Sean Walker’s crash course into the NHL has taken sharp turns lately.
Within the last week, the Kings rookie defenseman faced the relentless attack of the Vegas Golden Knights, the duo of Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos of the Tampa Bay Lightning, followed by Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers.
“That’s the skill you’re going to face in the league and you want to be able to play against those guys,” Walker said. “To get to see them play and see the skill they have and what they’re going to bring every night, you’ve got to go out there every night and step up and be able to play against those guys. It’s definitely a learning curve.”
Walker has handled that curve without much panic since he’s become a second-pairing partner with Jake Muzzin. He’s been a minus player in only two of his past 12 games and averaged more than 15 minutes a game. On Saturday, Walker broke up a chance by Edmonton’s Tobias Rieder and reversed the puck from behind the net in a play that led to the Kings’ first goal.
Muzzin, normally paired with Alec Martinez, likes the skating legs and instincts of Walker.
“He’s got a lot of jump, a lot of offensive ability,” Muzzin said. “He’s made some great plays and he’s been a good d-partner. We’re both learning each other a little bit still, but he’s been awesome.”
Coach Willie Desjardins said that Walker has given them more mobility on the back end “and I think that’s what we need right now.” Desjardins’ one criticism is that it’s a big adjustment for the 5-foot-11, 196-pound Walker to move bigger and stronger forwards around the net and along the boards.
“That’s something he’s got to learn,” Desjardins said. “He’s not at the top of that part of the game. It’s probably a weakness right now.” But Desjardins did point to similar-sized players such as Jared Spurgeon of the Minnesota Wild as effective, undersized defensemen.
It’s part of that learning curve that Walker is trying to master. His window might be closing with Martinez “within a week” of returning from an upper-body injury, Desjardins said. That could send Walker back to the minors, where he was selected to play in the American Hockey League All-Star game on Jan. 28.
Walker joked that he hopes he won’t play in the game because of his Kings obligations, but it coincides with the NHL All-Star break. It will a bittersweet honor that Walker will take.
“I want to stay up [with the Kings], but I think the breaks kind of line up perfectly, so I think there’s a chance I might still be able to go,” he said.
Scherbak on waivers
Nikita Scherbak was placed on waivers in what appears to be the end of the experiment with the waiver-wire acquisition. Scherbak was scratched in six of the past eight games and, while showing offensive flair, was not responsible enough in other areas for Desjardins, who spoke with the 23-year-old Sunday.
“I like his skill, I like his attitude,” Desjardins said. “He wants to get better … but right now he’s not playing at the level we need him. It’s good if he goes down and can improve, because … if he ever gets his game on track, he can be a guy that can help us.”
Kempe is OK
Adrian Kempe said he came out sore but unscathed from a scary-looking tumble into the corner with Edmonton’s Adam Larsson. Kempe hit the boards legs first in an awkward splits position and was on the bench in pain.
“It looked worse that it was,” Kempe said. “It hurt right away. The replay looks pretty gross. Good thing I’m flexible.”
AT SAN JOSE
When: 7:30 p.m., Monday
On the air: TV: NBCSN; Radio: iHeartRadio (LA Kings Audio Network)
Update: Erik Karlsson has points in 12 consecutive games, a streak interrupted by his two-game suspension for an illegal hit to the Kings’ Austin Wagner on Dec.22. San Jose ended Tampa Bay’s 16-game point streak Saturday.