WHO: Los Angeles Kings (1-0-1) vs. San Jose Sharks (2-0-0)
WHAT: NHL PRESEASON GAME
WHEN: Wednesday, September 28 @ 7:00 PM Pacific
WHERE: Toyota Arena – Ontario, CA
HOW TO FOLLOW: VIDEO: No Stream – AUDIO – iHeart Radio – TWITTER: @DooleyLAK & @LAKings
TONIGHT’S MATCHUP: The Kings and Sharks will square off for the second time in four days, as the two teams meet in Ontario for the inaugural Empire Classic.
HEAD-TO-HEAD: The Sharks skated to a 3-2 overtime victory during the preseason opener in San Jose on Sunday evening. Forwards Carl Grundstrom and Blake Lizotte tallied for the Kings, while goaltenders Jonathan Quick and Matthew Villalta split the work in net. Defenseman Brandt Clarke, expected to play tonight, had an assist in the game as well.
KINGS VITALS: Below is tonight’s expected game group against San Jose –
Forwards (13) – Quinton Byfield, Phillip Danault, Jacob Doty, Aidan Dudas, Samuel Fagemo, Carl Grundstrom, Samuel Helenius, Alex Iafallo, Arthur Kaliyev, Trevor Moore, Justin Nachbaur, Nate Thompson, Gabe Vilardi
Defensemen (6) – Tobie Bisson, Tobias Bjornfot, Brandt Clarke, Drew Doughty, Jacob Moverare, Matt Roy
Goaltenders (3) – Pheonix Copley, Jacob Ingham, Matthew Villalta
The Kings appear set to travel with one extra player at forward and in goal and will roll out a mix of veterans and younger players here in Ontario, giving several regulars – including Danault, Doughty and Moore – their first action of the 2022 preseason.
The top line made their preseason debut in Vegas on Monday, with the regular second line, two thirds of it anyways, debuting this evening with Danault now fully healthy and ready to go. The remainder of the group will see several roster hopefuls and players in and around the bubble get another game of exhibition action. Individuals in that group include players such as Tobias Bjornfot, Brandt Clarke and Jacob Moverare on the backend, as well as guys like Samuel Fagemo and Gabe Vilardi up front.
Not related to tonight’s game, but defenseman Sean Durzi re-joined the full group today in a regular jersey for the first time during training camp. Durzi has been in a non-contact jersey through the first six days of camp, typically skating with Group B or Group C. Today, he rejoined the top group, skating with the NHL regulars. A great step forward for number 50.
In terms of the camp roster, the Kings announced a roster move earlier this morning, as forward Francesco Pinelli was loaned to the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers. The bulk of the moves thus far in camp pertain to players headed back to their respective CHL teams, with the QMJHL and WHL already underway with regular-season games for the 2022-23 season and the OHL getting underway this coming weekend. Pinelli is the returning captain for Kitchener, which gets its 2022-23 campaign underway on Friday.
Making It Reign
For several on tonight’s projected game roster, the matchup against the Sharks will be a homecoming of sorts.
Many who are expected to play this evening are Ontario Reign alums, while others will begin the season playing in Ontario at the AHL level.
Defenseman Matt Roy is one of Ontario’s most distinguished alums. Roy began his professional career at the tail end of the 2016-17 season, after he completed his collegiate career at Michigan Tech, and played nearly two full seasons with the Reign. Roy skated in 102 AHL games with Ontario from 2017 through 2019 and became the team’s top option on the backend during the 2018-19 campaign, resulting in a callup from the Kings that he never relinquished.
“Lots of good memories from Ontario, the community there was great and the fans were really passionate,” Roy said this morning. “My first year there, we made it to the playoffs so that was pretty fun playing there. I had great coaches and great teammates, which made it a lot of fun. It was a really great experience.”
Roy also touched on an interesting angle when it comes to the AHL, which is the notion of competing against your teammates, while also competing with them. Currently, several players Roy is currently NHL teammates with were also AHL teammates, although in that league, you’re competing together for wins on the ice, but also for the same potential callup to the NHL.
“When you’re playing in the AHL, you’re competing against your teammates [for callups] but you’re also competing with them,” he said. “It’s cool that a lot of us have now come up together to the Kings.”
On the backend, in addition to Roy, Tobias Bjornfot and Jacob Moverare have played with Ontario and Los Angeles over the last few seasons. Both are expected to dress this evening.
