The Kings opened training camp Thursday with a robust crop of 66 invitees – almost all of whom participated Thursday – who were divided into three groups.
There were three practice sessions and a scrimmage on the agenda. But perhaps the most compelling moments of the day were the Kings’ leaders speaking for the first time since last season’s contentious breakup day in which captain Anze Kopitar and alternate captain Drew Doughty implored management to enrich the roster.
The Kings responded, first by signing Kontinental Hockey League winger Vladimir Tkachyov. They then made a trade with Nashville to acquire winger Viktor Arvidsson, who may begin the year on the top line with Kopitar and his running mate Dustin Brown. On the first day of free agency, the Kings landed shutdown center Phillip Danault and longtime Vancouver Canucks defenseman Dan Hamhuis.
Those acquisitions came at a time when a titillating crop of prospects aspired to mature into potential contributors at the pro level, giving the Kings glimmers of hope, especially in a weak Pacific Division.
“I expect us to make the playoffs,” Doughty told reporters.
Kopitar was not quite as bold but expressed a desire and an expectation to be playing meaningful games late in the season, and placed the onus to do so on the players.
Kings coach Todd McLellan considered any prognostication premature, instead emphasizing the opportunity to get better incrementally each and every day on the ice.
“We need to improve before we declare ourselves playoff-ready,” McLellan told reporters.
The “play the kids” chant has been the loudest among Kings fans of late, and high-profile prospects like Quinton Byfield and Alex Turcotte are competing for roster spots this year. Even Doughty remarked to reporters that he was excited to see them on NHL ice as the Kings sought to return to the postseason for the first time since 2018.
For his part, McLellan said the acquisition of experienced players with a winning pedigree – Arvidsson, Danault and Hamhuis have each played in a Stanley Cup Final, albeit in losing efforts – alleviated some of the pressure on the organization and its young players.
“We don’t have to be forced into rushing young players into the lineup,” McLellan said. “We’ve added four players that we think are capable of playing in the NHL, and that’s the best thing for these kids.”
While the Kings have intense competition for roster spots among their forwards and, to a lesser extent, on the blue line, an area where they are firm is in goal.
Veteran Jonathan Quick, who won two Stanley Cups and a Conn Smythe Trophy last decade, and emergent starter Cal Petersen will protect the Kings’ net next season. Petersen signed a three-year, $15 million contract extension Wednesday, which Petersen told reporters prompted friends to joke that he could afford a house in Los Angeles.
On the ice, both goalies should continue to split time to an extent this season, though the extension was the latest in a series of signals that Petersen has cemented himself as the No. 1 goalie.
“As the years go on, obviously Cal has to become the guy,” McLellan told reporters.