In this edition of Los Angeles Kings News & Rumors, I’ll be discussing Quinton Byfield’s return to play, Akil Thomas’ return, Kale Clague getting claimed by the Montreal Canadiens, Christian Wolanin’s return, and Blake Lizotte entering COVID protocol.
Byfield & Thomas Return
Last Sunday, Byfield returned to practice in a red non-contact jersey, exciting Kings fans everywhere. The excitement should continue, as he’s expected to make his season debut in the American Hockey League (AHL) tonight. However, with that game getting postponed due to a COVID outbreak on the Bakersfield Condors, we’ll have to wait a few more days for his return. After missing eight weeks with his ankle fracture, the team wants to ensure he receives ample time to get back up to speed before calling him up to the NHL. John Hoven is guessing around 30 days is a good goal to set for his NHL return.
In what could be a tough month for the Kings, it might be very tempting to recall their star prospect early, but it’s important to monitor his injury and ensure that he doesn’t come up too early. Patience for prospects is beginning to wear thin amongst fans, but they’re going to need a little bit more as they wait for Byfield to make his NHL debut this season.
In other injury news, Thomas made his AHL debut after having missed significant time recovering from double shoulder surgery. With the Ontario Reign missing their three top centers — Jaret Anderson-Dolan and T.J. Tynan were up with the Kings, and Alex Turcotte was out injured — Thomas was thrown into the fire on the Reign’s second line. He would help the Reign grab a 3-2 shootout victory despite the injuries.
Thomas finished last season behind only Arthur Kaliyev in points for the Reign, so his return should be huge for an already stacked Reign squad. It also gives the team more coverage if they want to call up a center to the Kings full-time, namely Anderson-Dolan and Turcotte. Thomas is an underrated prospect in the Kings system, as I think he could be on the team’s roster by next season. Though he’s a low ceiling, high floor prospect in my eyes, he certainly has a future with the team.
Clague Claimed & Wolanin’s Back
In more disappointing news, the Canadiens claimed Clague off waivers on Saturday. Unfortunately, he was unable to slip through waivers for a second time this season and was snapped up quickly by the Canadiens. He’ll make his debut in Montreal tonight, his first game since Nov. 21, against the Arizona Coyotes. This was an unfortunate situation for the Kings, but I think the reaction to losing him was overblown by many people. He was a bubble defenseman who lost his job to Sean Durzi, and losing him won’t be the end of the world. I agree I would’ve rather kept him over Olli Maatta, but this is hardly a season-defining decision.
The competition in the Kings’ depth chart is very deep, and Clague fell victim to this. On his more natural left side, the team still has Mikey Andersson, Tobias Bjornfot, Kirill Kirsanov, and Jacob Moverare, while the right side boasts Brandt Clarke, Durzi, Helge Grans, Brock Faber, and Jordan Spence. Realistically, Clague lost his spot on the roster to Durzi in the short term and in the long term, and was unlikely to have a spot on the roster due to the players listed above. It’s very possible that Clague goes on to be a good player for the Canadiens or any other team he plays for, but he was unlikely to make a massive impact on the Kings this season or in the future.
Another factor that makes losing Clague easier to swallow is the return of Wolanin. Wolanin fills a similar spot on the roster, and is a top-pairing AHL defenseman who can play games in the NHL if needed, meaning the Kings don’t lose much in Clague. Three years younger, Clague does have more upside, but as I just discussed, he didn’t have much of a long-term future with the team anyways. Wolanin made his season debut with the Reign on Saturday, serving as an alternate captain, and should be a mainstay on their blue line this season. He also went to Twitter to express how happy he is to be back in the Kings’ organization.
Lizotte Entered COVID Protocol
On Saturday, the Kings announced that Lizotte would be the latest player to enter COVID-19 protocol. This came at a terrible time for him, as he’s played some great hockey recently. It also further decimates the team’s fourth line, which is already without Brendan Lemieux. His absence was certainly felt Monday night against the Vancouver Canucks, with coach Todd McLellan pointing to the lack of support from the bottom of the lineup.
“When the guys that play a lot of minutes don’t have legs, we need some support from some secondary guys. There were times during the night when we had some of that, but certainly not enough.”Todd McLellan
Tynan replaced Lizotte in the last two games, and while he wasn’t terrible in either game, he wasn’t very good either. Most fans would prefer to see Anderson-Dolan get a chance to replace Lizotte instead of Tynan. Anderson-Dolan was reassigned to the Reign and was scheduled to play in their game tonight, but it’s still very possible that he plays on Thursday against the Dallas Stars. After what was a terrible performance against the Canucks, I imagine McLellan will be looking to make a few changes, and Anderson-Dolan might get his season debut.
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.