While the final spots on the 23-man active roster, as well as a four-to-six player taxi squad, remain up in the air, “we have a pretty good idea of where we’re going to go [with the 20-man lineup] to start,” coach Todd McLellan said this week.
Based on the lines the Kings have used during their first week of practice, here’s who could be on the ice come opening night against the Minnesota Wild:
Alex Iafallo-Anze Kopitar-Dustin Brown: The Kings will keep intact their top line from most of last season, when Kopitar (21 goals, 62 points) and Iafallo (17 goals, 43 points) led the team in scoring.
Iafallo, 27, is entering the final year of his contract and general manager Rob Blake said before training camp he planned on negotiating a potential extension with the forward “as the season gets going.” After trailing only Kopitar in playing time among forwards last year, Iafallo will continue to be used in all situations, including power play and penalty kill.
“Alex had a tremendous season last year, especially the second half,” McLellan said. “If he can build on the offensive part, he’ll complement the two guys that he’s playing with.”
Andreas Athanasiou–Blake Lizotte–Jeff Carter: A speedy 26-year-old winger who has averaged better than a half-point-per-game in his five-year career and scored 30 goals with the Detroit Red Wings two seasons ago, Athanasiou cleared quarantine protocols and practiced for the first time Wednesday after signing a one-year, $1.2-million contract last month. (He will be a restricted free agent this summer.)
“We signed him because we believe we’re going to have a very motivated hungry player,” McLellan said. “He’s at a point in his career where it’s time to step in and really get it going and prove to the world that you’re a legitimate 20- to 30-goal scorer every year. And we believe we’re going to get that from him.”
The Kings think Athanasiou will fit best playing beside Lizotte, the 23-year-old two-way center who recorded 23 points in his first full NHL season last year, and Carter, who scored 17 goals before suffering a season-ending core injury in late February that required surgery over the summer.
Adrian Kempe–Gabriel Vilardi–Martin Frk: The Kings this season will get their first extended look at a healthy Vilardi, the 11th pick in the 2017 draft who battled a back injury for most of 2018 and 2019. The big-bodied 21-year-old center made his NHL debut in February, collected seven points in 10 NHL games and, most importantly, went through the offseason at full strength for the first time as a professional.
“I actually got to spend the summer working on getting better and not focusing on getting my body back to playing again,” Vilardi said.
Added McLellan: “Gabe looks like a different man physically. Looks stronger, I think his engine is much better.”
During training camp, Vilardi has been flanked by a pair of scorers in Kempe, who found consistency in McLellan’s system after moving from center to wing during a 32-point campaign last season, and Frk, a former minor-league teammate of Vilardi who earned a two-year contract extension last season after scoring six goals in 17 NHL games.
“He makes my job easy,” Frk said of Vilardi. “It’s just try to be open for him and he can deliver the puck. I’m really happy I can play with that kind of player.”
Trevor Moore–Michael Amadio–Austin Wagner: All three players begin the season in a similar boat: They are 25 or younger with multiple seasons of NHL experience, yet haven’t fully established themselves as consistent playmakers in the league.
After tallying six goals and 11 points in 65 games last season, Wagner signed a three-year contract as a restricted free agent this summer worth $1.133 million in annual average value. Amadio, who has 37 points in 148 games, and Moore, acquired in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs ahead of last season’s deadline, are both set to become restricted free agents after this season.
With a host of young prospects waiting in the Kings pipeline, the three players seem to have the most tenuous spots on the roster. But so far, McLellan said they’ve earned his trust playing together on the fourth line.
“The three of them I think can be effective,” McLellan said. “They’re working hard, they’re trying to prepare themselves.”
Olli Maatta-Drew Doughty: Outside of the organization, Doughty’s stock has tumbled during the last two seasons. But within the club, the 31-year-old defenseman is still viewed as one of the most important players on the roster.
