Cal Petersen racked up keepsakes during his first NHL season last year.
The Kings goalie has the puck from his first career game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and his first career win against the Chicago Blackhawks. After he earned his first career shutout against the St. Louis Blues, the Kings gave him a shadow-box display that included his spotless stat sheet.
“I got a little collection of things at home,” Petersen, 24, said.
The things that stuck with him the most, however, were the tips he picked up along the way. The importance of his 11-appearance debut season was evident. There’s no replicating the impact of a first NHL stint.
“When I got my taste last year, I think it broke the ice, broke that barrier,” Petersen said. “You always strive to think you can play in the NHL, but you don’t really know until you’re out there.”
Petersen is one of 15 players with 80 or fewer games of NHL experience still with the Kings this preseason.
After reassigning 20 players on Sunday, the Kings have 32 left in training camp. Most fall into one of two groups: veterans with lengthy resumes, lots of capital, and all but certain roster spots; or budding, yet barely tested, fringe players battling for a place on the season-opening 23-man roster.
“Players that come to training camp have a lifeline,” coach Todd McLellan said. “You only get so many go’s at it before the buzzer goes off and we’ve got to move on.”
Petersen’s chance to start the season in the NHL is slim, stuck behind established goalies Jonathan Quick and Jack Campbell. But the Kings’ other young players enter the final week of preseason games in heavy contention for the roughly half-dozen roster spots still up for grabs.
None of them have been in the NHL very long, if at all. Still, they’re leaning on the limited experiences they do have to get a leg up. Those who can best leverage those early lessons might have the best chance to stick around.
“The nervousness is a little less obvious in players who have maybe played here in the past, which is natural,” McLellan said. “My experience … with other teams is, that individual that you saw last year comes back and he’s 10 pounds heavier and a little bigger, a little more confident. Feels a little more like he belongs.”
Michael Amadio served as an example Saturday night. The 23-year-old center scored twice in the Kings’ 7-5 win over the Vancouver Canucks. He also rotated in on the power-play and penalty-kill units, recorded a team-high six shots, and was praised by McLellan as “obviously an NHL player.”
For Amadio, such performances have been two abbreviated NHL seasons in the making.
“Consistency has been the biggest thing with me,” said Amadio, who has 21 points in 80 NHL games. “Trying to play the same way every night. That way, coach knows what he’s going to get out of me.”
Other Kings have made similar NHL adjustments.
Though Jaret Anderson-Dolan played just five games with the Kings before being sent back to juniors last year, the 5-foot-11, 188-pound center “had to figure out how to use my body a little bit better,” he said. “Use my speed and my quickness, that was the biggest thing for me. Make the big guys skate and keep up to me.”
In 62 NHL games last season, speedy winger Austin Wagner rounded out his game by studying the veterans. One example: “How [Dustin Brown] positions his body on guys on the wall, how he protects it, how he has his stick,” said Wagner, who had 21 points in 2018-19. “There’s a lot of things you can look at.”
Defenseman Matt Roy, meanwhile, was constantly self-evaluating during his 25-game rookie campaign last season. “Last year, it was a lot of film with the coaching staff,” he said. “There’s little mistakes you think back on, ‘Oh I should have done this’ ... You try to avoid that moving forward.”
Even forward Blake Lizotte, who signed as an undrafted free agent late last season after finishing his college season at St. Cloud State, benefited from his one appearance in the Kings’ season finale.
“More so just to get used to the game-day routine and to be around the superstars like Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar, guys I’ve looked up to since I was 5 or 6 years old,” he said. “You kind of get star struck by those guys, so to get that out of the way of, ‘Wow, it’s these all-stars,’ was good for me.”
Lizotte chipped a tooth that night too.
“First NHL game,” he said, laughing. “You’re not a hockey player without it.”
Less than two weeks from their season opener, the Kings’ final roster remains undecided. The team has a deep crop of young centers trying to snag a bottom-six role, including Amadio, Lizotte, Anderson-Dolan, 2018 first-round pick Rasmus Kupari and 26-year-old Russian prospect Nikolai Prokhorkin, a 2012 Kings’ fourth-round draft pick who has spent the last nine seasons in the KHL.
On the wing, Wagner, Carl Grundstrom (who scored five goals for the Kings last season after being acquired in the Jake Muzzin trade), and offseason signee Mario Kempe are all opening-night possibilities.
Even the blue line remains unsettled. On Monday morning, 2019 first-round pick Tobias Bjornfot, a Swedish prospect who is expected to return to Europe this year, was surprisingly paired with Doughty in practice.
As the team tries to whittle down the roster, McLellan said he talks with general manager Rob Blake and other front-office members daily.
“Now we’re starting to discuss players, we’re starting to get, ‘Hey, this is what we’re seeing,’ in whoever,” McLellan said. “We’re starting to formulate opinions. We’re starting to share them.”
The Kings’ wave of up-and-comers hasn’t made the process easy.
“There’s a competitive edge, everyone is trying to make the team,” Amadio said. “But we’re all in the same boat, so we’re all trying to help each other out.”