Part three of this series brings us to the final defensive pairing, which may not be a pairing at all but rather a trio. Some teams, Kings included, do carry seven defensemen from time to time. For now, we focus on the bottom two, a picture that became more clear post rookie camp.
“You’ve bled with Wallace…now bleed with Greene!”
Our returning warrior has a new ally with whom to cause pain on opposing forwards. If you want to see a shut down defensive pair late in the game when the Kings are protecting the lead, look no further than Matt Greene and Willie Mitchell. Warrior squared. Last season, Greener at times played a top 4 role. This season, upon his return from injury, expect Matt to take the number 5 position on a consistent basis, one far more suited for his game.
Don’t get me wrong. If we measured the quality of the player by heart and character, few defensemen could touch him. He has given blood, sweat and plenty of pain to keep the puck out of our net. He is however a defensive defenseman. He is not fleet of foot and though he brings little offensive upside, at the 5th spot, he doesn’t need it. So long as the Kings know Greene’s role and play to his strengths, Matt will rarely if ever hurt the team.
Off the ice, Greene of course brings leadership and character (henceforth why he wears the “A”), qualities the Kings as a team possess in spades.
I hope to see Greener averaging 12-15 minutes per game, paired with one of our younger defensemen with an offensive upside (read: Hickey or Muzzin), and by season’s end (before we start the playoffs) with at least a +20. On the PK, look for he and Scuderi paired together as the second unit (Doughty and Mitchell possibly being the first).
“Who are you? Who who, who who?”
Options. That is what the Kings’ coaching staff have before them.
Davis Drewiske: A steady defender who started out well but never regained form after injury this past season. Whiskey brings enough experience and talent to play the number 6 role but the question becomes whether the Kings want two defensive defenseman at that position. He is a good skater. He is strong. Though he is neither fierce nor physical, he plays a smart positional game.
If Whiskey could develop an edge, win more of those board battles and push the puck up the ice, he may take the number 5 spot while Greene is out to start the season. If he starts contributing on offense, he could become a mainstay at number 6. A lot of “ifs.” For what it’s worth, having met Davis, he is an uber nice guy.
Thomas Hickey: I covered Hickey extensively this past weekend at the LA Kings rookie camp. In game situations and 5 on 5, I loved what I saw. Kings fans are ready to see him succeed. Playing the number 6 role would ease him into the team without unnecessary pressure or unrealistic expectations.
Jake Muzzin: Big and impressive kid. Good skater. Not as positionally sound as Thomas but stronger and tougher. The only thing Jake needs is seasoning. He has had a history of injury problems and I question whether Lombardi wants to see him gain more experience at Manchester before bringing him to the big club. We all know Dean is appropriately big on paying dues.
Johan Fransson: I can’t put my finger on this one. He looked awkward on the first day of rookie camp. He looked better on the second day. He has an offensive upside for certain but will he fit within a defensive minded team like the Kings? I need to see him more before I can answer that question. Besides, he has a goofy smile. Now, watch him come in and kill at the position…we should be so lucky, eh boys?
Peter Harrold: He has been our utility man for years but if we have to rely on him to play the number 6 role, Hickey, Muzzin, Drewiske and even Fransson better have fallen on their face. I know Peter brings experience but we have plenty of that in the top 5. It’s time to give one of the kids a chance.
Other options? Voynov is injured so I don’t see that happening. Teubert is also hurt but even if he wasn’t, he is at least one season away from being considered for such a role.
My pick? With Greene out, I put Drewiske with Hickey. Muzzin is the back up plan. When Greene returns, I put him with either Hickey or Drewiske, depending on what I saw in October. Keep in mind that the answers to these questions may become more clear at training camp. I will be there this Saturday and shall return with a full report.
The forwards! Look for Surly to break down our top 6 and the different pieces of veterans and rookies that may fill the 3rd and 4th lines.