The Kings are in a state of flux right now. They have a great deal of young talent ready for the NHL right now but they still have a lot of the bridge guys Lombardi signed the last few years on NHL deals. What does this mean? It means the Kings are going to have a pretty interesting training camp. To help educate the ten of you that are actually reading this, I thought I'd go line-by-line and highlight the most interesting training camp battles. Look for news about these guys to see how the team is going to look on opening night. Here is a look at the roster and what spots we can reasonably assume are locked up:
( )-Handzus-( )
Ivanans-( )-( )
As you can see, there's a lot of room for movement on the roster. Let's get started, shall we?
2nd Line RW
Competitors: Ted Purcell, Brad Richardson, Brian Boyle
The Kings' top line is pretty much set: it's Kopitar, Brown and the other guy. The part of the other guy was assumed by Patrick O'Sullivan last year and we can reasonably assume he'll continue in that role once he, you know, signs.* Frolov will keep doing what he does and I imagine Stoll will be given opportunity in the 2nd center role after signing such a big deal in the off-season. That leaves the 2nd line right wing position as the sole top-six spot up for grabs. The three main competitors are all good young players that each bring something different.
*I'm confident he'll sign and it won't affect the Kings at all. What's that? I happen to like the feeling on my skin when I stick my head in the sand, thank you very much.
Ted Purcell is probably the most talented of the three and is an excellent playmaking option. His negatives are that he's not overly physical and the line already has two playmakers in Frolov and Stoll. Plus, him on the line would put three right-handers on one line; that's not necessarily a dealbreaker, but it is a little unusual in the NHL. Brad Richardson is probably the fastest and has the best shot of the three, but he's also the smallest and couldn't do a lot of the dirty work this line will need. Boyle could do that dirty work because he's a large man, but he's also kind of slow. Plus, I don't think the Kings want to derail his progress as a center. I'd probably give Purcell the best chance to win the job, although I wouldn't put it past Terry Murray to put O'Sullivan on that line and put someone like Matt Moulson or Kyle Calder up with Kopitar.
3rd Line LW
Competitors: Matt Moulson, Kyle Calder
This spot was Kyle Calder's for most of last season with generally subpar results. The man named "Grease" (allegedly because he gets dirty or some weird shit) finished the season with 7 goals and 13 assists despite getting ample power play time. Clearly, he's going to have to earn his spot back. His main challenger for the spot is Matt Moulson, the 24 year-old defensive guru that provided a spark for Calder and Handzus when he was paired with them last season. Since Moulson is better defensively than Calder and Calder sucks offensively, I imagine Moulson will win the spot alongside Handzus and...
3rd Line RW
Competitors: Brad Richardson, Ted Purcell, Matt Ellis, Wayne Simmonds
Michal Handzus was tasked with shutting down the other team's top scorer last season yet he wasn't given any help. Handzus and Calder are not very fleet of foot and needed someone who could keep up with the opposition. Having Moulson on one side of Handzus would help, and having the loser of the 2nd Line RW battle would help even more. Brad Richardson is probably the best option for this spot; not only would he help at even strength, he would also provide another quality body on the penalty kill. Ted Purcell could win the spot if he doesn't win the 2nd line RW job but still shows enough to justify NHL playing time, while Matt Ellis is an option if none of the young guys actually step up. An intriguing option is Wayne Simmonds, the young fireplug from Sault Ste. Marie. He's young and needs to put on weight but he's been excellent in development camp and I can honestly see him making the team. Should be something to watch.
4th line C
Competitors: Brian Boyle, Derek Armstrong, Brady Murray
This spot has been up for grabs for a couple years now as injuries have prevented Derek Armstrong from taking the job that belonged to him. The job looks to belong to Brian Boyle this season, who can take a few minutes up on the 2nd line and also play on the power play as well. If for some reason Boyle disappoints (or if he takes a wing position up in the lineup) then Derek Armstrong can step in to the job he was born for. Brady Murray is running out of time with the Kings and will probably sign with someone else if he doesn't make a name for himself in the NHL this season.
4th line RW
Competitors: Kyle Calder, Derek Armstrong/Brian Boyle, Matt Ellis, John Zeiler, anyone really
The final spot can best be solved by thinking about who can be used in a special teams capacity. Calder is useful on the power play, although his spot in front of the net will probably be usurped by Boyle. Matt Ellis can make the penalty kill better, but it might full with Michal Handzus, Patrick O'Sullivan, Brad Richardson and Jarret Stoll already on the team. Or the Kings could just give the spot to anyone who performs the best in camp. It's pretty up in the air.
Here's the way I see the forwards winding up on opening night:
I see Calder and Zeiler making the team because Calder can be useful in spots and no one cares if John Zeiler never plays. I said when we picked him up that I thought Matt Ellis was on the team to captain the team in Manchester and I'm still pretty sure about that.
2nd RD Position
Competitors: Denis Gauthier, Peter Harrold, Free Agent
The defense is surprisingly rigid, at least to my eyes. Jack Johnson will take the top spot on the right side. Tom Preissing is the best right-handed defenseman so he'll probably play with Johnson. Greene also plays on the left side so he's set. That leaves his partner to get top-4 minutes. Denis Gauthier is the safe option, while Harrold is the defenseman that can earn the spot. Neither is very palatable, though, and the hope is that the Kings can pick someone up to take that spot. If only there were someone in the area that could come over and help out. Maybe Lombardi could call Brian Burke, see if he could help him out.
3rd LD Position
Competitors: Drew Doughty, Colten Teubert
The dirty little secret in Kings' training camp is that Drew Doughty has to make the team. They're acting like he's not guaranteed a spot and he has to earn it but they're just pretending. The Kings need Doughty for two reasons: one, they need his cap number, and two, they don't have anyone that can play on that left side. All the other options the Kings have are left-handed so it pretty much leaves Doughty or fellow teenager Colten Teubert. My money's on Doughty.
3rd RD Position
Competitors: Denis Gauthier, Peter Harrold, Thomas Hickey, Joe Piskula, Drew Bagnall
The final spot on defense is probably Harrold's, I'm not going to lie. There's other options, like Gauthier, but it's probably best to just give Harrold the spot because he can play on the power play and the penalty kill. Hickey could use one more year to get a little bigger and Piskula and Bagnall are available in case of injury.
Here's the way I see the defense on opening night:
Other Goaltending Spot
Competitors: Erik Ersberg, Jonathan Bernier, Jonathan Quick
Labarbera is pretty much guaranteed a spot since he's so great. (Oh, and he has a one-way deal.) That leaves Ersberg and Bernier to battle it out for the other spot. Bernier is going to have to greatly outperform Ersberg to win a spot. He's basically going to have to win the starting job, a tall task for a 21 year-old. I think Ersberg will win the job while Bernier gets a healthy number of games against AHL competition. Quick isn't really a competitor, I just figured his parents might scan this and see his name added and feel better. I'm a giver.
Whew, I'm tired. I'm making a sandwich. You want one? You can't have one, you're virtual. Or you're not, but you're reading this virtually. Something like that, I don't understand the internet. Goodbye.