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The Kings announced Saturday that five players were “unfit to participate” in a training camp intrasquad scrimmage, creating sudden roster questions with the start of the regular season less than a week away.

Forward Gabriel Vilardi Jersey, defensemen Kurtis MacDermid Jersey and Sean Walker Jersey, and goalies Cal Petersen Jersey and Matthew Villalta were all absent during the team’s “black and white” scrimmage at Staples Center.

The team did not disclose any further information about the players’ status.

“The players that didn’t play today were deemed unfit to play,” coach Todd McLellan said. “We’re gonna have to be prepared for that throughout the season, whether it’s now, three months from now, four months from now. That can pop up at any time.”

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The Kings’ 56-game schedule begins at home Thursday against the Minnesota Wild. Since the start of Kings training camp Dec. 31, Saturday marked the first time any of their players missed a practice.

Todd McLellan on #LAKings absences: “The players that didn’t play today were deemed unfit to play, and we’re gonna have to be prepared for that throughout the season, whether it’s now, three months from now, four months from now. That can pop up at any time.” https://t.co/9Oeq8QdFf1

— Jack Harris (@Jack_A_Harris) January 10, 2021
“We were aware of a few of them yesterday and another one or two this morning,” McLellan said.

McLellan wasn’t sure when the missing players might be able to return and reiterated the “unfit to play” line when asked directly whether their absence was related to COVID-19 health and safety protocols. He expects Thursday’s season opener to go ahead as scheduled.

“We’re ready to go, to move players around,” McLellan said. “We expect to have these bumps in the road as we go forward. There’s nothing that’s going to be normal about this season, so we have to be ready to roll.”

Yesterday, (Jan. 9, 2021) the Los Angeles Kings announced that five players are “unfit to participate” in a training camp scrimmage. This list includes goaltenders Cal Petersen and Matthew Villalta, blueliners Kurtis MacDermid and Sean Walker, and forward Gabriel Vilardi. (From ‘Kings announce five players ‘unfit to participate’ in camp scrimmage’, Los Angeles Times, 1/9/21).

Sean Walker Los Angeles Kings
Sean Walker, Los Angeles Kings (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)
The team did not disclose why any of the players were missing the scrimmage. Meaning, it’s unknown whether they are missing it due to COVID-19 related precautions, injuries, being out of shape, or for other reasons.

Although it’s worrying that five players were deemed unfit to play, other teams have also recently had players ruled unfit. The Pittsburgh Penguins canceled their practice yesterday due to COVID precautions. The Colorado Avalanche recently held practices without four “key” players due to them being unfit. (From ‘Avalanche continues training camp without four key players, each “unfit”’, The Denver Post, 1/5/21). The Columbus Blue Jackets have also been forced to hold players out of practice due to COVID-19 protocols.

This all shows that, despite the bad news of having players ruled unfit, LA isn’t alone in this situation. All five of the Kings who were deemed unfit are poised to have varying levels of impact at the NHL this season. Here’s a quick lock at what was expected from each player.

Gabriel Vilardi
The skater with the loftiest expectations is Gabriel Vilardi. In 2019-20, he stepped in on the Kings’ second line for 10 games, where he posted seven points and the team posted a seven-game winning streak.

Gabriel Vilardi of the Windsor Spitfires. (Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images.)
His faceoff numbers were also quite impressive, as Vilardi took 92 faceoffs, and won 49 of them. That’s a 53.5 faceoff percentage (FO%). If he were to sustain a 53.5 FO% through a full season, it would make him one of the league’s premier faceoff takers. New York Islander’s forwards Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Casey Cizikas both posted a 53.5 FO% this season, tying them for 32nd in the league among the players who took the 100 most faceoffs.

Due to his exceptional NHL stint, Vilardi has been labeled a potential Calder Trophy Contender.

Cal Petersen & Matthew Villalta
The two goaltenders who are out are Villalta and Petersen. The Kings likely are planning on continuing using the same goaltending duo as last season, which was Jonathan Quick Jersey and Petersen.

Related: Jonathan Quick Should See a Decreased Role with the LA Kings

Villalta has the potential to be on the Kings “taxi squad” if they decided to have an extra goalie, which would probably be a good idea. If not, he would have been set to play in the AHL.

Sean Walker and Kurtis MacDermid
The article from the Los Angeles Times said that Walker and MacDermid were both skating on the Kings’ third defensive pairing during training camp. MacDermid is known for being a physical, hard-hitting defender, while Walker is known more for his skill.

