Kings News & Rumors: Frk, Athanasiou, & Wroblewski

In this edition of Los Angeles Kings News & Rumors, I’ll be discussing a recent article highlighting Martin Frk, Andreas Athanasiou’s return, and Ontario Reign coach John Wroblewski taking a leave of absence from the team.

Frk Getting Some Attention

Recently, former American Hockey League (AHL) goaltender and current Daily Faceoff writer Mike McKenna wrote an article titled, “The Curious Case of Martin Frk.” In it, he discusses why he thinks Frk should be in the NHL and how certain players get buried in the AHL. While McKenna did ignore some of Frk’s glaring issues that keep him out of the NHL, this was a great insight into how players can be stuck in the AHL despite undeniable skill. It’s also interesting to hear how complimentary McKenna is of Frk’s shot, going as far as saying it’s harder than Zdeno Chara, Shea Weber, and Alex Ovechkin’s.

Related: Los Angeles Kings’ Top 10 Prospects

I also got a kick out of McKenna grabbing a quote from Frk’s former teammate Matt Ford. He said, “Our goalies wouldn’t stand in front of his shots in practice.” Reminiscent of something current Kings’ goalie Cal Petersen said during a video about Frk, Petersen said, “I told him early on, save that for the game on me. I want to make your save and stuff like that. But I don’t want to leave her with a broken arm or something like that.”

Martin Frk LA Kings
Martin Frk, Los Angeles Kings (Photo by Rob Curtis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

This article got me thinking about why Frk isn’t in the NHL and where he would fit in the Kings’ lineup if he were called up. He is a player I’ve wanted to see get another chance in the NHL all season. McKenna points out that this is a team that has struggled to score goals and refuses to call up a player who has proven he can score. But it isn’t that simple. It’s hard to find a spot for Frk on this roster when everyone is healthy and free from suspension. The bottom-six wingers are currently Athanasiou, Trevor Moore, Arthur Kaliyev, and Brendan Lemieux. Before the season, I would’ve happily swapped Lemieux out for Frk, but Lemieux has been fantastic so far and deserves his spot. Moore’s ability to kill penalties and play a solid defensive game gives him an edge in the bottom six. It’s also unlikely that he replaces Athanasiou or Kaliyev on the third line.

Brendan Lemieux Los Angeles Kings
Brendan Lemieux, Los Angeles Kings (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NHLI via Getty Images)

Moving him into the top six seems like an unrealistic option as well. While I would love to see Frk get another shot, I understand why it hasn’t happened. Now, if we see another injury to a winger or someone gets traded, I hope he is the first player called up as a replacement.

Athanasiou’s Return

Athanasiou has found it very difficult to stay healthy in his second season with the Kings, missing over half the team’s games. First, with a hand injury that he sustained during training camp. He was then placed on the COVID protocol list. But he’s back now and was placed on the third line alongside Kaliyev and Rasmus Kupari. An empty-net goal and a plus-2 rating was a solid return for the former 30-goal scorer, who now has six points in his nine games played. That is a great line for him, too, as he and Kupari provide a ton of speed, which backs off defenders and opens up space for Kaliyev to utilize his deadly shot. This played out perfectly for the Kings’ second goal, with Kupari and Athanasiou pouncing on a broken play, using their speed in transition to create an odd-man rush that gave Kaliyev a chance in the slot. Athanasiou forming chemistry with these two would be huge for the team, as they’ve lacked consistent secondary scoring for a while now.

Andreas Athanasiou LA Kings
Andreas Athanasiou, Los Angeles Kings (Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images),

I was very happy to see Kupari find success on this line, as several fans have been calling for him to be sent back down to the AHL. It’s not without reason, but I think surrounding him with high-skill players like Athanasiou and Kaliyev will be huge. His future in the organization is still likely at wing, but having the experience and versatility to play through the middle will be huge. It was also nice to see Kaliyev get a chance to show off his shot. He has played well on the fourth line recently, particularly improving his defensive game, but he needs to start trusting his shot more, unleashing it every chance he gets. This was also something coach Todd McLellan touched on after the game.

Prior to that, I reminded him on the bench that no one is going to get mad at him for shooting the puck. I can promise him that, because I thought there were opportunities during the game, on the power play, there was a play in the slot where he was looking to dish it off. He’s been blessed with an unreal shot and he needs to use it every chance he gets. To your point, it was on and off the tape quick.

From “FINAL – Kings 4, Stars 0 – Quick, Danault, McLellan” LA Kings Insider, 12/9/21)

A more confident Kaliyev will be great for the Kings as he slowly moves up the roster, hopefully grabbing a top-six role soon. Athanasiou’s return gives the team plenty of options, and alongside two rookies, McLellan might have found the answer to the team’s secondary scoring issues.

Wroblewski Takes a Leave of Absence

Before last Saturday’s game, the Reign announced that Wroblewski would not be behind the bench due to a non-COVID illness. They then announced on Wednesday that he would be taking a leave of absence from the team. No more information was given about why or how long he’d be gone. Hopefully, everything is okay with Wroblewski, who has done a fantastic job with the Reign, leading them to their best start in franchise history. In his absence, Reign assistants Chris Hajit and Craig Johnson will take control of the bench.

Hajit started with the organization in 2014-15 but took two years off to join Phil Housley’s staff with the Buffalo Sabres before returning to the Reign in 2019. Johnson is a former Kings forward who played seven full seasons with the team and first served as a coach in 2010-11 then returned to the organization in 2018. He has also been a local youth coach with the Anaheim Jr. Ducks and Santa Margarita Catholic High School. He notably coached first-round pick Cam York and his son Ryan Johnson, who was also a first-round draft pick.

Kings’ Tough Week Ahead

I’ve mentioned before how tough the month of December will be for the Kings, and the coming week might be the toughest stretch. They play the Minnesota Wild at home on Saturday before heading on a grueling four-game road trip. On this trip, they’ll face the Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers, Carolina Hurricanes, and Washington Capitals, four of the best teams in hockey. This will be the most challenging stretch of the season, and it will be interesting to see how the team responds.

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