When rookie defenseman Tobias Bjornfot made the Kings roster to start the season, it came with a caveat from coach Todd McLellan.
As long as Bjornfot, one of the team’s first-round picks this summer, could keep himself in the lineup, his development was best served with the Kings’ roster. But after playing just three times in the season’s first seven games, Bjonfot’s first NHL stint came to an end Friday.
The Kings assigned Bjornfot and forward Carl Grundstrom to their American Hockey League affiliate, the Ontario Reign, and recalled center Nikolai Prokhorkin, shuffling their roster for the first time this season amid a 2-5-0 start.
“Both of them didn’t get to play very much here,” McLellan said of Bjornfot and Grundstrom, who had dressed just once. “They need playing time; they need an opportunity to be go-to players on a team right now.”
Bjornfot, 18, played in each of the Kings’ first three games this season. Partnered with Drew Doughty, he often was on the ice against opponents’ top lines. The result was a minus-four rating and some of the worst puck-possession metrics on the team. After averaging only 12:58 of ice time per game, he was a healthy scratch on each game of the Kings’ homestand this week.
Bjornfot’s development, however, remains ahead of schedule. Initially slated to return to his native Sweden this season, the left-handed defenseman is now on track to play out the campaign in the Kings’ system.
“We feel that he can develop here,” McLellan said. “He’s excited about being here, whether it’s with our club or with the Reign. I think he’s adapted really well. He’s a fun kid to be around. He enjoys the game. He’s got a smile on his face. That didn’t change yesterday when he heard the news.”
By going to the Reign, Bjornfot will get more minutes, more experience playing on special teams, and more opportunities to grow. He is a candidate to represent Sweden in the World Junior Championships this winter, and according to McLellan could be called up again before the season ends (the rookie can play up to nine NHL games without it counting as a service year against his entry-level contract).
“He’s been great around the rink,” echoed Doughty. “Not putting on a pouty face. He’s just been a professional about it. He’s getting in the gym, working hard. Working hard in practice. Trying to still learn as much as he can.”
McLellan also expects to see Grundstrom, the left-handed winger the Kings acquired from the Toronto Maple Leafs as part of the Jake Muzzin trade last season, back with the club at some point.
After a promising debut season with the Kings last year, which saw the 21-year-old score five goals in 15 games following the trade, he too will be looking for more consistent minutes at the AHL level.
“Grunny is an NHL player,” McLellan said. “He just needs to get a few reps, get a little bit of confidence there. He’s more a game player than a practice player. He’ll get in some games there and he’ll be back.”
Prokhorkin, 26, was drafted by the Kings in the fourth round in 2012 and played eight games that season with the team’s then-AHL affiliate, the Manchester Monarchs. Then, he returned to his native Russia to play in the KHL, where he has played every season since. After failing to make the Kings’ season-opening roster this preseason though, Prokhorkin stayed in North America to play with the Reign. In four games, he has two assists and a plus-two rating.
“He’s been over here before, he has experienced life in this building, around teammates,” McLellan said. “He knows management, he knows the area. He was in the minors. So it’s not brand new to him.”