02/23/2024

BUF:

2

CBJ:

1

Final

WPG:

3

CHI:

2

Final

MIN:

4

EDM:

2

Final

02/24/2024

STL:

1

DET:

6

Final

MTL:

3

NJD:

4

Final

TBL:

4

NYI:

2

Final

NYR:

2

PHI:

1

Final

WSH:

2

FLA:

3

Final

TOR:

4

COL:

3

Final

VGK:

3

OTT:

4

Final

BOS:

2

VAN:

3

Final

DAL:

2

CAR:

1

Final

CGY:

6

EDM:

3

Final

MIN:

5

SEA:

2

Final

NSH:

4

SJS:

2

Final

ANA:

2

LAK:

3

Final

02/25/2024

TBL:

4

NJD:

1

Final

PHI:

6

PIT:

7

Final

CAR:

2

BUF:

3

Final

NYR:

2

CBJ:

4

Final

DET:

3

CHI:

2

Final

ARI:

3

WPG:

4

Final

NSH:

4

ANA:

2

Final

02/26/2024

OTT:

0

WSH:

1

1

11:39

NYI:

0

DAL:

0

08:00 ET

LAK:

0

EDM:

0

09:30 ET

BOS:

0

SEA:

0

10:00 ET

02/27/2024

WSH:

0

DET:

0

07:00 ET

BUF:

0

FLA:

0

07:00 ET

ARI:

0

MTL:

0

07:00 ET

TBL:

0

PHI:

0

07:00 ET

VGK:

0

TOR:

0

07:00 ET

CAR:

0

MIN:

0

08:00 ET

OTT:

0

NSH:

0

08:00 ET

STL:

0

WPG:

0

08:00 ET

LAK:

0

CGY:

0

09:00 ET

DAL:

0

COL:

0

09:30 ET

PIT:

0

VAN:

0

10:00 ET

NJD:

0

SJS:

0

10:30 ET

02/28/2024

CBJ:

0

NYR:

0

07:00 ET

STL:

0

EDM:

0

08:30 ET

02/29/2024

VGK:

0

BOS:

0

07:00 ET

CAR:

0

CBJ:

0

07:00 ET

NYI:

0

DET:

0

07:00 ET

MTL:

0

FLA:

0

07:00 ET

BUF:

0

TBL:

0

07:00 ET

ARI:

0

TOR:

0

07:00 ET

WPG:

0

DAL:

0

08:00 ET

MIN:

0

NSH:

0

08:00 ET

COL:

0

CHI:

0

09:00 ET

PIT:

0

SEA:

0

10:00 ET

LAK:

0

VAN:

0

10:00 ET

ANA:

0

SJS:

0

10:30 ET

The Battle for the Third Pair

Photo by Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports

The Kings spent the last few seasons dedicating a meticulous search for a mobile 2-way left-shot defenseman. The search often pointed toward a familiar name to the Kings’ organization due to family legacy, Jacob Chychrun. The asking price was rumored to be absurd, and the Kings deftly sought out Vladislav Gavrikov in a trade coupled with goalie Joonas Korpisalo. The trade paid in dividends and with sunk cost. The Kings used a first-round pick for a rental in Korpisalo, who fell apart in the last three games of the Edmonton series. Gavrikov, fortunately, would stick around for another two years in a contract extension. That has to be a significant sigh of relief for management. Avoiding the stain of trading a legend and soon-to-be rafters number in Jonathan Quick and a first-round pick for ‘two’ rentals instead of one was a pyrrhic victory to keep half of the initial spoils of the landmark trade of 2022-23.

With the top two defensive pairs penciled in, ready to pursue their excellent metrics from last year, the Kings now find themselves in a situation that could dictate the season’s flow. The Kings had three significant departures on their blueline, opening up an entire pairing: Sean Walker, Sean Durzi, and Alexander Edler have either all been traded or have left for free agency. The third pair is wide open. Could the young burgeoning star in Brandt Clarke take over a third defensive pair spot? Will it be the surprising underdog in Jordan Spence? Is it finally time for Tobias Bjornfot, a former first-round pick in his own right, to be a consistent impact player? Jacob Moverare has been with the organization for over half a decade but has played breadcrumbs. Is the cerebral and lengthy defenseman time to plead his case for full-time NHL status? I will examine each case and the penultimate outlook for this potential third defensive pair.

