With the 2018-19 NHL season firmly in the rear view mirror, it’s time to look back at what we learned about the players of the Los Angeles Kings. How did they fare in a down season? What’s next for each of them? Who will still be here on opening day? Join us as we take a look back at the season, try to figure out what went wrong, and see where we go from here. Today, we take a look at Michael Amadio, Matt Luff, and Carl Grundstrom who are all looking to make their mark in the NHL. But first, can they land a permanent spot on the roster?
Upon making his NHL debut following the Jake Muzzin trade to the Toronto Maple Leafs, Carl Grundstrom surprised a lot of fans. As Jim Fox pointed out, the Kings liked that many scouts were saying that Grundstrom was NHL ready—and he definitely proved that. In 15 games, the young Swede tallied five goals and one assist. If he’s able to keep that up over a full 82 game season (and of course that’s a big IF), that puts him on pace for about 30 goals and six assists. Boy, wouldn’t that be nice?
Matt Luff’s NHL debut was a little less auspicious than Grundstrom’s. He played less than 10 minutes, took one penalty, registered one shot on goal, and was a zero +/-. When he finally did score his first goal, it felt like a huge monkey off the back. It seemed like it had taken forever to reach that milestone, even though in reality it was only six games. But he tried so hard and he came so close, it was a huge relief to finally hear Jim Fox utter the words, “What’s Luff got to do with it?”
Michael Amadio is an interesting case. In the 2017-18 season, he seemed poise to make the leap to the NHL. As a center, he provides badly needed depth and has never truly looked out of place. Similar to Luff, he played about seven minutes, had no points, one penalty, one shot on goals and was an even +/-. His usage has been curious as he played 37 games in 2018 and 43 games in 2019. His average time on ice rose a tick under Willie Desjardin, but that could just be playing in more games.
In this section, we’re going to take a quick at the numbers behind their play.
Young Guns Fancy Stats
|Name||Games Played||Goals||Assists||CF% (5v5)||iHDCF (5v5)||iHDCF/60|
|Name||Games Played||Goals||Assists||CF% (5v5)||iHDCF (5v5)||iHDCF/60|
Fun fact: Grundstrom’s 6.92 iHDCF (individual high danger chances for) per 60 actually led the team—by more than 2.00 chances over the next highest person, which, surprise, was Austin Wagner. Warning: SAMPLE SIZES. But, at least in his case, the numbers seem to back up what appears to be a very promising start for the Swedish rookie. And this also seems to confirm that Luff had a little bit of trouble adjusting to the pace of NHL play at times and had difficulty generating any offense. Meanwhile, Amadio, whose most frequent linemates included Kyle Clifford and Wagner, showed significant growth in only six additional games from the year before. (Not pictured in this table, but he managed to increase his iHDCF/60 by almost 1.00 and doubled his scoring at 5v5.)
Looking at the corsis, basically, when Grundstrom and Amadio were on the ice, the team, on average, generated more shot attempts than they gave up. Considering the fact that there were a total of 10 players were break even or better, that’s pretty good, especially for Amadio who was constantly stuck on the fourth line with some not great players. The once-Kings of Corsi have fallen mightily from their lofty throne and the team overall finished ninth worst in the league. Now, corsi isn’t everything. And as always, all “fancy stats” must be taken with a grain of salt. But these numbers do paint an interesting picture of both the individual and how he did compared to the team as a whole.
What to do with the kids?
That’s the big question. Grundstrom, Amadio, and Luff have impressed in different ways in small samples. Of the three, Grundstrom is unquestionably the most talented. Recall, too, that he paced last year (in a very small amount of games) for 30 or so goals in his 15 game stint. But he provides some sorely needed scoring depth on wing and could slot in pretty well anywhere in the top-nine, including as 3RW behind Tyler Toffoli. If he does play on the third line, imagine, if you will for just a moment, scoring in the bottom six. The team as a whole was second worst at all strengths (ahead of the Anaheim Ducks by a meager three goals) and fifth worst at 5v5. So scoring from beyond three or four players would be fantastic.
Grundstrom is listed as a right wing but mostly played on the left side opposite of Toffoli and Adrian Kempe. Was his scoring the result of playing with good players? (Kempe isn’t great as a center, but he’s still a good player overall.) It’ll be really interesting to see next year if it was mostly just luck, if he’s really that talented, or if his line was just clicking (it happens. See: 2014 playoffs, That 70s Line).
Furthermore, how will his usage under Todd McLellan change? According to Natural Stat Trick, he averaged a shade under 15 minutes per game, which is a very positive (and unusual with the Kings in the past) usage for a rookie. McLellan is a bit of an old school coach who doesn’t always trust his rookies. Everyone is starting over with a clean slate. How will that affect the team dynamic and Grundstrom’s potentially potent offense?
Amadio will have to come up full time as he is no longer waivers exempt, per CapFriendly. It would be incredibly foolish of a team that lacks center depth to try and sneak him through; it’s not like sending him back to Ontario would actually accomplish anything. Now, will he make the opening night lineup? That’s a different story and hard to say. More than likely his training camp will play a large role in that decision, but working in his favor is the fact that the Kings have absolutely no centers. There is Anze Kopitar (1C), Carter (2C), Kempe (3C), and then Trevor Lewis (4C). Lewis and Kempe are converted wingers-to-centers and uh, well, let’s just say that it’s easier to go from center-to-wing than wing-to-center. The main difference is really defensive positioning and reacting to changes on the ice. Faceoffs can be a huge part of that, too (if you’re lucky), though they’re generally waved off as not being important until they are.
Of the three “extras,” Luff is the one with the most to lose. His eight goals in 33 games (pacing for 16+ goals) were a good start, but as a young gun, he is by far the most expendable with the likes of Clifford, Lewis, Grundstrom, Carter, and Toffoli all capable of and experienced at playing wing. To throw a wrench into the mix, Austin Wagner also plays both wings. Oh, and don’t forget Ilya Kovalchuk, who mostly plays right wing.
Confused? Yeah. There’s no easy decision here for the Kings staff, which is actually a good thing for a change. NHL ready prospects who can be swapped out for each other at any time should one start to struggle is a great problem to have. (Yes, there is something to be said for patience, but having that flexibility is a luxury the Kings haven’t had in a very long time.)
Luff and Grundstrom are both waivers exempt. Luff seemed to experience the typical snake bitten trying-so-hard-getting-no-reward that is playing on the Kings while Grundstrom showed a lot of positive signs in his time up. And one thing management loved about the Swede was his “NHL readiness.” But with a new coach and a clean slate, there’s truly no telling what he’ll do and how he’ll make his roster selection.
It was always a long-held practice of the Kings under Dean Lombardi to send waiver exempt players to the AHL and recall them later in the year. This team hasn’t had many such prospects since Rob Blake took over as General Manager so it’ll be interesting to see what they do with these young guns. Luff may need a tad more seasoning, but would certainly be number one on the recall list should an injury or a “spark” so mandates it. Grundstrom appears to be a near-lock and Amadio has served his time in the minors; it’s time to give him room to grow and see what he can do with 82 games.