“Right now he’s underappreciated, maybe because he’s not producing as many points,” McLellan said of Doughty, who last season tallied 35 points and recorded a minus-16 rating. “But when you sit in our locker room, our office, the appreciation level for what he does is quite high.”
The Kings are hopeful a new partner in Maatta, acquired in an offseason trade with the Chicago Blackhawks, will benefit Doughty. Maatta and Doughty have trained together during past offseasons and believe their similar styles as cerebral, puck-moving defensemen will mesh well.
“I think he’s one of the best D-men in the league,” Maatta said. “He understands the game so well and he sees the ice. I feel like he’s just making the right plays all the time.”
Added Doughty: “I think we’re going to be something special together.”
Mikey Anderson-Matt Roy: Roy was the club’s biggest breakout player last season, turning into one of the Kings’ top defensemen while posting 18 points and a team-best plus-16 rating. What’s the next step for the 25-year-old, who will be a restricted free agent this offseason?
“I still think I can chip in a bit more offensively,” Roy said. “Other than that, just building off how I played last year, playing strong in the D-zone and being a good puck mover. I think that’s the strongest point of my game.”
Anderson is hoping to follow in Roy’s footsteps. The 21-year-old former fourth round draft pick appears set to play his first full NHL season after impressing during training camp.
“Mikey in my mind has worked his way into our lineup,” McLellan said. “The amount of poise and the type of plays he makes, not only offensively but also defensively, is pretty rewarding.”
Kurtis MacDermid–Sean Walker: Two of the most improved players on the Kings’ blue line over the last year, MacDermid and Walker both received contract extensions this offseason; MacDermid for two years and $875,000 in annual average value, Walker for four years and $2.65 million in AAV.
Walker is also set to quarterback the second power play unit (Doughty is the lone defenseman on the top group) after recording 24 points last season, second to Doughty among Kings defensemen.
Jonathan Quick-Cal Petersen: Expect to see a lot of each netminder, as the Kings appear set to split playing time relatively evenly between the duo at least to begin the season.
“I want them both to be at the top of their game,” McLellan said. “If we have that, then they’re going to force us to make some decisions on a nightly basis. … You’re not going to be able to play this type of schedule alone. You’re going to need a partner riding shotgun and spelling you night to night.”
Quick, who turns 35 on Jan. 21, said his strong finish to last season — in his first 20 games, he had a .884 save percentage and a 3.24 goals against average; in his final 22, those numbers improved to .921 and 2.39 — correlated with defensive improvements from the team overall.
“Everybody knew each other’s jobs, everyone was helping each other out,” he said. “We were playing a much better brand of hockey, just getting used to the new system.”
Petersen, 26, will be embarking upon his first full NHL season after strong call-ups with the Kings each of the last two years.
“For me, the mentality stays the same,” said Petersen, who has a .923 save percentage and 2.62 goals against average in 19 NHL games. “Just want to continue to prove I can play at this level and be a positive contributor to this team.”
The team’s final roster spots remain up for grabs between a group of young players. Forwards Carl Grundstrom, Lias Andersson and Matt Luff (who specifically was praised by McLellan on Thursday) have remained with the “A” group during the Kings’ split camp. Defensemen Sean Durzi, Kale Clague and Mark Alt remain in contention for a potential seventh spot on the blue line.
The team’s other training camp group has recently included such touted prospects as Jaret Anderson-Dolan, Rasmus Kupari, Samuel Fagemo, Tyler Madden and Akil Thomas. McLellan has maintained that they remain in the mix for roster or taxi squad roles as well.
The Kings were hoping to get four more young players — this summer’s No. 2 overall pick Quinton Byfield, 2019 No. 5 overall pick Alex Turcotte, 2019 first-rounder Tobias Bjornfot and 2019 second-rounder Arthur Kaliyev — on the ice this week after they returned from the world junior championships on Wednesday, but local health regulations require them to undergo a full week-long quarantine period.