In this edition of Los Angeles Kings News & Rumors, I’ll be discussing injury updates, a check-in on the team’s college prospects, and a check-in on the Ontario Reign.
Player Come & Go
After missing just under two weeks with an undisclosed injury, Kings’ defenseman Tobias Bjornfot returned to the lineup Saturday against the Seattle Kraken. This allowed the team to rest Alex Edler, who reportedly returned from injury ahead of schedule to help the injury-ravaged blue line. With Bjornfot back, the team felt comfortable giving Edler more time to recover. Bjornfot stepped in and was very good for the team, playing the second-most minutes on the team, just behind partner Sean Durzi. Bjornfot has gotten his fair share of criticism this season, some of it is fair as he has struggled at times, but through both injury crises, he has stepped up when called upon.
His partnership with Mikey Anderson earlier in the season helped the team navigate Drew Doughty’s first injury, and it appears he and Durzi will do the same again. Bjornfot played to his strengths on Saturday, defensively solid with a crisp outlet pass, he deferred most of the puck movement to Durzi. The Kraken’s first goal came after a miscommunication between Bjornfot and Durzi allowed Daniel Sprong to find space down the wing, but the pairing was overall good all night. Bjornfot taking the next step in his development would be huge for the Kings, although it will likely be another season or two before he achieves this.
In more disappointing news, center Blake Lizotte is out of the lineup for Monday’s rematch against the Kraken, after taking a bad hit from Kraken defensemen Vince Dunn. Lizotte was run into the boards face-first after a hit from behind, which was inexplicably not called a penalty. This comes soon after Lizotte signed his two-year extension with the team. Hopefully, this is just a precautionary game off for Lizotte, and he isn’t out long-term, as he has anchored the fourth line all season. We saw that line slow down considerably after losing Brendan Lemieux and Arthur Kaliyev, and I fear without Lizotte, the King’s fourth line will seriously struggle. Lias Andersson will replace Lizotte on Monday, with the former ninth overall pick returning to center, for the time being. Andersson is running out of chances to impress, as a restricted free agent this summer, and will need to show he belongs soon, maybe now is the time.
Kings’ Prospects in College
The Kings have quite a few prospects playing well in college, with Brock Faber being the obvious standout. Faber is the only Kings prospect to go all the way to the Frozen Four this season, after beating Western Michigan 3-0 to punch their ticket into the Frozen Four. This continues to be an incredible season for Faber, who was recently nominated for the Big 10 Defensemen of the year award.
Not only has he impressed in college, but he also quickly became Team USA’s go-to defensemen at the Olympics. The excitement continues to grow around Faber, as he’s developing into what could be an excellent top-four defenseman. He’ll be hoping to finish this season as a National Champion before turning pro and joining the Reign. It’s worth noting that there are some rumors swirling that Faber might return to college next season if they do not win the National Championship, hopefully, Minnesota wins and it’s a non-issue, as the Reign desperately needs reinforcements.
Unfortunately, the team’s other college prospects did not enjoy as much success. Andre Lee and Ben Meehan at UMass Lowell were defeated by Denver in the first round of the tournament, while David Hrenak’s St. Cloud State was also defeated in the first round. It was an unfortunate situation for Hrenak, who was enjoying a very good senior season, he missed the game due to a non-covid related illness, and his college career ended without the chance to affect the game. There are some rumbling that Hrenak could join the Reign, as they have struggled to find consistent goaltending all season.
On personal notes, Lee was named to the All-Hockey East Third Team, after posting an impressive 16 goals and 12 assists in 34 games. The massive winger continued to develop and he’s beginning to look like a possible late bloomer for the Kings. Standing at 6-foot-5, 205-pounds, Lee combines his fantastic size with great puck skills, speed, and shooting. His development will be interesting to watch over the next 12-18 months, as he has all the tools to be an effective bottom-six forward for the Kings. There’s no word on whether he returns for his senior season, or if he joins the Reign, so that’s something to keep an eye on.
Lastly, forward Alex Laferriere was named to the Third Team All-ECAC and All-Rookie team, after putting together a very impressive freshman season. He was able to keep pace with top NHL prospects like Matthew Coronato, Nick Abruzzese, and Sean Farrell, scoring 14 goals and adding 17 assists in 35 games. His 14-goals put him just behind Coronato on Harvard’s leaderboards and showed off his best attribute. Laferriere has an NHL-ready shot and pulls the trigger at every opportunity. He will likely play two-three more seasons in college before turning pro, but like Lee, he has the potential to be a late bloomer for the Kings, who becomes a steal as a third-round pick.
The Reign have not been the dominant team we’ve come to expect lately, going 5-5 in their last 10 games. This is mostly due to their team getting gutted to help with the Kings’ injury crisis though. They’re without several key players and even lost star player Martin Frk to injury recently. Fortunately, the Reign are getting some reinforcements from Europe. Prospects Samuel Helenius and Kim Nousiainen will be joining the team according to Kings insider John Hoven.
Nousiainen was a 2019 fourth-round pick, is an undersized defenseman at just 5-foot-9, but plays a more defensively sound and physical game than you’d expect from someone of his size. He’s got the offensive ability you’d expect from an undersized blueliner, he impressed Finland at last year’s World Championships and has continued to develop well in the Finnish Liiga. He will provide some much-needed help on the blue line, and could be a sleeper prospect to make an impact in the NHL. He will need at least a few seasons in the AHL before he is ready for the NHL, but he has stepped up at every level before this and you shouldn’t count him out.
The other name coming over is Helenius, a player I’m very excited about. He struggled offensively in the Liiga this season but had an incredible two games at the World Junior Championships before its cancellation. He wasn’t drafted for his offensive talent though, he is a big, mean center who plays an impressive defensive game. He projects as a solid bottom-six forward, who has some goalscoring upside, possessing a hard shot, and a great net-front presence. Starting his development in North America now makes a lot of sense, as he can potentially anchor the team’s bottom six for a long time. He’ll need plenty of development time, mainly to learn how to effectively use his size to dominate physically at the highest level, but once he does, watch out, he’ll be an imposing player. The comparison I always draw is too recent New York Rangers addition, Andrew Copp.
Gearing Up for Playoffs
With just 15 games left in the season, the Kings will now have to start gearing up for the playoffs. For many players, it will be their first time experiencing the business end of a playoff push and will be their first taste of NHL playoff hockey. As I’ve said many times, I wouldn’t expect the team to win more than one round, and an early exit would not be surprising. However, the experience this team will gain is going to be invaluable, as the young players on the roster get a taste of what it takes to win.
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.