Related: Kings Get a Steal With Sean Walker’s New Deal

Walker played an important role on both of the Kings’ special team units in 2019-20, which would likely continue in 2020-21. He’s good in both zones at even-strength, and his offensive ability is underrated compared to defencemen with similar (or the same) offensive totals in 2019-20.

What it Means

Walker, MacDermid, Petersen, and Vilardi were all expected to make the Kings’ opening night roster. Considering the Kings hadn’t played hockey in months prior to the training camp, it definitely wouldn’t be helpful for these players to miss part of it. However, it’s not too worrying, as the Kings haven’t indicated that any of these players will miss significant amounts of time.

Other NHL teams have dealt with player absences over the last week as the league prepares to begin a 56-game season shortened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Dallas Stars were forced to delay their season opener after the league announced Friday that six players and two staff members had tested positive for the virus.

Los Angeles Kings’ Anze Kopitar Jersey, right, talks to Drew Doughty Jersey during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Philadelphia Flyers Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2019, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
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A look at the Kings’ projected roster a week before the season

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The Columbus Blue Jackets had 19 players miss practice Friday “out of an abundance of caution and in accordance with NHL COVID-19 protocols,” according to a team statement.

The Pittsburgh Penguins elected to cancel a practice Saturday because of a possible COVID-19 exposure.

For the Kings, Vilardi, MacDermid, Walker and Petersen were all expected to be in their opening night lineup.

Vilardi, the No. 11 overall draft pick in 2017, had been playing center on the team’s third line while preparing for his first full NHL season. MacDermid and Walker were playing together on the team’s No. 3 defensemen pairing. Petersen had been sharing goaltending duties with Jonathan Quick.

Boston University’s Trevor Zegras during an NCAA hockey game against Northern Michigan on Friday, Oct. 18, 2019 in Boston. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
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McLellan said it was too soon to know how the team’s final roster decisions might now be impacted leading up to Tuesday’s deadline to trim the active roster to 23 players and name a four- to six-player taxi squad.

“The good news is a lot of the players that are involved in training camp have now been in the organization for a while,” McLellan said. “They have been playing the system that we want to put in place … so we should be able to plug players in. They should understand why and how we’re doing things. They should be champing at the bit to get that opportunity.”

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The Kings will open the 2021 NHL season on Jan. 14 at home against the Minnesota Wild. Two nights later, they will host the Wild again.

On Jan. 19, the Kings will welcome the Colorado Avalanche to Staples Center. Their following game? Same opponent, same place.

On and on their 56-game schedule goes, repeating the back-to-back pattern throughout almost the entirety of their pandemic-altered slate. Only two of the Kings’ contests aren’t part of a multi-game miniseries. During one stretch between April 20 and May 1, they will face the Ducks five times in 12 days.

Other teams’ schedules, which were all released by the league on Wednesday afternoon, follow a similar format — stamping an already unprecedented season with perhaps its biggest alteration yet.

“Every team will have more information on the team they’re playing,” said Kings television analyst Jim Fox Jersey. “Because they’re playing them a lot.”

The 1979 O-Pee-Chee Wayne Gretzky Jersey rookie card.
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Plenty of other unfamiliar features about this upcoming NHL season were known prior to Wednesday’s schedule release: Extremely abbreviated training camps (the Kings’ and Ducks’ will open Dec. 31, two weeks before their regular seasons begin) capped at just 36 skaters per team; empty arenas in most markets (including both Southland teams, at least to start the season) and limited capacity in others; traveling taxi squads of four to six players to supplement customary 23-man rosters; and divisional realignment to eliminate travel between the U.S. and Canada.

But the new-look schedules might have the most tangible impact on competition itself. Teams will only play against opponents within their division, which for the Kings and Ducks includes eight contests each against the Wild, Avalanche, San Jose Sharks, Arizona Coyotes, St. Louis Blues and Vegas Golden Knights. The baseball-esque structure of the schedule will likely accentuate the familiarity — and potential bad blood — between clubs.

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“It’s more of a playoff mindset,” said Fox, who played nine seasons for the Kings in the ’80s and has spent the last three decades on their broadcast team. “Every shift, you’re going to be against the same guy probably, with the matchups, and then that happens game-to-game-to-game. … If you’re playing the same teams all the time, it really intensifies, how do you find the opening? How do you find the weakness?”

