With the most recent round of roster trimming, which saw Jonny Brodzinski, Andrew Crescenzi among others head down, the Kings now have a total of 30 players still on the roster. That breaks into two goalies, 17 forwards, and 11 defensemen. Now obviously the Kings have to cut a few more, seven to be exact, to get down to the 23-man roster.
For most of these guys, the regulars, you already know who they are and what they can bring to the LA Kings roster. But what about the guys that have made it to these late stages of camp that you don't know? That you have not seen? The ones that the fans do not know what exactly they bring to the table. Let's talk a bit about some of the late camp guys fighters and the lesser knowns and hone in on what they could bring to an LA Kings roster.
Kempe is a widely known prospect for a few reasons. He was a noteworthy prospect in the Swedish Elite League in his development days, a major player for Team Sweden in the World Junior Championships, and arguably the Kings most exciting prospect.
While last year proved to be one of significant learning for the 20-year old Swede, he has had an outstanding training camp. In fact, Reign coach Mike Stothers stated that Kempe was a player that had "Stood out the most" in camp thus far.
Photo Credit: Jessica Harsen
Kempe, a natural center, played most of last season at wing for the Reign. Out wide Kempe often put on a show of blistering speed and tremendous agility. It was not uncommon to see him utilize his outstanding skating in beating defenders wide and in transition. On occasion he also used it to drive the net and push back opposing defenses. He has a fairly good scoring sense as well, a strong shot, but did not see the scoresheet as frequently as you would hope in the AHL. Granted, as a 19-year old in his rookie AHL season 28 points in 55 games is not the worst thing in the world.
The 2014 1st round selection brings a ton of much needed facets to the Kings. He is fast. I mean really
fast. With a league that is edging more towards a speed and skill game, Kempe is a great fit. He also has a nasty side to him, something that came out at various times last season. He will take the body, stick up for himself, and even get in the face of his opponents when he has the attitude running on high. His versatility is also a nice compliment to his game, as he has suited up and played some strong minutes at center at the end of last season as well as in training camp. Wing, or center, Kempe has a skill set that could see him produce in the NHL. While his defensive habits could use some work, Kempe has a fairly similar style to Jeff Carter. His high pace, versatility, and skill could be a nice addition to a roster seeking two of those three qualities.
6-foot-5 and flat out mean.
But MacDermid is much more than just a bruising defensive defenseman. While watching him ragdoll 6-2, 220 pound Jared Boll in the Kings/Ducks preseason game was evidence of his strength, he is a surprisingly competent skater and puck mover. The latter skills are giving him real life as a potential NHL defenseman. Last season with Ontario it was a surprise to see this unsigned kid from Sauble Beach, Ontario usurp Zach Leslie, Nick Ebert, and Alex Lintuniemi on the depth chart, but he did just that with a blend of power and a developing skill game. MacDermid plays a style of game similar to Jake Muzzin, where his aggression at the red and blue lines often leads to strong possession and shifts in possession in favor of his squad. He is a player who excelled at a nice little play the Kings like to implement at both the AHL and NHL level.
He reads the play pretty darn well for a guy who went undrafted. Teams are not privy to trying to enter the zone when big Kurtis MacDermid is patrolling the line. While his extremely physical game sometimes skirt the edge of legality, it is this line that has gotten him on the map. But outside of the loud and brash physical play, there is an assertiveness with the puck that has developed within MacDermid's game. From start to finish last year with the Ontario Reign, MacDermid probably made the biggest strides in terms of development. He is fairly calm and settled with the puck, and by the end of the season was even skating plays out of the zone himself instead of looking to defer to teammates.
What MacDermid potentially brings to an NHL roster is powerful aggression and a game that fits well into the Kings defensive and neutral zone structure and play. He could very well play the role similar to that of a young Matt Greene, but there is a little bit of puck moving upside to him as well.
We have talked about Nic Dowd at length on the blog, so if you are not familiar with his game by now here it is in brief.
Dowd is a multi-faceted, intelligent center, capable of playing practically anywhere from 2 to 4C. He plays well enough defensively to be put in "stopper" like minutes, but also has playmaking creativity and offensive flare to him that would work alongside goalscorers like Tyler Toffoli. Dowd can almost be considered something of a tweener though. He is not outrightly physical or grindy, nor does he have an overwhelming offensive acumen. This leaves him in a strange place between the traditional Top 6 and Bottom 6 roles. If the Kings, however, do plan on moving forward with a more offensive oriented Top 9, Dowd might be an excellent center to back up Kopitar and Carter. He fits the mold of responsible, intelligent center very well, and watching him play for almost an entire year gives hope that he can adapt his hard-working two-way style to NHL success. At age 26, Dowd scored 48 points in 58 games last year with the Reign, which has not made too many Kings fans swoon over his offensive potential. However, Dowd was an absolute monster in almost every aspect of the game for Mike Stothers. If it was a big penalty kill, powerplay, defensive zone draw, or late game scenario, Nic Dowd was out there. His great faceoff ability, thinking, and attention to detail usually came to the forefront in these moments.
He brings more of what the Kings have already built success on, and that is responsible center depth. If Dowd can translate his game to its highest level in the NHL, a center group of Kopitar, Carter, Shore, and Dowd may be one of the best defensive center groups top to bottom in the Western Conference.
