The Los Angeles Kings have one of the best prospect pools in hockey, which has given them incredible organizational depth this season. This depth has been most notable on defense, where the Kings have suffered several long-term injuries, which easily could have derailed their season. While these options are great to have, soon the organization will have to trade players, either making room for the prospects they have or moving those prospects on for more established players. With this in mind, I’m going to take a look at where the Kings have the biggest logjams and what areas they should look to improve.
Before the 2021 draft, most people would have told you that the Kings were a little light on defense prospects and that center was the biggest logjam. While there is still a logjam center, right defense is just as big an issue. After drafting Brandt Clarke eighth overall, the team added a much-needed high-end prospect on defense to complement a plethora of solid players. The emergence of Sean Durzi this season and the development of Jordan Spence, Helge Grans, and Brock Faber means the team has far more players than roster spots.
This won’t become an issue until next season, but it will be a big issue when the time comes. Heading into training camp, they’ll have Drew Doughty, Matt Roy, Durzi, Clarke, Sean Walker, and possibly even Spence all fighting for a roster spot. Spence will likely spend another season in the American Hockey League (AHL), but it’s still possible he pushes for a spot. That’s potentially six players fighting for three roster spots heading into training camp, and it doesn’t take a mathematician to figure out those numbers don’t work.
At least one, possibly two of the above players will likely need to be moved before the start of next season. If I had to put my money on anyone, it would be Walker. The emergence of Durzi and the arrival of Clarke next season make him an easy candidate to trade, and I think after Walker proves he is healthy in preseason, the team will look to move him. The issue then becomes who takes the spot on the third pairing. It could become a battle between Clarke and Durzi, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see them split games to start the season.
Looking further into the future, Brock Faber creates even more issues, he’ll likely play next season in the AHL, but I’d be surprised if he spends more than one season with the Reign. Come the 2023-24 season, the Kings will potentially have seven defensemen fighting for three spots who won’t benefit from time in the AHL. While the 2023-24 season is very far away, the Kings might want to get in front of this logjam and look to trade players soon. Having too many NHL-caliber defensemen is a good problem to have, but a problem nonetheless, and one the team will have to solve soon.
Forwards (Specifically Centers)
As I mentioned above, the team has a logjam at center, one so big that several prospects are starting to move over to the wing. Gabe Vilardi has already started the transition, Alex Turcotte has played several games at wing, including most of his games in the NHL, and Rasmus Kupari is likely the next player to make the switch. The depth doesn’t end there, either. Jaret Anderson-Dolan is on fire in the AHL, Francesco Pinelli is putting together a strong season in the OHL, and Samuel Helenius is continuing to develop into an ideal bottom-six center. Of course, there’s also Quinton Byfield, who is a future number one center. Fortunately, the switch from center to wing can be made with relative ease. But even with players making the switch, they’re overloaded in that position.
It doesn’t end there either, as the switch to wing for several of these players now creates a new logjam in that position. We’re already seeing a prospect struggle to find top-six minutes with Arthur Kaliyev, and while I think where he’s at on the roster is fine right now, he can’t stay there past this season. He needs to move into a top-six role next season, but it’s hard to see who makes way for him right now. Add in players like Vilardi and Kupari, who should be familiar with their new position next season, and the solid play of Samuel Fagemo during his four games on the roster, and they now have another issue of too many players for not enough spots.
This is where I think the Kings will have the most difficult decision to make. The team needs to inject more high-end skill into their top-six if they want to take the next step in their rebuild, and they’ll soon have to decide if that comes from within the organization or via a trade. The only prospects I feel that are guaranteed to be top-six players soon and who aren’t at risk of being traded are Kaliyev and Byfield. Everyone else is up in the air.
In Kaliyev, Turcotte, Byfield, Vilardi, Kupari, Fagemo, and possibly even Martin Chromiak, the Kings have several players with top-six potential. It’s unlikely that the team’s future top-six features all of these players, and it will be up to the team to decide who they feel should keep and who they should move. There is the option to fully trust Mark Yannetti and his scouting team, slowly moving out their current top-six to make room for these players, but that’s an unlikely outcome.
Who Kings Should Target
It’s clear that the Kings will have to either trade a handful of prospects or trade current roster players to make room for said prospects. When this eventually happens, where should the team look to improve?
