Positioning

L.A. Kings defense analysis: Who does a coach expect to take a ‘big jump’? – The Athletic

future-dyanmics

The Kings didn’t have just a Plan A or Plan B when it came to assembling their defense corps during the 2021-22 season.
It went far deeper than that in what was an extraordinarily injury-riddled campaign. No. 1 defenseman Drew Doughty went down with a knee injury in Game 4 on Oct. 23, and three nights later, top-four defenseman Sean Walker was lost for the season with a torn ACL, which required surgery.
In reality, they were already on Plan C before the calendar flipped to November.
And the hits kept coming and coming. In all, the Kings used 14 defensemen in the regular season, including four rookies: Austin Strand (eight games), Jacob Moverare (19), Jordan Spence (24) and Sean Durzi (64). Interestingly enough, the defenseman with the most regular-season games was Tobias Bjornfot (70), who was a healthy scratch in the playoffs against the Edmonton Oilers.
Assistant coach Trent Yawney manages the defense under Kings coach Todd McLellan and it was up to him to patch together and otherwise tweak an evolving cast on the back end. Yawney spoke to The Athletic about the games of several Kings defensemen, examining the small picture and big-picture details.
It’s always a lively, insightful discussion with Yawney even though he didn’t use the words “bantam-rooster mentality,” as he did last year to describe Walker. (The interview was edited for clarity and space.)
Age: 32
2021-22 season statistics: 39 games, 7 goals, 24 assists, 31 points, plus-4. Average time on ice: 25:44. (Was a minus-14 in the previous season. Had season-ending wrist surgery on April 11.)
Yawney said: “He’s getting comfortable being one of the leaders of the team. He was off to a great start and probably would have had one of his stronger years. Who knows what the end result would be been with the first round with him in our lineup and with everybody else we had that did an awesome job. That’s where he excels in those games.
“Having him around, that was huge for our guys (in the playoffs). It might not seem like a big thing from the outside. His personality, both when he’s serious and when he’s laughing — and his laugh is pretty unique — it loosened guys up to have him around.
“I think he’ll pick up from where he left off and take it to another level. I know there’s another level for him, maybe more offensively than he even thinks. If there’s a silver lining through all this, the rest isn’t going to hurt him. He’s seen the team getting better and judging from his comments from a year ago, that’s what he was hoping for and that’s what the boss (GM Rob Blake) went out and did.”
Age: 23
2021-22: 57 games, 2 goals, 6 assists, 8 points, plus-6, 20:07 ATOI. (Second among the Kings in hits with 133, one behind Carl Grundstrom.)
Yawney said: “I always say, don’t judge him by his offense. He has a big impact on the game without the puck and is slowly emerging in that second tier of leadership. I’d play him against anybody. Obviously, he’s a good complement to Drew and they’re a good pair. But Mikey and (Roy) together were pretty good together too in the playoffs.
“His impact on the game is more about (playing) without the puck. His positioning. His play around our net. His penalty killing and ability to play against top forwards. You combine that with his leadership, which he is getting more comfortable with, and you can see why he’s worn letters with other teams that he has been on.
“One of Mikey’s strengths is that if he does have a tough shift, very rarely does he go in the tank on the next one. To take it one step further, if he has a bad game, he always follows it up with a real solid game. He knows who he is. And he doesn’t try to be something that he’s not. He’s getting more physical, too. I know he wanted to add that part to his game and you saw a little bit of that in the playoffs.
“People don’t know how hard it is to play catch-up in this league. This guy was out (for a long time) and then had to find his game and was important for us in the playoffs. He deserves a lot of credit. That’s not easy to do, especially against the guys he was playing against.”
Mikey Anderson delivers hard hit on Robby Fabbri.#GoKingsGo #LGRW #LAKvsDET pic.twitter.com/kCKaAEo9Jf
— LA Royalty (@LARoyalty1967) January 9, 2022

