In this edition of Los Angeles Kings News & Rumors, I’ll be discussing Brendan Lemieux’s suspension, Brandt Clarke not making Team Canada for the World Junior Championships, and Quinton Byfield’s return to practice.
Byfield Back on the Ice
Kings’ fans have been given a lot of good news regarding injuries recently. First, with Drew Doughty returning ahead of schedule, and now with Byfield returning to practice. On Sunday, All The Kings Men’s Jesse Cohen tweeted a picture of Byfield on the ice for practice. Wearing a red non-contact jersey.
While there’s still no official timetable for his return, his return to practice means he can’t be too far out. I still think he will be sent to the Ontario Reign for a conditioning stint when he returned. There’s also the possibility that he joins Team Canada for the World Junior Championship, as John Hoven discussed recently. Regardless, his return will be a huge boost for a team that’s desperately looking for an offensive spark. Expectations shouldn’t be too high on him right away but adding someone with his elite talent will be huge for this team. I would imagine he slots into the third line center spot when he returns and will likely get time on the second power-play unit.
His return does leave some questions about what happens with other bottom-six forwards, specifically Rasmus Kupari. Kupari looked fantastic when he first slotted into the third line center role but has struggled lately and was a healthy scratch against the Ottawa Senators. I think there are two realistic options with him, you either, send him back to the American Hockey League (AHL), or you move him to the wing. When he first came into the lineup this season, it was at wing, and the organization reportedly liked him in that spot but he was moved back to the middle after Gabe Vilardi failed to impress. I would love to see him given another chance at wing, now with Byfield at center, I think those two could develop good chemistry and add skill to the bottom six.
Lemieux Suspended for 5 Games
On Tuesday, just before the Kings’ Freeway Face-off matchup against the Anaheim Ducks, it was announced that Lemieux would be suspended for five games for Biting Brady Tkachuk. In what has to be one of the funniest Department of Player Safety videos, where we get a breakdown of what constitutes a bite, and confirmation that biting is not, in fact, a hockey play. Some fans were questioning the legitimacy of Tkachuk’s claims after the game, as there didn’t seem to be sufficient evidence in the videos provided at that time. But the video provided by the league shows a clear bite from Lemieux. Five games seem more than fair, as biting another player should always come with a suspension.
As I mentioned the night it happened, this is a disgusting play from Lemieux, and especially disappointing considering his stellar play of late. He’s been an integral part of the team’s bottom six and his lack of discipline has now hurt the team. It’s great that he stood up for Blake Lizotte on this play, and that’s exactly the kind of stuff he needs to do for this team, but he cannot cross the line as he did against the Senators. Considering his play, he should come right back into the lineup after his five-game suspension is served.
Clarke Left Off Canada Roster
Lemieux’s suspension was maybe the second biggest piece of Kings news on Tuesday, with the shocking announcement that Clarke would not be invited to Team Canada’s World Junior Championship camp.
The general consensus surrounding Clarke was that he should have been a lock on the right side for Canada. Hockey Canada seemed to disagree and has left him off the roster. The initial reaction to this news was that his lack of an invitation was COVID related, but The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler quickly put that theory to bed, reporting that he was simply not invited. The decision becomes more shocking when looking at the preliminary roster released today, which features just two right-shot defensemen on the roster.
The only knock I think you can place on Clarke’s game is his weak stride. He did test very poorly for stride power at Kings’ development camp this summer, so there might be a concern that he’ll struggle against high-level competition who can attack him at pace during this tournament. This is the only somewhat reasonable hockey reason you could have to leave him off, and frankly, it isn’t very reasonable. He’s leading the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) in points for defensemen and is by far Canada’s best right-shot defenseman available. This feels like a decision that was made for reasons away from the ice, which would be such a shame for Clarke. As Hoven points out, this isn’t the first time a Kings’ prospect has been snubbed by Canada, as Tyler Toffoli was passed over twice, despite leading the OHL in goals. This is a truly baffling decision in my opinion, and it will be interesting to see how Clarke responds.
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My name is Austin Stanovich, as a lifelong player and fan I’m hoping to bring my own unique perspective on the hockey world, specifically covering the Los Angeles Kings. As a SoCal native I grew up a Kings fan, and after graduating from Long Beach State in 2020 I’ve joined The Hockey Writers crew as a columnist for the Kings.