Day one of training camp always feels like the beginning of a new season for NHL teams. It’s when fans get to see the return of familiar faces, and the first taste of new additions. For the Los Angeles Kings, day one of camp had plenty of both, with veteran forward Dustin Brown entering his franchise-record 18th season with the team, alongside other long-time Kings such as Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, and Jonathan Quick.
Fans were also given a taste of newcomers Phillip Danault, Alex Edler, Viktor Arvidsson, and Vladimir Tkachev. This will be the most competitive camp we’ve seen in many years for LA, with several players fighting for their spot on the team’s roster. While it’s important not to overreact after one day of camp, there were some interesting things that happened. Here are some of my biggest takeaways from day one.
The Top Line
While I’m certain there will be several changes to the line combinations we saw on day one, it’s interesting to see what Todd McLellan’s initial thoughts were on line combinations. By far the most interesting combination we saw was “line one” featuring Arvidsson-Kopitar-Brown. Very few fans would have predicted Brown to keep his spot on the top line after the addition of Arvidsson over the summer, but it seems like he might be a compliment to Brown instead of his replacement. Of course, as I mentioned, these combinations can easily change before opening night, but it seems like Kopitar views this as his line.
Several fans will be upset to see Brown keep his spot on that line, as they were hoping for some new blood next to Kopitar. But there’s some sense in keeping him there. Kopitar loves playing with him, and he was still productive last year, leading the team in goals. I’ve been vocal in my desire to see Brown move off that line, but I understand why coach McLellan might want him to start the season there. I’d be surprised if that line stayed together all year, but we might see more of the same on the King’s top line to start the 2021-22 season.
Tkachev is one of the more interesting stories for this year’s training camp in my opinion. He’s an unknown commodity for the Kings, with the potential to have a massive positive impact on the team. It was very interesting to see him spend day one playing with Alex Iafallo and Danault. This tells me that the team is giving him every opportunity to earn a spot on the second line. I was, however, uninspired by that line at the end of the day. There are mitigating factors, of course, it was the first time these three players have played together and it’s just one day of practice, but I have my concerns.
I’ve said many times that I like the idea of Iafallo and Danault together, with the aim of creating a true shut down line, there’s a lot of sense in that. But, adding Tkachev to that line doesn’t really fit the theme of “shut down second line”, he isn’t a shutdown player and shouldn’t be asked to fill that role.
On the flip side, some people might think putting two of the best defensive players around him can help pave over his deficiencies, while I understand that viewpoint, I’m not a fan. I also think there’s an issue offensively with this line, you’re putting three players, with pass-first mentalities, on the same line. I would be concerned with the lack of a finisher on this line, and I think we’d see disappointing goal returns from it in games. Again, it’s been just one day so I’m not going to write off this combination completely, but it does feel like round pegs into square holes in my opinion. I’m very encouraged that the team is giving Tkachev a serious look at the top six though.
Fringe Players Who Impressed
With more forwards than available roster spots, the fight for the last few places on the King’s roster is going to be a fierce battle throughout camp. Ignoring the possibility that one or two rookies push for a roster spot. In my eyes; Austin Wagner, Carl Grundstrom, Brendan Lemieux, Blake Lizotte, Martin Frk, Andreas Athanasiou, and Jaret Anderson-Dolan are all fighting for four roster spots. Two spots on the team’s bottom-six, and two spots as a scratch, meaning they need to cut the above group down three players. Of course, Anderson-Dolan can go back to Ontario without issue, but I can’t imagine he’ll be happy with that outcome. With that in mind, I was particularly interested to see who caught the eye from this group during day one.
There were two clear winners in my opinion from this group, Grundstrom, and Frk. Both players were flying on day one, and they looked like two guys who knew their jobs were on the line. Grundstrom was a physical presence, hitting every player that touched the puck, and hitting them hard. His energy was fantastic, and he was noticeable all day. If he keeps this play up, I think it would be hard for coach McLellan to cut or trade him, he plays a perfect style for the fourth line and has some skill hidden away.
Similarly, Frk was very physical on day one. All the talk around him is about his goal scoring ability, but he’s never been afraid to throw his weight around, either. He was also full of energy and was absolutely firing the puck, as usual, eventually scoring a beautiful goal during the team’s scrimmage. I’m still not confident he’ll make the team, unfortunately, because his age and player profile likely make him expendable. I’d love to be proven wrong, being someone who loves his play, but I’d be surprised to see him on the team’s roster come opening night. Anderson-Dolan was also solid, never making any mistakes, but he didn’t stand out like Grundstrom and Frk.
Wagner was fine, not amazing, but not bad either. The same can be said for Lemieux. The player I’m really worried about is Athanasiou, who was included in group C for day one, which was comprised entirely of players you’d expect to start the season with Ontario next year. To me, it seems like he was re-signed as an insurance policy in case someone gets hurt before the season starts, rather than a legitimate candidate for a roster spot. It will be interesting to see if he’s kept with this group throughout camp, if he is, his days in LA are likely numbered.
Kings Hockey is Back
It was fantastic to see the Kings back in action, even if it was just practice. The new additions looked great, and the returners all looked fired up for an improved season. It will be fun to see who earns their spot on the team or moves up the roster in the coming weeks. We’ll be back soon with a recap for day two.
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.