Others expected to play tonight up front, who began their careers in Ontario, include Quinton Byfield, Samuel Fagemo, Carl Grundstrom, Arthur Kaliyev and Gabe Vilardi, who have all played games with both the Kings and the Reign throughout the course of their young careers. . Additionally, forwards Aidan Dudas and Samuel Helenius, who have yet to make their NHL debuts but have played with the Reign, are slated to play this evening.
In net, goaltenders Matthew Villalta and Jacob Ingham are among those on the traveling roster. Both have featured with the Reign over the last three seasons.
Decisions On Defense
As the Kings approach the NHL’s roster submission deadline, when the team will need to be down to 23 players on the active roster, several decisions await the organization.
The ultimate decider here is General Manager Rob Blake, who is responsible for the final roster submission. In speaking with Todd McLellan, however, Blake is one to seek input from those around him on the management team and on the coaching staff, something that McLellan values greatly considering his position.
“The one thing about Blakey is that he takes a lot of input from the people that he has around him and I think that’s a real good quality,” McLellan said. “He has to make decisions based on roster spots, he has to make decisions based on salary cap, decisions based on performance, on waivers, on injuries, sometimes it’s combinations and pairs.”
Those decisions will come both at the forward position and on the blueline, but for today’s purposes we’ll focus on the latter. The Kings have nine defensemen here in camp that played NHL games with the club last season. Eight of those defensemen played in 19-or-more games and the one who didn’t – Sean Walker – played in more than 92 percent of the team’s games during the 2019-20 and 2020-21 seasons combined. That’s not including Brandt Clarke, who has impressed early in training camp as a rookie.
The Kings will enter the season with a decision to make on several players and that’s something that will first start with health. Defenseman Sean Durzi opened camp in a non-contact jersey and skated with the main group in a regular-contact jersey for the first time today. Durzi had offseason shoulder surgery which he is working back from. Additionally, Walker is coming off season-ending ACL and MCL surgery, off an injury suffered last October. He’s practiced in full thus far in camp, but has yet to appear in a preseason contest. Both players are expected to be good to go for opening night, but the Kings certainly have options if either is not.
The composition of the 23-man roster also factors in, because the Kings could opt to carry either seven or eight defensemen, as they look to best utilize their personnel early in the season.
“That’s an option, we’re allowed to have 23 roster spots,” McLellan said. “We don’t know who will be healthy or who won’t be at that roster date. Any combination of 23 we can come up with is an option.”
Where that leaves the Kings on the backend is with decisions to make on several players. Brandt Clarke is only eligible to play in the NHL or the OHL, so getting AHL experience with the Ontario Reign is not on the table. Jordan Spence and Tobias Bjornfot are waiver exempt, while Jacob Moverare is not. Durzi and Walker have their recovery situations, while Drew Doughty is also coming off of season-ending surgery, although he is at full speed and is expected to make his preseason debut tonight.
Several factors will play into the final decisions, with some tough ones likely to follow.
“I think when you get to the point where decisions are hard and there’s huge debate over them, that’s a good spot for an organization,” McLellan said. “It’s not just on the blue line, there are some forwards too, but when we’re doing that, we are potentially in a good spot. It’s up to us to produce at that point.”
The Bjorn Identity
One such player who will be in that competition on the blueline is Tobias Bjornfot, who is also among those expected to play tonight.
Bjornfot played 70 NHL games with the Kings last season and was a regular on the backend with a variety of different partners. Bjornfot regularly partnered Matt Roy, Mikey Anderson and Sean Durzi throughout the course of the season, as the young Swede completed his first full campaign at the NHL level. Coming off of a late-season injury, combined with the emergence of others on the backend, Bjornfot found himself on the outside looking in come the postseason.
On camp so far and adjusting from summer skates
Yeah, I think it’s going well so far. There’s a little more structure and it’s more intense. In the summer, there’s no one watching you and here in camp, it’s more intense and there’s more structure.
On if he likes to play in preseason games and what he takes from them
I do like to play in preseason games, it’s nice to get going and get more into game shape. In Sweden, we used to play a lot of preseason games, we had 5-10 then, so I’m used to playing in a longer preseason.
On his focal points over the summer and any feedback he received heading in
I worked on my strength, getting stronger and faster, all of that kind of stuff. We’ve got a lot of time during the offseason to work on that. I just wanted to come in ready and prepared for camp, bring my A game to camp.
Kings and Sharks, tonight at 7:00 PM in Ontario!