Kings News & Rumors: Clarke, Kaliyev, & Reign-Check

In this edition of Los Angeles Kings News & Rumors, I’ll discuss Brandt Clarke’s season and recent injury, the decision to scratch Arthur Kaliyev from Sunday’s game, and a check-in on the Ontario Reign.

Clarke Injured

In Sunday’s game against the Peterborough Petes, the Kings’ eighth-overall pick, Brandt Clarke, was injured following a scrum. After falling awkwardly, he was unable to put any weight on his leg.

There’s still no indication of the severity of Clarke’s injury, but it isn’t a good sign that he couldn’t put any weight on his leg. Hopefully, it’s just a stinger, and he won’t miss any significant time. If it’s more serious, it would be an unfortunate end to a fantastic season for Clarke and could be his last game in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL).

Many people believed he was the league’s best defenseman this season, and he posted the numbers to back up that claim. His 1.07 points-per-game average trails only (2001 birth year) Nathan Staios, while his defensive game has continued to develop. He is maturing physically and showcasing his active stick in his own zone. The concerns surrounding his stride still exist, but it hasn’t hurt him up to this point, as he’s put together an excellent campaign.

Related: Kings Should Move Iafallo off First Line

There’s a chance Clarke will join Team Canada for the World Junior Championships this summer and also a chance that he makes the Kings out of training camp. There is a logjam of right-shot defensemen in the team’s system, which he must fight through first, but he is by far the most talented player in the system. With Drew Doughty and Matt Roy ahead of him, the team might feel that next season is the perfect time to ease Clarke into the league in a sheltered role. If he makes the roster, it will raise serious questions about the future of other right-shot defensemen, such as Sean Durzi, Jordan Spence, and Helge Grans.

Kaliyev Scratched in Minnesota

Sunday’s 6-3 loss to the Minnesota Wild was disappointing in so many ways. The game started great, with the Kings jumping to an early 3-0 lead just over 10 minutes into the game. It quickly fell apart after Kirill Kaprizov opened the scoring for the Wild, with the Kings surrendering six straight goals. The disappointment, however, started before the game with the announcement that rookie forward Arthur Kaliyev would be scratched, facilitating the return of Blake Lizotte. Many felt this was a questionable decision, including me. It must be said that Carl Grundstrom, the player who seemingly replaced Kaliyev in the lineup, scored and had a good game overall.

Arthur Kaliyev Los Angeles Kings
Arthur Kaliyev, Los Angeles Kings (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Still, scratching the best rookie forward on the team – a player who’s put the work in to make massive strides in his game this season – rubbed some the wrong way, especially when you consider that Brendan Lemieux did not look good in his first game back last Thursday, playing just under six minutes against the Edmonton Oilers. Lemieux looked off the pace again Sunday, finishing the night with a minus-2 rating.

Yes, the Kings need Lemieux back and at his best, but allowing him to find his feet in these important games could be costly. There’s also Gabe Vilardi, who arguably doesn’t deserve a spot over Kaliyev right now. That’s not to say Vilardi has been bad; I’ve been very impressed by him lately, but for a team that’s struggling to generate offense, scratching Kaliyev, a more productive player, in favor of Vilardi is questionable.

Gabriel Vilardi LA Kings
Gabriel Vilardi, Los Angeles Kings (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

The other disappointment was scratching the tied team-leader in power-play goals, despite having one of the worst power plays in the league. The Kings did grab a power-play goal early in the game but played poorly fter that. Did scratching Kaliyev lose the Kings that game? Of course, not. The outcome would have almost certainly been the same with or without him, but making a controversial decision such as that and then losing 6-3 never looks good.

I’ve defended head coach Todd McLellan all season, and I still think he’s done a good job overall this season. But this was a very poor decision. Of course, Kaliyev has improved immensely under McLellan this season. The decision to keep him in a bottom-six role in the NHL is one I criticized early on, but it has clearly worked out well. I could also very well be wrong again in this case. McLellan must have been unhappy with Kaliyev’s play recently. When asked if Kaliyev’s exclusion was injury-related, he said:

“There’s a different reason for Arthur.”

(from ‘Kings’ structure collapses and the top line falters, and why is Arthur Kaliyev out of the lineup?,’ The Athletic, April 10, 2022)

Kaliyev has struggled a bit recently, but his play hasn’t warranted a scratch, at least not ahead of other struggling forwards. Of course, we have to remember that McLellan sees these players in practice every day and in the locker room, a level of visibility that we don’t have. It’s possible that outside of games, Kaliyev has given McLellan a reason to scratch him. This isn’t the end of the world, and I’m sure Kaliyev will be back in the lineup before long, but it is an odd situation.

Reign Check

Despite faltering a bit after a few injuries and a gutted defensive group, the Reign are still in second place in the Pacific Division. They will almost certainly finish the season second in what has been an impressive campaign for the young team. They split last weekend’s two-game series against the Stockton Heat, putting together an incredible comeback performance on Sunday.

Just as the Wild did to the Kings, the Reign erased a 3-0 deficit to come back and win the game. Newly signed Taylor Ward scored late in the third to send the game into overtime, the first professional goal of his career. Ward has been a surprise success with the team. Signing after his college season ended with little expectation, he has seven points in nine games playing with T.J. Tynan and Martin Frk.

Samuel Fagemo Ontario Reign
Samuel Fagemo, Ontario Reign (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Samuel Fagemo continued his strong season, grabbing his 27th goal in Sunday’s game. On his way to a 30-goal campaign, he now has an outside shot to make the Kings roster next season. However, it’s more likely that he will spend another season with the Reign, where he should become a top player in the American Hockey League (AHL). If he plays most games, 40 goals won’t be out of reach for the Swedish sniper, as he’s proving to be a fantastic prospect for the Kings.

Fellow prospect Kim Nousiainen made his Reign debut over the weekend, grabbing his first AHL point with an assist on Sunday night. The undersized blueliner could play a big role on the Reign next year as he adjusts to North American Hockey. Goalie prospect David Hrenak has joined the team as well but has yet to play his first game.

Goaltending has been the Reign’s Achilles’ heel all season, so expect Hrenak to get a look at some point this season. He put together a fantastic campaign at St. Cloud State, so I won’t be surprised to see him take the net. If he could come in and be an instant success, it would be huge for the Reign and increase their Calder Trophy chances exponentially.

Kings Barely Holding Onto Third

After their loss Sunday, the third-place Kings are just two points ahead of the Vegas Golden Knights, who have one game in hand in the Pacific Division standings. The Kings have made this playoff push more difficult on themselves but are not out of it by any means, but every game will feel like a must-win from here on out.

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