Kings Need to Replace Lemieux’s Grit Before Trade Deadline

The Los Angeles Kings have suffered a slew of injuries this season, particularly in the last couple of weeks. With Drew Doughty, Sean Walker, Alex Edler, Matt Roy, Mikey Andersson, Viktor Arvidsson, Dustin Brown, Andreas Athanasiou, Brendan Lemieux, and now possibly Tobias Bjornfot all injured, the team is relying heavily on depth to win the games. Fortunately, this team has an incredible amount of organizational depth and is just about surviving. There are some big names on this list, and today I want to focus on the forwards.

Related: Kings News & Rumors: Injuries Increase, Quick Reaches 700 & More

While probably the “worst” forward injured on paper, Lemieux is the one I think the team should prioritize replacing in the lineup, because he is the one player the team can’t replace stylistically. The team has fast wingers who can play off the rush to replace Arvidsson and Athanasiou and, frankly, I think Gabe Vilardi is an upgrade on Brown in many ways. However, there is no one in the organization who can replace Lemieux’s playstyle. Carl Grundstrom has done an admiral job recently, bringing a similar level of physicality on the forecheck, but he lacks the agitation and fighting skills of Lemieux. I’ve never been a huge subscriber to the idea that teams need an abundance of grit to be successful, but we’ve seen what the team lacks without Lemieux in the lineup, and especially as such a young team, they need to replace him. I have a few options in mind, with two being more long-term players and two rentals.

Lawson Crouse — Arizona Coyotes

Certainly part of the long-term crowd, Lawson Crouse would be a great pickup for the Kings. Acquiring him would kill two birds with one stone as well, with reports suggesting for a while now that the team wants to add two forwards, one of whom is a scorer. He isn’t the big splash some are expecting from the Kings this offseason, but he could certainly be the other forward acquired. A better player than Lemieux, when everyone is healthy, Crouse would likely find himself on the third line, able to move up and down when needed. A massive player, standing at 6-foot-4, 220 pounds, he is a prototypical power forward. He’s buried players, drives hard to the net, and isn’t afraid to drop the gloves. The former 11th-overall pick is having somewhat of a breakout season, currently on pace for a career-high 25 goals.

Lawson Crouse Arizona Coyotes
Lawson Crouse, Arizona Coyotes (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The issue with acquiring Crouse would likely be the cost, as a 20-goal forward who brings his level of physicality usually doesn’t come cheap. Two things make me hopeful for this deal. One, the Coyotes are perhaps the biggest sellers in the league right now, and two, he’s a pending restricted free agent (RFA) this summer who might not be interested in playing at a college arena next season. The Kings would have to pay a decent price to grab him, but considering what they’re missing right now and the fact that he can grow with this team, it would be worth it. One thing that could make this deal difficult is that Crouse might not be interested in falling out of a top six next season, after finally having a solid offensive season.

If the Kings were interested in a forward at the deadline, Crouse would be my main target. He can fill so many roles for this team, plugging in the top six for now, before moving down the lineup and adding a much-needed element of grit. While the third line of Rasmus Kupari-Quinton Byfield-Vilardi was amazing to watch on March 13, something I’ll discuss in a later article, a third line of Crouse-Byfield-Vilardi is very exciting. Even after Lemieux returns, I think this team would benefit from another big, mean player for the playoffs, and Crouse could be that player. As a package, considering his UFA status, I imagine a B+ like Jaret Anderson-Dolan and a mid-round pick could move the needle. Perhaps that’s not enough for Crouse, but I think that would certainly start the conversation.

Luke Kunin — Nashville Predators

The other more long-term option would be Nashville Predators forward Luke Kunin. A more guaranteed bottom-six player than Crouse, Kunin brings a similar level of physicality and grit to Lemieux. Like Lemieux, he also brings a slight goalscoring touch from the bottom of the lineup, on pace for 15 goals this season. By far the smallest player who will feature in this article, Kunin does not let that stop him from getting engaged physically, he throws a ton of hits and isn’t afraid to fight. He plays a very similar game to Grundstrom but is far more willing to drop the gloves and agitate opponents.

The Predators have a tough decision to make with Filip Forsberg in the coming months, and if they keep him, will have to shed salary cap. A pending RFA, Kunin could be a casualty of this. The Kings were able to steal Arvidsson from the Predators last summer, as he was an expansion draft casualty, and could return to that well in the next week. Depending on the Predator’s plans for the deadline, this deal could be impossible, but if the Kings could make it happen, Kunin would be a great depth addition.

