In this week’s edition of Los Angeles Kings News & Rumors, I’ll be discussing Brandt Clarke’s return for the Barrie Colts and Francesco Pinelli’s start to the Ontario Hockey League (OHL) season. I’ll also be touching on the King’s start to the season, particularly Anze Kopitar being named the league’s first star of the week and Christian Wolanin being claimed by the Buffalo Sabres, after not clearing waivers.
Clarke Returns For the Colts
Kings’ 2021 first-round pick Clarke was reassigned to the Colts after missing the Arizona Rookie Faceoff tournament due to mononucleosis, an illness that caused him to miss the start of his OHL season as well. Fortunately, on Thursday, Oct. 14, he was able to make his season debut. The Colts did lose the game on the 14th, but having their start defensemen return was huge, as Clarke picked up two points in the game.
He’s looking to establish himself as the league’s best defenseman, as the OHL media pegged him to be just that in their preseason poll. A point-per-game (PPG) player through three games gets him off to a great start. He has tough competition, with Tampa Bay Lightning draft pick Jack Thompson sitting on 11 points in six games, but we should see Clarke’s dominance take effect, after recovering from his illness. He’ll also be getting ready for the 2022 World Junior Championship, as he should take on a big role for Canada this winter.
Pinelli Named Rangers Captain
The Kings’ pick after Clarke in the 2021 draft, Pinelli, was recently named captain of the Kitchener Rangers. Not only is this great for Pinelli, but I think it proves the Kings value drafting good personalities as well. Director of Amateur Scouting Mark Yannetti has been known to give very intense draft interviews, with some people referring to them as essentially interrogations, and it’s good to see that is paying off. Every team claims to place a big emphasis on, “the person as much as the player,” but it’s nice to see proof of that for the Kings.
He has taken to his new role very well. With six points through three games, he is tied second in the league for PPG with two. The general consensus after the draft was, the Kings grabbed an absolute steal on him in the second round, and his early play this season is proving that. He looks set to be one of the OHL’s most dangerous forwards and should finish near the top of the league scoring charts. Like Clarke, he’ll also be hoping to put on his country’s jersey this winter at the World Junior Championships, and if he can continue his play, there’s no reason he won’t have a big role on that team.
Kopitar Named League’s First Star
The NHL announced its three stars of week one Monday morning, and the first star was a familiar name for Kings fans. After his seven points in two games, contributing to seven of the team’s eight total goals, Kopitar was named as the first star, beating out Steven Stamkos and Alex Ovechkin for the honor. Kings fans won’t be surprised, as he was dominant in their first two games, proving he’s still one of the league’s best centers.
For me, it’s not just his raw point totals that are so impressive, it’s how heavily he carries the team offensively. As I said, after two games, only one goal the team has scored hasn’t gone through Kopitar. While you can argue that’s damning for the team’s overall offense, which is a fair point, I think it also proves how good a player he is. I’ve said it multiple times now, I think we could see Kopitar have a season as he did in 2017-18, leading the team in points by 31, carrying the team to the playoffs. I would hope the team’s new additions, specifically, Viktor Arvidsson will add more offense, but I think it’s possible Kopitar carries this team offensively again this season.
Wolanin Claimed by Buffalo
On Saturday, Kings’ defenseman Wolanin was claimed off waivers by the Sabres. With Olli Maatta returning from injury, the team needed to make room on the roster, and Wolanin was a casualty of this. He came over in a trade last season, in exchange for Mike Amadio, and only played three games for the team. When the trade happened, it felt like getting Amadio off the roster was more important than getting Wolanin back, and I never saw him having a long-term future with the organization.
He put together a fantastic World Championships earlier this year, which gave some fans hope that he could make an impact on the team, but he was ultimately seen as surplus to requirements. He’s a talented offensive defenseman, who has proven to be a great player in the American Hockey League, but he hasn’t been able to replicate that success in the NHL. Similar to Kings forward Martin Frk in that respect. He might get a bigger chance with a rebuilding Sabres team, as a third-pairing defenseman and quarterback of the second power-play unit, he can certainly bring value. This seems like a good, low-risk acquisition for the Sabres that can bring some upside.
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.