3RHD

Open to two players at the end of the day. Two righties oppose being a replacement for Sean Durzi on the powerplay and sheltered minutes against lesser foes.

Brandt Clarke
I have previously argued that he is the most talented prospect for the Kings organization since Drew Doughty. Clarke registered two assists in his time in a Kings uniform last year. At the same time, Rob Blake and Co maximized his professional hockey exposure to the maximum extent with a conditioning stint in the AHL. Clarke was challenged to go back to the OHL and dominate, and dominate he did. His point-per-game ratio during his time with Barrie was a remarkable 1.9 per game. He continued this pace in the OHL playoffs with 1.9 points per game. He broke the Barrie Colts franchise records for points and assists by a defenseman and tied Aaron Ekblad’s record for goals in 32 fewer contests. He left to play for Team Canada and assisted in the gold medal overtime winner during three-on-three play.

Clarke is a magician with the puck, and while he handled himself well defending against his age group in the OHL combined with the men he played against in Slovakia, the NHL is an entirely different ballgame. Bigger, faster, more talented, and more competitive, there are concerns about his skating ability and ability to handle an NHL forecheck.

So, while Clarke would be an asset in driving the offensive in place in the absence of Sean Walker and Sean Durzi (51 points combined in 2022-23), he can get burned as a rookie regardless of his sheltered minutes. He would considerably upgrade Durzi at quarterbacking the second power play unit throughout an entire season. His vision is already at the NHL level with elite potential. Due to his age, pure rawness, and the organization’s history of slow seasoning their prospects, Clarke stands behind the eight ball of making the roster out of camp. Clarke either makes the roster out of camp only to be sent down to work on specific areas of his game to get up to NHL caliber or start the season with the Reign and carve his way toward the NHL. Clarke will not have to pass through waivers to be recalled to the Kings.

Jordan Spence
Despite the overflow of talent that Brandt Clarke has and the ceiling he possesses, Spence is and has already been NHL-ready. He has produced at a high level at the AHL in back-to-back years. He has been an AHL all-star, and he has produced during his call-ups at the NHL level. He has been comfortable and has even scored at the highest level. Spence has been with the organization for four years under the likes of Brock Faber, Sean Walker, Sean Durzi, and the future of Brandt Clarke. Due to all the trades, it is finally Jordan Spence’s time. Much like the current player the Kings have in Matt Roy, Spence is extraordinarily underrated and essentially slept on until the most recent two seasons. His ceiling may not be that of former Kings prospect Brock Faber or soon-to-be camp rival Brandt Clarke, but he is a legitimate option to play in the top four for seasons to come, given some more experience.

The only concern would be the need for more size. Jordan Spence isn’t severely undersized; he is just undersized compared to the rest of the Kings’ D corps. He would most likely see time against the bottom six towards opposing teams, players traditionally with size.

While Spence will most likely not be as effective as Clarke as a powerplay quarterback, he has put up respectable numbers on an excellent Reign power play the last two seasons. Spence would be the readiest option to start the season on the third pair; given his experience at the NHL level already, Spence should be highly favored to start the season with the Kings.

3LHD

Two players will battle for this spot, but unlike the right side, Rob Blake bought into a contingency plan, adding Andreas Englund in the off-season to buffer any unexpected deficiencies on the left side and, if all goes well, instead, insulation at the AHL level.

Tobias Bjornfot
Bjornfot will enter 2023-24, having already played 116 games at the NHL level since his upstart 2019 season, in which he started the year as a rookie playing against Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers. He is well-sized and an excellent skater. As a member of Team Sweden at the WJC, he brings to the table international experience and as a member of the leadership group. However, he has struggled with his consistency at the highest level. His offensive game leaves a lot more to be desired. Bjornfot’s one-on-one stick-work and positioning act as his strength, though he is not a natural stay-at-home defenseman with the ability to clear a crease. While his ceiling is obscure, he is still a safe bet to play in the bottom four, given consistent time in the NHL.