The team has a logjam at right-defense but is far less secure on the left side. They boast similar depth, with Mikey Anderson, Tobias Bjornfot, Jacob Moverare, and Kiril Kirsanov, but they lack a future star like Clarke on the right side. It’s been reported for a while now that the Kings are looking to add an elite, mobile, left-shot defensemen, and that should be priority number one. The answer for who to get that most people would give is Jakob Chychrun. I agree that Chychrun would be the ideal candidate, but I am not confident in the Kings making that move at this time, although the interest is there.
The reported package from the Florida Panthers of Spencer Knight, Anton Lundell, and a first-round pick is a massive haul. And depending on how much the Arizona Coyotes value a goalie prospect, it’s one the Kings might be unable to match. If the Kings can make the deal work for Chychrun, that’s great, but if not, it isn’t the end of the world. Even with Chychrun, the Kings are not a Cup contender until some of the prospects, namely Kaliyev and Byfield, take the next step in their development. This means the team is okay to wait on a left-shot defenseman.
Of course, they have to explore the opportunity to grab a perfect fit in Chychrun, but if they can’t get a deal, they can comfortably walk away. I do not doubt that the Kings will acquire an elite left-shot defenseman in the next 18 months, but when they do, it has to be for a genuine star. Not that these players are available, but it has to be for someone like Rasmus Dahlin, Mikhail Sergachev, Thomas Chabot, or Chychrun.
Top-Six Scoring Winger
The next target is entirely dependent on how confident the Kings are in their current forward prospects. If they are confident that, outside of Kaliyev, players like Kupari, Vilardi, or even Fagemo will soon be ready for top-six minutes, then this is less of a need. If not, then they’ll need to acquire a top-six scoring winger. The King’s inability to score goals has been a huge problem all season, specifically on the power play, and adding someone who can consistently score would be huge. If they trade for a forward, it can’t be another defensive player who can suppress chances at a high rate but who struggles to produce. Players like Alex Iafallo and Phillip Danault have been incredible this season and are a huge reason the Kings are in a playoff spot, but they need to add more skill around them. Viktor Arvidsson was a step in the right direction, but the team needs more.
Again, making a trade for this kind of player is entirely dependent on how confident the team is in prospects filling the winger roles in the very near future, but if the team goes in the direction of trusting prospects, they’ll need to move some current roster players soon. Each top-six winger is currently playing great hockey, so it’s hard to imagine one of them getting moved. But management will have to make tough decisions soon, and a few players will be casualties of those decisions. If the team decides to move current players, I think Anze Kopitar and Danault are the safest players, while everyone else will have a price.
If they’re looking to acquire an established player, I would look to the Vancouver Canucks and go hard for J.T. Miller or even Conor Garland in the short term. In the long-term, it’s hard to predict who will be available, so if the Kings go down this route, it will be a wait-and-see situation.
Acquiring a top-end goalie prospect isn’t an absolute necessity, but it’s something I think the team has interest in. It was well reported that they seriously considered Jesper Wallstedt at last year’s draft, and they might still be interested in someone of his caliber. The resurgence of Jonathan Quick and recent improved performances from Cal Petersen leaves the Kings with a strong duo in net, but that won’t last forever. Quick is 36 years old, and it’s unlikely he’s playing at this level when the Kings are truly ready to compete for a Cup, meaning this decision falls solely on your confidence in Petersen.
If the Kings view Petersen as a future number one goalie, there’s no need to make this trade. If they don’t, they’ll go hard for a goalie in the future. With how long goalies take to develop, this would be a trade the team likely wouldn’t benefit from for a few seasons. But having an elite goalie backstopping a Stanley Cup caliber team in a few seasons would certainly help the Kings return to the glory days of 2012-2014.
Something the Kings Must Plan For
I’m not saying the Kings need to make ten trades at the upcoming deadline. I think they can do no business at this season’s deadline if they don’t like any deals and be fine. But they undoubtedly need to have a plan in place for future trades. They simply have too many players and not enough roster spots. We’ll soon see how much faith they have in their prospects and how willing they are to go all-in while Kopitar, Doughty, and Quick are playing stellar hockey. Over the next 18 months, I’d expect the Kings to be big players in the trade market, and this will likely determine how successful their rebuild ends up being.
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.