The Los Angeles Kings have been surprising this season. After several seasons at the bottom of the league, the team has proven that they are a serious threat to make the playoffs. However, a recent streak of injuries caused many to doubt if the team would be able to actually complete this feat. Here is a breakdown of how organizational depth has allowed the Kings to find success despite losing many players to injuries.
The Injured Kings
Until early March, the Kings were having a, given the nature of the game of hockey, relatively healthy season. The most notable injury came at the very beginning of the season when star defenseman Drew Doughty hyperextended his knee and missed five weeks. Veteran Alexander Edler and rookie Quinton Byfield missed significant time due to broken ankles and Sean Walker will miss the remainder of the season due to torn ligaments in his knee. While difficult, the team was able to fight through these injuries and win important hockey games.
Just as the team was gearing up for a final push for the playoffs, the injury bug hit and it hit hard. Forwards Andreas Athanasiou, Brendan Lemieux, Dustin Brown, and Blake Lizotte are all currently out. Viktor Arvidsson, coming off scoring a hat trick in the Kings’ comeback against the Columbus Blue Jackets, suffered an upper-body injury and missed two weeks. It was all part of a five-game span where the team lost six regulars.
The defense was hit even harder. In addition to long-term injuries to Edler and Walker, the Kings lost Matt Roy, Mikey Anderson, and Drew Doughty. Tobias Björnfot was injured late in the Kings’ shootout victory against the Florida Panthers and, although he has since returned, it resulted in the team playing a stint without a single one of the defenders they opened the season with. In what should have been an extremely rough patch, the Kings have continued to build on their momentum and remain firmly in the playoff picture.
It was not so long ago that the Kings had a depleted prospect pool, an aging team, and little plan for the future. Trading away beloved members of their Stanley Cup days for assets and stockpiling top talent through the draft has proven to be a winning strategy. These recent injuries have brought about one silver lining: it has allowed some of the young Kings prospects to showcase their talents.
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As it currently stands, there are eight injured Kings. The team has had to pull from their talent pool with the American Hockey League’s (AHL) Ontario Reign. While some players such as Martin Frk and Gabriel Vilardi had seen significant time in the NHL before, others, such as, defenseman Jordan Spence, are getting their first taste of NHL action ahead of schedule. These players are stepping up to the occasion and showing that they are ready to compete against some of the NHL’s top teams.
The team has managed to put together some truly character wins. None were as emotional as the Kings’ comeback victory against the Florida Panthers. In his first game back with the Kings, Frk tied it with less than a minute to go in regulation and the game was topped off with a hard-earned shootout victory. The game was veteran netminder Jonathan Quick’s 700th NHL game.
With so many regulars out of the lineup, the veterans that remain healthy are even more important to the team. Throughout their rebuild, the Kings managed to hold onto some of the most important members of their core from the Stanley Cup years and it is proving to be the right move. As this team starts to transition their young talent into the lineup, there are home-grown veterans who know what it takes to win to show them the way.
The Future is Now
As this season started, no one really knew where the Kings would be at this point. Given the recent injury streak, many prospects are finding themselves thrust into the spotlight and they are rising to the occasion. It is impressive to see these young players continuously play solid hockey and win in tight games. As the team starts to get some men back, it may be difficult for coach Todd McLellan to take some of the kids out of the lineup due to their stellar play.
The Kings believe they can win. Even when they fall behind, the team’s belief and confidence is unwavering and impressive. The prospects who are coming up from Ontario are proving that they are ready to play in the NHL and, over the next few seasons, they will continue to develop. But, for the time being, the future has arrived and it looks pretty bright for the Los Angeles Kings as they continue to push for the playoffs.