Kings could have a lot of new faces against the Ducks
Todd McLellan wants the challenge to be seen as an opportunity.
The Kings coach knows his team will possibly be without four key players beginning with Tuesday’s game against the Ducks: Defensemen Matt Roy and Sean Walker are out for an “extended period” after suffering separate injuries in a Thursday loss to the Minnesota Wild, and Blake Lizotte and Andreas Athanasiou remain on the NHL’s COVID-protocol list.
But McLellan also knows it leaves the team with no choice but to look for temporary replacements.
“Gives us a great chance to evaluate what we have and what we might need,” he said Monday. “It’s time to step up and play.”
The question now is whether the Kings’ growth process will be derailed by a short-handed roster. Here are five players they will be counting on to prevent that from happening:
Kale Clague: With Roy and Walker sidelined, the 22-year-old rookie could get an expanded role, both as a left-handed defenseman who can play on the right side and as a potential replacement for Walker on the team’s secondary power-play unit.
“He’s been able to jump in the play, make good outlet passes,” McLellan said. “We’ll continue to work with him on the defensive part of the game, but he’s been a good addition to our team.”
Center Blake Lizotte became the second Kings player in two days to be added to the NHL’s COVID protocol list, while the Minnesota Wild’s Kevin Fiala was suspended for his hit on Matt Roy.
Austin Wagner: The speedy Wagner has yet to escape the fringes of the roster as a healthy scratch in four straight games prior to replacing Athanasiou last Thursday.
In practice this week, Wagner and center Michael Amadio continued to skate with Jeff Carter on the Kings’ reconfigured second line, signaling another important opportunity for the 23-year-old former fourth-round pick. “I just gotta react off my instincts,” he said Monday, adding: “When I start thinking too much, I don’t play as well.”
Olli Maatta: After being a healthy scratch in all four games of last week’s road trip, the eighth-year pro will be needed again. After Drew Doughty, Maatta is the team’s only other healthy defenseman with multiple full seasons of NHL experience.
“At times, I think he’s trying too hard to impress his new teammates and coaches and as a result can be over- or under-aggressive depending on the situation,” McLellan said. “But it’s there, it will come.”
Arthur Kaliyev: Until the return of Martin Frk and/or Matt Luff — both are currently on injured reserve and are “getting close to being back,” said McLellan — the Kings will have one open forward spot in their lineup.
It could leave Kaliyev, the 19-year-old former second round pick, in line to make his NHL debut Tuesday night. “He’s a much better player now than he was last year at this time,” McLellan said of Kaliyev, who skated with the team’s fourth line in both practices this week.
In one day, the Kings lost one player to COVID protocols, two to frightening-looking injuries and their series finale to the Minnesota Wild.
Jaret Anderson-Dolan: If the Kings don’t feel ready to dress Kaliyev in an NHL game yet, they would likely turn to the 21-year-old Anderson-Dolan instead. Another former second-round draft pick, Anderson-Dolan has yet to appear off the taxi squad this year after playing nine NHL games the previous two seasons.
“I’m sure he’ll play games for the Kings and also maybe play some games for the Reign this year,” McLellan said. “But he’s the type of player that will be ready for both situations.”
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