The Kings, who finished next-to-last in the Western Conference last season and haven’t played a game since March, seem to have a tougher first half. Following their season-opening four-game homestand against the Wild and Avalanche, 16 of their next 23 games will be on the road, including two separate trips to St. Louis and road series at Vegas and Colorado — the top three teams in the Western Conference last season. They have a season-long six-game trip scheduled for Feb. 18 and 27.

Los Angeles Kings head coach Todd McLellan and assistant coach Marco Sturm instruct from the bench.
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Todd McLellan expecting the unexpected in his second season with Kings

The LA Kings have the most prospects participating in the 2021 World Junior Championship out of every NHL team. This definitely bodes well for the Kings’ future, but it’s also important to remember the past. A number of great players have done wonders for both the Kings and their home countries at the World Junior Championship. Here’s a look at the top five Kings who dominated at the WJC:

5. Jari Kurri (Finland, Winger)
Jari Kurri Jersey is one of the greatest Finnish players in NHL history, but he only managed to have one great World Junior Championship performance. In his first tournament (1979), he collected five points in six games played, and Finland finished fourth in the tournament, losing the bronze medal game to Sweden. His sophomore tournament was where he really showed off his skill. In the 1980 World Juniors, he scored four goals and added seven assists in just five games played.

Jari Kurri Finnish HHoF
Jari Kurri (photo courtesy Finnish Hockey Hall of Fame)
His stellar performance led Finland to the gold medal game, where they fell to the unstoppable Soviet team led by one of the tournament’s all-time greats, Vladimir Krutov.

Related: World Junior Championships: Russia’s 3 Greatest Players Ever

Kurri’s tenure in LA is often overshadowed by his fantastic time in Edmonton. He spent four-and-a-half seasons with LA, posting 293 points in 331 games played. He never reached 100 points in a season with the Kings like he typically did in Edmonton, but he was still a great top-six forward for the team.

4. Jeremy Roenick (USA, Center)
One of the most controversial players in NHL history, which is probably why he’s not in the NHL Hall of Fame, Jeremy Roenick’s lone season in LA was forgettable. He signed with LA prior to the 2005-06 season near the tail end of his career, and in 58 games played he posted a measly 22 points. However, his World Junior Championship performances are unforgettable, especially for American hockey fans.

Dec. 11, 2020

They make up for that stretch, however, with a home-heavy slate over the final two months. Their April schedule includes 11 of 16 games at home and no trips longer than two games. They’ll finish the regular season on home ice as well, hosting the Avalanche on May 7 and 8.

“For the Kings, it probably allows you to be in contention more so than if you were playing the whole league,” Fox said, noting that after preseason favorites Vegas, Colorado and St. Louis, he believes the division’s fourth and final playoff spot could be “a little bit more up for grabs than if you’re in a 15- or 16-team conference.”

The Ducks, who ended last season one spot ahead of the Kings in the standings and will also be coming off a 10-month layoff, open their season with a two-game series in Vegas on Jan. 14 and 16. After that, they don’t have a homestand or trip longer than four games until a stretch of six straight at Honda Center between March 8 and 18. Their longest trip of the season immediately follows, a six-game swing through Minnesota, St. Louis and Colorado between March 22 and 31.

And unlike the Kings, the Ducks have no other games scheduled during the 12-day stretch late in the season that includes five games between the two Southland clubs — meaning they will face their crosstown rival five consecutive times before finishing the season with road series in St. Louis and Minnesota.

“There’s more of a serious nature,” Fox said, “when you’re playing the same teams.”

Ducks “Reverse Retro” jersey
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The unique schedule format was a necessity for this mid-pandemic season. Pairing matchups into sets of two will cut down on the number of times clubs have to board a flight or check in and out of hotel rooms. It provides more flexibility in case COVID-19 outbreaks pop around around the league.

The NHL has taken other measures to try and ensure the jam-packed schedule — teams will play on average almost every other day — isn’t disrupted, jointly announcing medical protocols with the NHL Players’ Assn. on Tuesday.

Other key dates for the 2021 season include the trade deadline on April 12, the start of the playoffs (which will consist of intra-divisional matchups through the first two rounds) on May 11, and the last possible day of the Stanley Cup Final on July 9.

The 2021 expansion draft for the new Seattle Kraken franchise will take place on July 21. The NHL entry draft will be held during July 23-24. Free agency opens July 28.

But first, the NHL has to hope its schedule will hold up and that its season can survive outside of a bubble over an entire four-month slate. It will be different, and very likely more challenging.

But, as Fox noted, “this is unprecedented times. … What are you going to complain about? We’re working again. That’s phenomenal.”

