The return of Los Angeles Kings hockey is just a few weeks away now.
Next week, the rookie faceoff tournament kicks off in Las Vegas, and soon after that, training camp starts.
The roster is fairly set, with the top-nine forwards and top-four defensemen all but locked in. However, there are a few forwards who can come in and steal a spot before the season opener on Oct. 11.
If you asked me to pick one player from this list to actually go and take a spot, I’d be choosing Alex Laferriere.
After two strong seasons for Harvard, Laferriere quickly ascended the Kings’ depth chart and is now one of their hottest prospects. Four games with the Ontario Reign and plenty of practices with the Kings set him up for a strong 2023-24 campaign.
While there’s plenty of offensive skill in his game — 73 points in 69 NCAA games is very impressive — it’s his complete game that makes him a legitimate candidate to make the roster.
He’s a highly engaged forward whose motor never stops running. His skill will never be elite at the NHL level, but there’s more than enough to provide secondary scoring, even now. He was a standout at development camp and was a step above most of his peers there.
Even if he doesn’t make the team out of camp, I expect Laferriere to make his NHL debut at some point this season. He didn’t look out of place during his four games in Ontario and has a versatile enough game to fill in wherever needed.
The most likely scenario for Mikhail Maltesv is a full season in the AHL producing impressive numbers in the Reigns’ top-six. He was brought in to bolster a Reign squad that disappointed last season, but there’s a world where he makes the NHL roster.
He’s struggled to translate his impressive offensive numbers in the AHL to the NHL and I don’t see that changing in Los Angeles. But as Todd McLellan frequently reminded everyone last season, you don’t need stats to stay.
While not a physically dominating player, Maltsev isn’t afraid to throw his weight around and play in the dirty areas of the ice. There’s some flexibility to play both center and wing too, which is always a positive.
He won’t come up and blow anyone away, but he can act as a serviceable fourth-liner for the Kings. A strong camp and an injury to someone else and Maltsev could very well start the season with the Kings.
I’ve been critical of Martin Chromiak’s status as a top prospect for the Kings in the past. But anytime a player boasts his goal-scoring ability and track record, there’s a chance for them to crack the NHL lineup.
Chromiak’s hands and shot are impressive at any level and I’d back him to score at any level too.
The concerns about his consistency and the 200-foot game still loom large, but a big improvement in those areas — particularly the latter — and Chromiak could take the team by storm at camp.
One thing that I think will kill Chromiak’s chances at making the lineup is his inability to play in a fourth-line role. He would have to play well enough to demand a top-nine spot over players like Arthur Kaliyev and Samuel Fagemo to have any chance at making the team. While not impossible, it does seem unlikely.
There’s a good chance he will make his NHL debut at some point this season though. And don’t be surprised if he grabs a goal or two when the chance comes.
Very few prospects have consistently impressed me the way Francesco Pinelli has over the last two seasons. Outside of Brandt Clarke, I don’t think anyone showed a more NHL-ready skillset than Pinelli at development camp two months ago.
However, more importantly, he’s physically very mature. He’s not a player who’s going to take a long time adjusting to the physical demands of pro hockey which gives him a big leg up against other young forwards.
There are still some concerns about his tendency to stick to the perimeter and create from outside. But it’s an area that he, and Jarret Stoll, highlighted as a big focus this summer.
If he can show an ability to play inside the hash marks at training camp, he can snag a fourth-line spot on the Kings’ roster.