the AHL level and had nine points while battling a couple injuries, including the elbow ailment that forced a year-end surgery.
His 2015-16 results weren’t bad; his possession numbers were slightly above-average for the Washington Capitals, albeit in limited ice time, and when he moved to Toronto he had “proven valuable as a depth player and mentor” according to Pension Plan Puppets. Offense stagnated when he took the ice, but that wasn’t because shots were drying up; rather, he had a 2.2% shooting percentage, and his team had a 5.8% shooting percentage at even strength with Laich out there. Not unusual for a player on the Los Angeles Kings, but for a player who spent most of his season on the Capitals, it was most unusual, even as he generally played with the team’s weakest players.
So the tank might not be empty, and Laich prides himself on being in terrific shape and in fine playing condition. You can see why he might be a useful guy to have in training camp. The 2016-17 season took some shine off Brooks, though, and he doesn’t have much interest in an AHL gig. He wouldn’t be the worst 13th forward in the league, but he failed to thrive in the AHL the way you’d expect a veteran to. Any addition that potentially blocks guys like Adrian Kempe or Jonny Brodzinski from the active roster is going to have to bring a lot more to the table. And despite having what AOL calls a “sizzling beach body,” it’s hard to see him having enough jump to play down the middle for LA ahead of Nic or Nick.
(You get those kind of headlines when you’re married to Julianne Hough.)
It’s ironic that Brandon Prust is in the same situation as Laich this season. Last fall, he battled Laich for a spot with the Maple Leafs during camp, but since Laich had a $4.5 million salary and Prust had no contract at all, Prust won what Leafs Nation called the “shadow vet” role. Prust went unsigned after his PTO but practiced with the team, providing that ol’ veteran leadership until Nuremberg of Germany’s DEL came calling with an actual offer to play hockey. Placed with former Kings luminaries like Colten Teubert, Steven Reinprecht, and Brandon Segal, Prust had 8 points in 29 games.
When you think of Prust, you probably think of the penalty box, and he fought seven times in 35 games in his last NHL stint. Unlike your prototypical fighter/agitator/pest, though, Prust largely managed to avoid taking bad penalties when he wasn’t fighting. That had been a bad habit for him, but aside from seven fights, one spear on Brad Marchand, and one misconduct, Prust had just two minor penalties. So maybe what we should know him for is something that has held consistent over the previous three seasons: his team rarely scores when he’s on the ice. That’s not what LA needs.
As you might expect, Prust is going to battle with (and hopefully avoid spearing) Kyle Clifford, Andy Andreoff, and Jordan Nolan. Jon Rosen adds, addressing the popular theory that the Kings are just adding guys who can go to China: “There are also extra bodies needed for the preseason split-squads, but this is mostly about competition.” I wouldn’t see Prust making the Kings, especially since his ceiling is probably the 0.2 PPG he posted in 2015-16. With Paul Bissonnette announcing his retirement, there is a spot for a low-scoring, low-ice-time, fight-willing vet down in Ontario. Prust might have claimed that he’ll “go back to Europe” if he doesn’t crack the lineup, but SoCal might be appealing even if he isn’t playing at Staples.
You were probably expecting this article to be one sentence reading “No, they shouldn’t make this team,” and I guess the preceding paragraphs did arrive at that conclusion. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be at camp though! What that does mean, though, is that if they take the Paul Bissonnette route and not the Devin Setoguchi route, I’ll be content.