We are no stranger to Mersch, like Dowd. In fact, we got a pretty healthy look at Michael Mersch last season, although it did not go exactly as planned. Mersch's 17-game tryout was definitely a big step for him, and it exposed a lot of things he needs to work on. Nevertheless, the transition is hard and Mersch still has a lot of interesting potential to him.
Photo Credit: Jessica Harsen
Mersch is a power forward. Through and through. He does his damage in the blue paint and the five feet that surround it. From dot to goal line, Mersch is lethal. He is strong, has slick hands that can work in tight spaces, and knows how to implement his game against opponents. Mersch always seemed to find the right spot last season with Ontario, and that helped him put up almost a goal every other game. While his skating has stood out as an area of needed improvement, Mersch did just that this offseason and has looked much sharper in terms of footwork in training camp. While it is uncertain what level of production we see from the 24-year old at the NHL level, he has at minimum a good bottom-6 skill set. He is a smart player as well, and should be able to lend his skills to a penalty kill from time to time.
Assertiveness and mobility have been the staples of Paul LaDue's game from college to present day. He is, perhaps, one of the best skating defensemen the Kings currently have in the system. He put that on display last year with his late season addition to the Ontario Reign playoff march. While LaDue still has a lot to learn about the Kings system, you can already see how well he sees the ice when he has the puck on his stick. LaDue seems to know when to skate, when to draw back, and when to move the puck. It also helps that he is a great skater and a plus puck mover. While his aggression can sometimes come back to bite him, the Kings like that sort of balanced attack and assertiveness in their puck moving corps. Drew Doughty, Jake Muzzin, and Alec Martinez all play with a similar adherence to measured aggression, and LaDue fits that mold. LaDue is also a right shooting defenseman, which is something of a rarity on the Kings roster and in the pipeline. Unlike the log jammed left side, LaDue has a pretty wide open set up in front of him, and may arguably already be a better puck mover to those in front of him like Matt Greene and an aging Tom Gilbert.
Photo Credit: Jessica Harsen
LaDue is an extreme long shot to make the roster out of camp, but he brings an element of puck moving and mobility to the right side of the Kings defense. Given that the bottom options are Gilbert and Greene, LaDue might be closer than we actually think if the Kings want to go with a more up-tempo style. Still though, he is probably at least a half season away from tasting NHL action, but his overall fit and performance in camp has been one of the more positive ones this year.
Gravel was a rock for the Ontario Reign blueline last year. He was to the defensive group what Nic Dowd was to the forward group. If it was a big play or a big moment, big Kevin Gravel was out there. Gravel is a solid all-around defenseman. There are few deficiencies in his overall game, and his quick thinking and sharp puck movement caught the attention of at least this scout/writer. It seemed like as soon as the puck settled onto Kevin Gravel's stick, it was moving up ice in the right direction.
He has great size, a poise with the puck, mobility, a powerful shot, and an altogether cool and composed style both on and off the ice. Gravel saw limited action last season in a late season call-up, but everyone in the Kings organization seemed to be impressed with the potential he showed. Gravel, drafted in the 5th round in 2010, has always seemed to fly under the radar despite a good overall skillset. He was a member of the USA U20 WJC squad in 2011-12, was a USHL all-star with Sioux City, and twice made the NCAA All-Academic team while at St. Cloud State. He also won the Calder Cup in 2014-15 with the Monarchs/Reign. The Kings like the idea of a winner, and Gravel has done so at a lot of levels. While his ceiling may be somewhat limited, his floor is also pretty high. Gravel is a calm all-around defenseman and brings a lot of strong elements, be it puck moving, size, defensive play, offensive ability, or special teams play, to an NHL roster.
The forgotten prospect sometimes. We are a long time away from the 2010 draft in which Forbort was taken 15th overall (Yes *Sigh* ahead of Tarasenko..we get it).
Forbort, however is still darn useful, and people tend to forget that given his long path of development. Forbort was fairly good last year, and he was good in a year that saw him bounce in and out of the lineup and fail to get a whole lot of flow going in his game on a night to night basis. There were nights like the infamous seven defensemen night against Ottawa, where Forbort played 6 shifts and a healthy 3:53 of ice time. While he stayed with the Kings for almost half the year, Forbort actually played fewer games than Michael Mersch (Mersch played 17 while Forbort played 14).
Overall, the former UND defenseman is the posterboy of small sample sizing. He was outstanding in analytics sense, leading the Kings in almost too many categories by too wide of a margin to be real life. The problem was he never got a chance after the Rob Scuderi and Luke Schenn acquisitions to play in the NHL again. Instead we were left wondering "Who is Derek Forbort?"
Forbort by no means is a top 2, 3, or maybe even 4 defenseman. However, he is a calm and steady defenseman who does a lot of things right with low reward and even lower risk. Forbort will rarely pinch on a play, throw the body to stop a rush at the redline, or saunter down into the offensive zone to create offense. Therein lies the greatest strength but also the greatest weakness of the 24-year old. He brings stability, but nothing more than that. Forbort is actually not all that dissimilar in style to Jeff Schultz or even Rob Scuderi. Their best moments often come when you do not notice them. Every team needs depth like that, and that is what Forbort could potentially bring to the roster if he can make the team on a full time basis finally. While he may never live down the 1st round tag, Forbort still has his use in the NHL if he can just get in and get a steady dose of minutes. With as wide open as the Kings bottom pair is this training camp, this should be his year.
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