Rental Options

Now, I’ve been someone who has been begging the Kings to steer clear of rentals for a while now, and I still mostly hold that opinion. However, a rental in this context is fine. The team would be giving up very little to add a fourth-line player who fills a specific role. I would also only make these moves if there’s a genuine worry that Lemieux could miss the playoffs. I would be very worried about this team going into the playoff without anyone to play the role of protector, especially for a young team. The playoffs can get very nasty, and I fear for the team’s young players if they come up against someone like the Vegas Golden Knights. If the Golden Knights feel emboldened to freely take shots at the Kings’ players. If Lemieux might miss the playoffs, here are the rentals I’d look at.

Austin Watson

The first option is Ottawa Senators forward, Austin Watson. A career fourth-liner, Watson would come in to replace Lemieux 1-for-1, a tough player in the bottom of the lineup who makes opposing players think twice before taking a run. A worse player than Lemieux, Watson brings more size and is arguably more physical on the forecheck.

Austin Watson Ottawa Senators
Austin Watson, Ottawa Senators (Photo by Richard A. Whittaker/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Being signed at $1.5 million through next season complicates this deal a little bit, as having him and Lemieux next season would be very redundant. It’s possible that you could keep him and let Lemieux walk, but I don’t see that as a possibility because Lemieux is the better player. Watson was also in Senators’ The Athletic writer Ian Mendes’ “good depth guys who probably won’t be moved” tier recently, so this deal could prove difficult, but a player of Watson’s profile still wouldn’t cost much. If Lemieux won’t be back in time for the playoffs, the team has to replace his presence, and Watson could do that.

Kurtis MacDermid

Several fans are probably raising an eyebrow, and others might be laughing, at this suggestion, but a Kurtis MacDermid return would make sense. By the end of his time in Los Angeles, most fans weren’t disappointed to see him go, as he was a pretty terrible defenseman, but he wouldn’t be brought in to play defense. Kings insider John Hoven reported last season, before MacDermid was selected by the Seattle Kraken, that the team was toying with the idea of him at forward, and now could be the time to test that experiment. Of course, he has also played forward for the Colorado Avalanche a few times this season, so the Kings wouldn’t be the first team to use him this way.

Kurtis MacDermid Los Angeles Kings
Kurtis MacDermid, Los Angeles Kings (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Whatever criticisms fans have for MacDermid, and there are a lot of fair ones, the guy also deserves some credit. It’s well reported that teammates love him and there is maybe no one in the league I wouldn’t back him to go toe-to-toe with. I’ve said before that these quotes from Mark Stone and Pete DeBoer on Ryan Reaves describe MacDermid’s impact perfectly, and I’ll call to them again.

Stone: “It’d be nice to have Reavo in the lineup, I think they’ll feel a little different when big 75’s out there. I don’t think there will be as much chirping.”

DeBoer: “It’s amazing when you’re out of the lineup how many more liberties are taken and how much braver guys on the other team are at ice level.”

From ‘Golden Knights say foes taking liberties with Ryan Reaves out,’ Las Vegas Review-Journal, May 5, 2021

Is he a great player? No, but he fills a very specific role that can help the team. Another benefit is that he doesn’t have to be played every game. When playing a team that the Kings aren’t worried about physically, he can be replaced by someone like Grundstrom or even Martin Frk, but against some of the big, nasty teams in the league, he holds value. Again, he would especially hold value in the playoffs; refs allow the players to police themselves in the postseason, and going in without a Lemieux or MacDermid-type player could be a death sentence for some of the Kings’ young players. Again, the team can only make this deal if Lemieux won’t be back in time for the playoffs, but MacDermid should come fairly cheap, knows the team, is loved by everyone who played with him, and could provide value as an enforcer.

Kings Need More Sandpaper With Lemieux Out

Lemieux is currently reported to be week-to-week, but it isn’t uncommon to see that turn into month-to-month. If he’s out for more than another couple of weeks, the Kings have to look for a replacement before the deadline. Even with him in the lineup, a common criticism of the team is their lack of sandpaper, and without him, it’s even worse. With so many young players in the lineup because of injury, the team needs someone who makes opposing players think twice before taking liberties. The team has options, they can add Crouse who can help up and down the lineup, Kunin who is an effective depth player, and Watson or MacDermid, who can police the ice.

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