Age: 21
2021-22 season: 70 games, 0 goals, 8 assists, 8 points, minus-12, 16:46 ATOI.
Yawney said: “I would say his year was inconsistent. His ‘good’ was really good but his ‘average’ wasn’t good enough. Why wasn’t it good enough? Because when he’s good, he’s a really really good defender. That’s what he prides himself on. His average was too inconsistent. That’s not abnormal for a young defenseman. But it was a big learning year for him.
“So I expect him to come back next year and compete hard for a spot. He plays his best when he’s involved with his skating. He’s such a good skater. That allows him to be such a good defender and we need more of that.
“It was probably disappointing for him. But at the same time, he was a good teammate. He’s got to start carving out who he is. There’s going to be competition. He’s well aware of it and not afraid of it. I’d like to see him make a few more mistakes with the puck – where he is skating and trying to make a play.”
Age: 27
2021-22:  67 games, 2 goals, 19 assists, 21 points, plus-23, 20:59 ATOI. (Team leader in plus/minus and second in blocked shots with 103.)
Yawney said: “He doesn’t really change a whole lot. When he was injured and came back and battled through those injuries, even though coming back his game didn’t look as good as maybe it was before, it was real close. I trust this guy. I trust this guy in any situation. I could play him against anybody. I could play him on both sides. Although it was my fault – but we had no other choice – to put him on the left side. That set him back. But it was a comfort thing coming back, trying to get his rhythm and timing going. Once we put him back on the right side, he seemed to take off.
“A lot like Mikey – he can play against anybody. A little bit more physical. Has a meanness to his game. Offensively, he’s got a big shot and he tries to use it. That’s got to continue because it’s a heavy shot. His progression is where you would want it. A tough guy to replace.
“Again, he’s quiet with his leadership. Guys gravitate toward him. He’s not afraid to tell guys to get their (act) together. But he does it in his own way and that’s important. He’s not a rah-rah guy by any means, but he’s not a church mouse either.”
Age: 23
2021-22: 64 games, 3 goals, 24 assists, 27 points, minus-9, 19:36 ATOI. (Led the team in blocked shots with 121 and underwent shoulder surgery on May 26.)
Yawney said: “I remember we had a pretty good conversation at the start. I told him not to look at his minutes too closely. I think he started at around 12, 13 minutes. Slowly, you could see him do some things that some of the other guys couldn’t with his vision and his passing. For a long time, you didn’t see any of the warts. But they did show up, which I wanted them to because that was the only way I was going to be able to help him. Hanging on to the puck too long, picking the wrong times to get involved offensively. Some positioning issues that needed a little tweaking. He was very coachable and a pleasure to be around and to watch his growth.
“He’s got a lot of confidence. There’s no question about that. But that’s a good thing. That makes him who he is. He loves to play the game. He’s not afraid of the big stage.
“He pisses guys off on the other team. I remember he was on the PK when we were in Washington – he got put on before that — and he blocked a big shot by (Alex) Ovechkin. It was a rocket. He almost ended Kirby Dach’s year with an open-ice hit against Chicago. He fought Tanner Jeannot from Nashville. He stuck up for (Blake Lizotte) after (Vince) Dunn hit Lizzo from behind when we played Seattle back-to-back. I’m not saying he has to do all these things. But he did them. That says a lot about who he is. We all hope that the seven games in the playoffs were a good teaching moment for him.
“He did a hell of a job for us on the power play. Not many guys can come up and run the first-unit power play. … Now, go do it again. It’ll be a big change for him because next year he’s not going to be getting 20 minutes a night and not going to be playing in the top four unless we run into the same situation. He’s going to have to learn how to manage his game playing lower in the lineup and still provide the strengths he provided our team. But he can do it. He’s become a very good penalty killer. So he’s going to get minutes there and he can play both sides, which is a bonus. A lot of positives with him.”
So now we know that Sean Durzi had a shoulder injury in Round 1 that required surgery. That didn’t stop him from scoring this goal in Game 6. @seandurzi you are an absolute legend. pic.twitter.com/AAf87ohvIG
— Ryan (@ryanstahl_) May 27, 2022

Age: 27
2020-21:  66 games, 1 goal, 7 assists, 8 points, plus-17, 18:17 ATOI. (Was minus-8 the previous season, a career-worst.)
Yawney said: “I don’t think you’d get any argument that Olli probably was the unsung hero on D the latter part of the season. He was consistent as he’s played all year long. Just a true professional. Low maintenance. What I respect about him – this is a guy that won a couple of Stanley Cups, and when we had our full lineup and he wasn’t in the lineup, he never dragged anybody else down. He just worked. A good teammate.
“When he got a chance, he took advantage of it. We appreciated that and it didn’t go unnoticed.”
You know who's the biggest unsung hero for the @LAKings this year? Olli Maatta.
He's +23 since Dec 14, T-7th best in NHL over that span & 4th best 5v5 GA/60.
Why is Dec 14 significant? Alex Edler got hurt the game prior. Before then, Maatta was a healthy scratch in 6 straight.
— Alex Faust (@alex_faust) March 25, 2022

Age: 36
2021-22: 41 games, 3 goals, 16 assists, 19 points, plus 18, 18:28 ATOI. (Edler has played 966 NHL games – 41 with the Kings and the rest with the Vancouver Canucks.)
Yawney said: “He was huge for us – added that experience, that size and veteran savvy on the back end. When he got hurt, I didn’t think he was going to be back. He’s a lot like Olli – totals pros, and he worked his ass off to get himself back. It was great to have him back. If he played the whole year, he might have scored 40 points.
“Very good penalty killer. Great on the bench with the young players. If I was the coach standing there, then he was the coach sitting there. He was open with Durzi and Spence and Toby when he was in the lineup, and was a big asset with all of our Swedish players.
“He understands where he is in his career and that’s important, too, as the organization moves forward. He’s chasing something, and that’s 1,000 games. That’s a big deal for any player.”
Age: 21
2021-22: 24 games, 2 goals, 6 assists, 8 points, even rating, 19:45 ATOI.
Yawney said: “Coming in, he was doing a good job in the American League. For some guys, that was a big step (to the NHL). For him, it was pretty seamless, I thought. Learning the league and getting into some playoff games at the NHL level, on the road, he’s a smart guy and is going to use that to his advantage next year. He has a chance to be a player in the league for a long time.
“He was very consistent for a 20-year-old defenseman. He sees the ice well, moves the puck well. It was good for him to be around when (Troy Stecher) got into the lineup, to see how a defenseman of his size who has played in the league for a while plays. Sometimes, that visual can be better than anything a coach can provide. Stech is competitive and (Spence) has a lot of that in him, too. I think he (Spence) is going to make a big jump next year. I’d be shocked if he doesn’t.”
(Top photo of Drew Doughty: Jeff Bottari / NHLI via Getty Images)

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future-dyanmics

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