Perhaps the next time the Kings and Ducks meet this year, a Dec. 2 showdown two months into the regular season, their dispositions will be more distinguishable. For now, the two Southland rivals enter the final days of the preseason facing similar situations.
New coaches. Uncertain expectations. An awkward transition from aging stars to up-and-coming prospects.
Those parallels continued into Wednesday night’s postgame news conferences as well. After the Ducks’ 2-0 win over the Kings at Honda Center, Kings coach Todd McLellan and Ducks coach Dallas Eakins were asked about final roster cuts and where their younger players fit into the picture.
No surprise, Eakins’ and McLellan’s answers were almost interchangeable.
Said Eakins, who is taking over in Anaheim after four seasons behind the bench of its AHL affiliate in San Diego: “You don’t want easy decisions coming out of training camp. You want those damn hard ones. It looks like that’s how this is shaping up.”
Echoed McLellan, who with the Kings is entering his third stint as an NHL head coach: “With some of these kids, they’ve had tremendous, tremendous camps. We’re going to have to spend some time over the next 48 hours here to discuss where they fit.”
The best players on the ice Wednesday were the veteran goalies. Ryan Miller recorded a 34-save shutout for the Ducks, while Kings netminder Jonathan Quick bounced back from an Adam Henrique goal 1:40 into the game and stopped 27 of 28 shots. Sam Carrick added an empty-netter for the Ducks.
Most eyeballs, however, were on the young skaters in front of them. Following dismal seasons from both franchises in 2018-19, the Kings and Ducks are giving their youth the opportunity to earn roster spots this year. In what was both teams’ penultimate tune-up game, neither squad fielded full-strength rosters on Wednesday. Instead, they got another long look at the prospects on the fringes of their rosters.
McLellan said the Kings, who have six more cuts to make to get down to their 23-man opening night roster, could trim more players from training camp as soon as Thursday. Of the players who took the ice Wednesday, centers Blake Lizotte, Nikolai Prokhorkin and Jaret Anderson-Dolan were among those who appear to be hovering around the bubble.
McLellan has been impressed by Anderson-Dolan, who made the team out of training camp last season and played five games before being sent back to juniors. But the coach hinted the 20-year-old might be better-served starting the year in the AHL as a center in the Ontario Reign’s lineup rather than squeaking onto the NHL roster at wing.
“Not that he can’t play wing but I’d like to see him play center a little bit more,” McLellan said. “Are we ready for him in the center ice position [in the NHL]? Because you need a little bit of time to play on maybe the top, or maybe the second line, in the American League for a while. I don’t know the answer to that. But he’s making our decisions difficult, where others have made it easy.”
Prokhorkin, 26, also remains something of an unknown. Drafted by the Kings in 2012, the Russian product is trying to jump from the KHL to the NHL. Though he has flashed potential this camp, the 6-foot-3, 190-pound forward is pointless in three games.
“I haven’t seen it yet but I believe he can find a way to finish,” McLellan said. “It’s getting up to the pace. He’s playing on a smaller ice surface. Things are happening a little bit quicker. I think at times we have him thinking when he should just be playing. And as a result, he sometimes looks slow. I’m not sure that he’s slow. I think he’s just thinking it and he’s a little hesitant right now.”
The Ducks have their own roster decisions to weigh. The team dressed five players age 22 or younger Wednesday, including roster hopeful forward Max Comtois, who recorded three shots and had three others blocked while playing alongside Ryan Getzlaf and Derek Grant.
“I wish for the kid — he had a number of chances tonight, which is encouraging — if one could have gone in for him, that would have been great for him,” Eakins said of Comtois. “I thought he had a really good game.”
Comtois will be one of several players near the final cut line for the Ducks, who begin the season at home against the Arizona Coyotes next Thursday, two days before the Kings’ opener at the Edmonton Oilers on Oct. 5.
“All those guys in that boat, that are vying for these jobs — and there’s a good five or six of them — they keep making the decision harder and harder,” Eakins said. “That’s what you want.”