The least publicized medical procedure for the Kings in the offseason concerned general manager Rob Blake.
He underwent hip replacement surgery, the hip that he used with profound force during his playing career, and in the early summer pronounced himself good as new.
If only the Kings’ scoring issues could be repaired as easily.
They actually upped their scoring and played faster under first-year coach John Stevens, in a year that showcased MVP candidate Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty, but again that didn’t translate into a long playoff run.
Blake knows why.
“I think when things got tough and games became closer, [we] kind of sat back and [fell] into a style that wasn’t as effective offensively,” Blake said.
That prompted the signing of Ilya Kovalchuk to complement their veteran base. Add some more infusion of youth, and the Kings remain one of the more interesting teams in the NHL going into the 2018-19 season.
“Last year, arguably, we played the best hockey we’ve played in a long, long time, even in the regular season in ’12 and ’14,” Kopitar said. “I’m sure we can do it again and go deeper in the playoffs … it’s still pretty much the same team.”
The pressure ticks up on Stevens and Blake to get this same team back to playing in June, but first they must get sort through these questions as training camp opens Friday.
1. What is Gabriel Vilardi’s status? Not good. Vilardi is week to week with a back injury that got aggravated this summer, the Kings announced Thursday.
It’s a deflating setback after Vilardi turned in a strong spring for his junior team and appeared on track to make a run at a roster spot.
The Kings are using precaution but it’s become an ongoing saga for their prized forward prospect to stay on the ice. Blake last month acknowledged that it’s an issue Vilardi will have to manage from here on out.
“For us, [it’s] getting that understanding through [to] him that you’re going to have to work on this every single day, just so there’s no setbacks,” Blake said. “When he’s healthy and playing, he’s great. But we need him training in the summer rather than rehabbing.”
In other injury news, Derek Forbort (back) is expected to be on the ice but isn’t ready for full sessions. Austin Strand (concussion symptoms) is week to week.
LaDue and Fantenberg made a mark in the playoffs and Blake said he thinks LaDue “gets a look here and stays in the NHL.” Fantenberg appeared in all four playoff games and showed he wasn’t a typical rookie at 26.
The organization likes the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Brickley, a free-agent signing from Minnesota State with size and puck-moving ability. Brickley already won over Kings fans when, at last month’s state-of-the-franchise event, he was asked to describe his game.
“I like having the puck,” Brickley said. “Who doesn’t?”
3. Who is this year’s Alex Iafallo? Iafallo was the surprise of last year’s camp and ended up as the top-line left wing for most of the season. With Vilardi up in the air, it opens up a door for another rookie to emerge.
Jaret Anderson-Dolan has impressed the staff but, at 19, he must make the Kings roster or return to his junior team. College free-agent signings Mike Eyssimont and Sheldon Rempal are among the candidates. Rempal was pegged by director of player personnel Nelson Emerson as a name to watch.
“He’s got a real knack for scoring and he gets in on the net,” Emerson said. “He finds pucks. He’s really creative. He’s really quick and agile. He’s kind of a guy that we maybe haven’t had before.”
4.Will Kovalchuk start out with Anze Kopitar? Kovalchuk’s name was penciled next to Kopitar’s the moment Kovalchuk signed. It’s an obvious assumption to pair the two, along with Dustin Brown, although Kovalchuk might not play the same high minutes as Kopitar.
Another option is to put Kovalchuk with Jeff Carter if the Kings want to partly break up the line of Carter, Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli. Either way, it’s a good decision to make.
“He’s got a choice of Kopitar and Carter at center,” Blake said. “You’ve got some pretty good centermen to play with.”
5.Who is the next player to make the team on a tryout? The Kings have had success recently with Devin Setoguchi and Brooks Laich resuscitating their careers through professional tryout contracts. Setoguchi parlayed his into a 45-game run with the Kings two seasons ago, and Laich got a 12-game look last season.
Emerson Etem is the primary candidate this time. But the odds seem steeper because the Kings are ready to usher younger players into bigger roles and that might not leave room on the roster.