With the “day-to-day” absences of defensemen Jake Muzzin and Matt Greene and offseason departures of Slava Voynov and Robyn Regehr, the signing of Christian Ehrhoff proved to be a great depth acquisition in a new season that has already seen injuries and had questions as to which defensemen would be on the opening roster at the start of the regular season. As reported by LA Kings’ Insider Jon Rosen in speaking with head coach Darryl Sutter, both Muzzin and Greene suffered upper-body injuries in a preseason game against the Colorado Avalanche in Denver on Sunday Sept. 24.
The Kings have rotated defensemen throughout the preseason giving players like Derek Forbort, Jeff Schultz, Brayden McNabb, Jamie McBain and the newly signed Ehrhoff a chance to establish their individual games before the start of the season. Ehrhoff has been featured in four of the six-preseason games so far with his last being at the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, Nevada against the Colorado Avalanche in a 4-1 win. Ehrhoff and the Kings agreed to a one-year/$1.5 million deal on Aug. 23 and the signing became official after he passed his team physical on Sept. 4.
Questions Before the Signing
Prior to the signing of Ehrhoff in late August, there were questions that needed to be answered such as what the conclusion of the Voynov trial would be and who would take the heavy minutes left by Regehr following the announcement of his retirement after the conclusion of the regular season. Forbort, McBain and Schultz were the three defensemen that would have been rotated in and out of the two open roster spots left by Voynov and Regehr before the Ehrhoff signing.
While Forbort is progressing in his development, the former first-round pick does not have any regular season NHL experience. The Kings’ staff and management could be excited about where Forbort is since the defenseman helped Manchester win their first Calder Cup, but he was the third-ranked defenseman in ESPN’s Corey Pronman’s list of top-10 Kings’ prospects and has not proven he can handle minutes at the NHL level.
McBain was signed in November of last season after being released from a professional tryout at the Arizona Coyotes’ training camp. McBain was in his hometown in Minnesota skating and working out by himself before being offered a professional tryout with the Manchester Monarchs. McBain would go on to play 26 games with the Kings averaging 11.09 minutes of ice time at 5v5 even strength. McBain finished the season contributing 2 goals and 6 points in those games with a shooting percentage of 18.18 according to war-on-ice.com. However, McBain saw more than four minutes of ice time less than Regehr did during his playing time last season and did not see any time in short-handed situations.
Schultz was re-signed by the Kings last June after spending the majority of his first year with the Kings’ AHL affiliate team, the Manchester Monarchs. In 2014, Schultz played in seven playoff games when the Kings were hit with injuries during a deep playoff run and the Kings then signed him to a two-year extension closely following the conclusion of that championship. Schultz played in nine games last season, averaging 14.32 minutes on the ice per game at 5v5 even strength, and saw time on the penalty kill. The defenseman has over 400 games of NHL experience and has some playoff experience, however Schultz, like McBain, would have to clear waivers if the Kings were try to assign him to the AHL.
Assurance After the Signing
With the day-to-day injuries sustained by Greene and Muzzin, the Kings will have to rely on Ehrhoff to play a big role on defense as a veteran presence. It was reported on Thursday this week by Rich Hammond that Muzzin would be ready for the home opener against the San Jose Sharks on Wednesday Oct. 7 while Greene took the ice for the first time today participating in post-practice drills. Still, neither defensemen has skated any drills with the team in a full practice since the injuries.
Voynov’s situation is settled for now, as the defenseman who was detained by U. S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement made his plans to leave for Russia in the middle of September and will officially sign to play with SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL this year, giving Ehrhoff the opportunity to really establish himself as a top-four defenseman on the Kings’ roster and as a replacement for Voynov.
In the 49 games Ehrhoff played with Pittsburgh last season, he saw an average of 17.23 minutes on the ice at even strength, a TOI/game average below only two Kings defensemen (Doughty and Muzzin). Unlike Regehr, Ehrhoff saw time on the power play for the Penguins, recording two assists, and has been featured on the powerplay the last two preseason games alongside Drew Doughty.
Sutter will have the ability to not only utilize Ehrhoff on the power play, but on the penalty kill as well, as the 33-year-old defenseman saw time on a Pittsburgh penalty kill that ranked third in the league last season. The Kings’ penalty kill dropped from an 83.1 success rate to 80.9 percent success rate last season ranking them No. 16 in the league and they will want it to improve now that they have officially lost Voynov due to the complications of his trial and were missing his presence last season.
With Regehr retired, Voynov out of the United States and playing in the KHL, and injuries to Muzzin and Greene, the Ehrhoff signing is already proving to helpful. There is the low risk of him aggravating an injury he sustained in the past such as his multiple concussions, but at just $1.5 million for one season there is no risk in the signing and the Kings will reap the rewards of having such a versatile and experienced defenseman to start the season.