It is coming down to make or break time for Bjornfot, for he has been given the opportunity to showcase his game and grab hold of a roster spot. His window is closing fast for a player of his draft positioning and pedigree. I expect Bjornfot to enter camp a man on fire. If he doesn’t shine bright, he will burn out and lose a critical opportunity to stay with the big club. He was awarded a two-year contract, which is not the same as Gabriel Vilardi’s last year’s ‘show me’ one year contract, but it is the hope Bjornfot can secure a holding in the lineup for good. Bjornfot is waiver-eligible for 2023-24; expect that to be a significant factor in the upcoming season.

Jacob Moverare
Moverare was always a long-term project for the franchise, for he was drafted in 2016. He hasn’t been a regular at the NHL but has acted as a reliable 7th defenseman in and around the pro game. With Edler not returning, Moverare acts as a quality replacement. Edler was the size on the Kings’ blue line until the Gavrikov acquisition. Moverare has the size and, just like Edler, is not fleet of foot. He has flashed the ability to be a minor point producer due to his cerebral play, 26 points in 62 AHL contests last season. While he won’t be a complete liability off the rush as Edler was, he will still be exposed by some of the faster NHL forwards. Moverare is a player who has reached the age where he needs to be regular in an NHL lineup, or he will end up bouncing around from team to team as a 7th defenseman safety valve.

Conclusion

The openings for each of these players will cause the competition to heat up, hopefully bringing the best out of each of these individuals. Rob Blake brought in further competition with contingency plans since the pressure is on the franchise to take a step past the first round of the playoffs. There is very little room for error for management coming into 2023-24. With a giant question mark for a third defensive pair to start the year, the performance of that grouping can make or break the Kings’ chances of making the second round and making the playoffs.

Brandt Clarke is purely too talented not to start the season with the Kings and management’s desire for him to take over the throne from Drew Doughty, much like Quinton Byfield and Anze Kopitar. The likely course will be sending him back down near or before the season’s quarter pole. Jordan Spence steps forward since he is the most viable and reliable option to anchor your third pair. It is a win-win for the Kings if Clarke wins a spot or even starts the season just to be sent down. He can mature his game and learn from his lessons at the AHL level. Englund is an excellent insurance policy for a third defensive pair heavy-handed enforcer that has the potential to break the cycle of Kings prospects getting injured early on in the pro career; see Gabriel Vilardi, Rasmus Kupari, Alex Turcotte, Arthur Kaliyev, Akil Thomas, Quinton Byfield, and Alex Turcotte again. A considerable amount of talent has missed time in the early stages of their careers due to injury. Brandt Clarke’s health is critical for the Kings franchise moving forward.

Tobias Bjornfot is a key element for training camp. He should lock down the third pair. Given the history of Moverare being a safety valve 7th defenseman and his tenure in the pro game thus far, I don’t believe he makes the team out of camp. Derek Englund would add some much-needed size and snarl that this team completely lacks with the departure of Zack MacEwen. The enforcer position isn’t necessarily needed in the modern-day NHL, but since Brandt Clarke will likely make this team out of camp, it would be wise to pair him with Englund for more room for his game and protection. This also applies to the slightly undersized Spence.

Doughty-Anderson
Roy-Gavrikov
Clarke-Bjornfot
Englund

Quarter Mark Contingency
Doughty-Anderson
Roy-Gavrikov
Spence-Bjornfot
Englund

Training camp for these spots will be as competitive as ever. It will bring out the best in each player, but this is what is expected to start the year, as well as the contingency plan in place.

Connor Doyle

US Navy Veteran and UCLA Class of 2024. Background in International Development Studies. Los Angeles born and raised. Following hockey for over a decade.

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