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Could 2021 be the final act of Jonathan Quick’s career with the Los Angeles Kings?
In the 15 years since he drafted by the Los Angeles Kings in the third round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, Jonathan Quick has become a Southern California institution.

Since initially breaking into then-head coach Terry Murray‘s goalie rotation full time in 2008, Quick has played in 726 games for the black and grey – 641 in the regular season and 85 in the playoffs – and holds the honor of having started all 46 games during the Kings’ two Stanley Cup championship runs.

But now, 13 years into his NHL career, one has to wonder just how many more games Quick has left in him, especially playing for LA’s premier hockey franchise.

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For better or worse, the Kings probably aren’t going to be winning a ton of games this season. They made a deal with the devil – leveraging their future to load up on talent – to beat the actual Devils (and Rangers too) and have since fallen out of contention in the Pacific Division. While this is great news in that it helped the team land potential franchise player Quinton Byfield Jersey, this shift into a full-on youth movement could signal a changing of the guard that sees plenty of long-time stars like Quick, Drew Doughty Jersey, Dustin Brown Jersey, and even captain Anze Kopitar Jersey have to continue on with their NHL careers elsewhere.

So the former Montreal Canadiens captain might not be the only one on the chopping block. Per David Pagnotta of The Fourth Period, winger Jonathan Marchessault, goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury and former LA Kings defender Alec Martinez Jersey are all players who may be on the move out of Sin City.

The Golden Knights acquired the now 33-year-old Martinez in February of this year in exchange for a second round pick at the 2020 NHL Entry Draft (60 overall, used to select winger Will Cuylle from the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires) and the St. Louis Blues’ second-round pick in 2021. Martinez played 10 games with the team before the regular season was cancelled in March, putting up two goals and six assists. He matched that performance over 20 games in the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs, where the team lost in the Western Conference Final to the Dallas Stars.

Would that be a tough pill to swallow? Most certainly, but what is the Kings’ goal right now?

At most, even if Byfield can pull off an impactful rookie campaign a la other top-five picks like Auston Matthews, the Kings are what, the fifth-best team in the Pacific Division? They’re probably better than the San Jose Sharks and have more top-end talent than the Anaheim Ducks, but could they hang in a seven-game series with the Arizona Coyotes? What about the Vancouver Cannucks? Don’t even get me started on the Calgary Flames, the Edmonton Oilers, or the Vegas Golden Knights – those teams are head and shoulders better than even the very best imaginable version of the Kings.

Again, this isn’t a big deal. The Kings traded a bunch of future assets to acquire players like Jeff Carter Jersey, Robyn Regehr Jersey, and Marián Gáborík, so it makes sense that their talent pool is a tad lighter than many of their peers. While LA remains an attractive place to sign in free agency, especially for the ever-growing collection of players from the area, this team needs a massive infusion of young ascending talent like Byfield to really usher in the next era of Kings hockey.

Assuming Quick performs at, above, or even just near his career average level – saving roughly 91.3 percent of his shots in 40ish games – there’s little reason to believe a handful of playoff-vying teams wouldn’t enter a bidding war of sorts to acquire the 34-year-old goaltender and the final two-plus years of his contract. At an AAV of $5.8 million, Quick is the 10th highest paid goalie in the NHL, but that number could go down if the Kings are willing to eat 20, 30, even 50 percent of the deal’s remaining money to make it more attractive.

With the second-most available salary cap space in the league behind their 2012 Stanley Cup Finals opponent, the New Jersey Devils, if the Kings can eat half of Quick’s contract and acquire a better asset in the process, why not do it? At $2.9 million adjusted AAV through the 2022-23 season, there isn’t a ‘good’ team in the NHL that wouldn’t want to add Quick to their goaltending stable moving forward.

The Kings, unfortunately, are not one of those ‘good’ teams; not anymore.

NEXT: Henrik Lundqvist further cements his legacy on this day in hockey history
After a decade and a half in the Los Angeles Kings organization, seeing Jonathan Quick Jersey in a different jersey would be weird – but sometimes, weird isn’t a bad thing. With a path back to the postseason anything but clear – outside of the tried and true formula of player development – there’s little reason to waste the final three years of Quick’s massive 10-year, $58 million extension he signed all the way back in 2013 if a ‘better’ team is willing to surrender a solid pick and/or prospect to bring him into the fray. After 12 years of saving the team on the ice, it’s only fitting that the Kings’ longtime netminder could help to save their future too.