EL SEGUNDO, CA — With the Los Angeles Kings opening their 2019-20 season in Edmonton less than 24 hours from the time of this writing, a little housekeeping remains from their training camp, given that there has been a little head scratching by some about who made the Kings opening night roster and who did not.
More specifically, some have questioned why, during a rebuilding year, some veterans remain on the Kings roster when there are younger players in the system who are considered by many to be more skilled, better skaters, etc.
The initial answer to that question is that it’s not that simple and that the equation is different for each player.
To be sure, veteran players, especially those who have helped a team win the Stanley Cup, will get a lot of leeway—they’ve earned it. But only so much. After all, rebuilding is about a team becoming a Stanley Cup contender and if a veteran player isn’t able to provide the team what it needs and they have a young player in their system who can fill that role, a change should be made.
That said, the Kings are not a Stanley Cup contender this season, and they likely won’t be for another two or three seasons, maybe more. As such, decisions about who makes the National Hockey League roster and who does not are not cut-and-dried at all.
Case in point is forward prospect Jaret Anderson-Dolan, who was selected by the Kings in the second round (41st overall) of the 2017 NHL Draft. He was believed by many to have a better than average chance to make the Kings roster to start this season. Instead, he began the season with the Ontario Reign of the American Hockey League and in their opening night contest on October 4, he scored a goal and added an assist in a 5-0 victory over the San Jose Barracuda at Toyota Arena in Ontario, California.
To be sure, the 20-year-old, 5-11, 191-pound native of Calgary, Alberta could have easily started the season with the Kings, playing on the fourth line—maybe the third line. With good puck-handling skills, playmaking ability, a scoring touch, and elite speed, he certainly has the attributes that the Kings need at the NHL level.
Equally important, the Kings rave about his character and leadership potential.
“He’s business,” said Reign head coach Mike Stothers. “He’s all business. You can just see it. He’s focused. When you’re talking, he’s making eye contact. When you’re showing something on video, he’s dialed right in. When you ask a question, he’s got an answer. He’s a pretty serious guy.”
“You see the same thing from Anderson-Dolan all the time,” said assistant general manager Michael Futa. “His character is off the charts. His work ethic? Same thing. [General Manager Rob Blake] talks about changing the culture and you just see the intensity that he brings to the game.”
Last season, right after returning to the Spokane Chiefs of the Western Hockey League from the Kings training camp, Anderson-Dolan suffered a broken wrist. But he made the most out of a bad situation.
“It was kind of a wild year,” he observed. “Two games after I [returned to Spokane], I broke my wrist. That threw a wrench into things. My first game after that was in the World Junior Championships [Under 20], so it was a whirlwind of a season, But I learned a lot. I learned how to go through some adversity—that’s the first time I’ve been hurt in my career.”
“I just grew, more off the ice than anything,” he added. “I just got stronger mentally, from sitting out. It sucks being out. But being able to watch a game from the press box and kind of see things—slow it down—you can learn a lot. That was definitely beneficial for me.”
After scoring one goal in five games during the World Junior Championships, Anderson-Dolan returned to Spokane and proceeded to light the WHL on fire, scoring 20 goals and adding 23 assists for 43 points with a +9 plus/minus rating and 15 penalty minutes in 23 regular season games—he averaged an eye-popping 1.87 points per game.
In 15 playoff games, Anderson-Dolan scored five goals and added eight assists for 13 points.
“He came back in a hurry,” said Futa. “It meant so much to him for be a part of that, which speaks to his character. He was a big part of that team.”
“Some guys go back to junior thinking that it’s a step down,” added Futa. “Their body language changes and their effort changes because it’s that ‘woe is me’ complex. But you don’t get that from Anderson-Dolan. He’s a gamer.”
“He went back, [following the World Junior tournament]. He was their captain. Any other guy in his last year in junior could’ve mailed it in and taken time healing. But he set that date on his calendar to try and play in the World Juniors and he was outstanding. Then, he went back to Spokane and was one of the best players in the WHL the remainder of the season. That’s what you get out of Jaret Anderson-Dolan.”
Coming into this season, as previously reported, Anderson-Dolan was believed to be one of the Kings’ young prospects who had an excellent chance of making the big club’s opening night roster. For his part, that was certainly his goal.
“Last year, I came in—I wanted to make the team and it’s the same this year, so not much has changed,” he said before he was assigned to the Reign. “Obviously, I’m not going back to junior. I’ll be a pro, either way. But my goal is still to make the Kings.”
“I’m a little bit bigger—I’ve put on a little weight,” he added. “I’m a little stronger and learning from my experiences last year, my game is a little more well-rounded. I got some good experience playing in the World Juniors last year. I’m just trying to build off of what I accomplished last year and I had a good off-season, so I’m just trying to bring that into this season and be the best version of myself that I can be.”
After all that, it might seem like a no-brainer that a player with Anderson-Dolan’s skill, speed, character, and leadership potential should start the season with the Kings. After all, one could argue that he’s better than some of the bottom six forwards on the Kings roster. They need players who have all the attributes that he has, don’t they? But as mentioned earlier, it’s not that simple.
“I don’t think anybody is in a rush to jam him into the NHL lineup,” Futa noted. “But when you see a kid who works that hard—when [Kings head coach] Todd [McLellan] gets eyes on a kid who works that hard, it’s not going to take him long to win him over, too.”
“But part of what you see on a nightly basis from a kid like that is, what position gives him the best chance? He has the ability to play wing and center,” Futa added. “But you also want to put him in a situation, if you see him as a center down the road, maybe it’s better for him to play center in the American Hockey League, getting a ton of minutes, instead of getting bit minutes in the NHL.”
“Again, we’re in no hurry to rush him. But when you have that kind of intensity and you’re trying to change the culture, he’s the kind of kid who’s going to keep kicking at the door. That’s a good problem to have.”
With the Kings playing Anderson-Dolan primarily at center during the 2019 rookie tournament and during pre-season games, and now with the Reign, they are indeed looking for him to play at the center position for them. Moreover, Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Adrian Kempe, Blake Lizotte and Michael Amadio are all ahead of him on the depth chart. As such, the smart move was for Anderson-Dolan to play top six minutes in the AHL instead of getting bottom six minutes with the Kings, and this is just one example of the fact that making roster decisions involving young prospects, especially for an NHL team that is rebuilding, is a process that is never as simple as one might think.
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings center prospect Jaret-Anderson Dolan (left), shown here in Game 2 of the 2019 rookie tournament in Irvine, California, a 6-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche on September 8, 2019. Photo: Gann Matsuda/FrozenRoyalty.net.
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