There were stretches this season when Darcy Kuemper was so good for the Kings that it briefly fueled talk of a goalie controversy between him and Jonathan Quick.
Kuemper gave the Kings the luxury of a No.1-quality goalie behind Quick, and it was invaluable considering Quick was playing his first full season after an injury-shortened last season. But retaining Kuemper was both unrealistic and ancillary to their need for secondary scoring. That’s primarily why the Kings traded Kuemper to the Arizona Coyotes for forward Tobias Rieder and goalie Scott Wedgewood late Wednesday.
“I think we were in a position last summer where Darcy Kuemper was a fit for us [at that time],” Kings general manager Rob Blake said. “We knew we had players in our system that we were very high on with [prospects] Jack Campbell and Cal Petersen.”
Campbell had an impressive training camp and Blake said Campbell’s strong play last season also factored into their strategy.
“We always felt he could have a backup role here,” Blake said. “I think in our long view we’ve always known that we had the ability to bring Jack up. He’s going to get an opportunity.”
Kuemper’s goals-against average of 2.10 would rank third in the NHL if he qualified statistically. It easily met and perhaps exceeded expectations since he signed a one-year, $650,000 contract last summer to back up Quick. Kuemper will get a two-year contract extension, TSN reported.
Blake will soon have more depth at forward than at any point this season because Jeff Carter was cleared Wednesday to practice with the team. Trevor Lewis remains week-to-week with an upper-body injury, Blake said, but it is not believed to be a longer term.
Adding to that mix is Rieder, who provides speed on the wing and some scoring capability. The 25-year-old from Germany was a 16-goal scorer last season, and has eight goals and 19 assists in 58 games in a third-line role this season. Arizona reportedly will take back 15% of the final year of Rieder’s contract, worth $2.22 million annually.
Wedgewood, 25, was backup to Antti Raanta for the Coyotes, who traded franchise goalie Mike Smith to the Calgary Flames last June and this season have allowed the fifth-most goals in the NHL at 3.25 per game. Wedgewood has a 5.94 goals-against average and .893 save percentage. Like Rieder, he is set to become a restricted free agent at the end of this season.
Thursday will be the first time Carter will join his teammates since he lacerated an ankle tendon in the sixth game of the season on a routine play near the boards against the Montreal Canadiens. It is not known how long it will be for Carter to get cleared to play. The recovery time for the injury was not definitive and the team didn’t put a time frame on his return, although Blake has alluded to Carter being the equivalent of an acquisition at Monday’s trade deadline.
It is expected to take some time for Carter, a 32-goal scorer last season, to get his timing back, although he has been skating for weeks. The Kings have been down this road before with Marian Gaborik, who practiced with the team for two weeks before he was cleared to play.
Carter is expected to speak about the injury for the first time Friday. His return will allow the Kings to slot much deeper with their forward unit and, with Anze Kopitar, give them back their 1-2 center punch.
Blake last week didn’t speculate about how the other forwards would be realigned but left open the possibility that Adrian Kempe could move back to wing.
“It’ll push somebody down the lineup, or move someone around in the lineup, to give us, I think, six quality forwards, offensive quality forwards,” Blake said. “What it does is it puts everybody in probably a better role than they’ve had to play outside of that so far.”
When: Thursday, 7:30 p.m. PST.
On the air: TV: FS West; Radio: 790
Update: John Klingberg continues to pace NHL defensemen in scoring and Dallas can boast three 20-goal scorers in Jamie Benn, Alexander Radulov and Tyler Seguin. Kari Lehtonen is expected to start in goal, according to the Dallas Morning News.