ONTARIO, Calif.– Last week, we looked at some of the forward group for this season’s Ontario Reign. Today we’re going to look at a much sparser defense corps (only three players thus far) as well as a glut of goaltenders (five!)
Grans was the second-round pick of the LA Kings last season and will be making his North American debut this season, though he already has three seasons of pro hockey in Sweden under his belt. Last season with the Malmo Redhawks, he recorded 12 points in 43 games, including three goals. However, he’s likely to spend much of the season in Ontario (unless he really impresses Kings Head Coach Todd McClellan at training camp this week); he’s on the list of players who could spend their time split between the NHL and AHL roster.
Clague, a former second-round pick for the Kings in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft, saw some NHL time last season and the year before, totaling 22 games over two seasons. He went pointless in his first four during the 19-20 season but recorded six assists in his sophomore season, playing 18 games in total. He’s one of the most likely prospects to graduate full-time to the NHL, though the LA Kings have a sort of logjam on defense, and thus are likely to see a lot of different prospects getting ice time in both the NHL and the AHL.
An offensively minded defenceman and in 23 games last season with the Reign, he recorded 12 points, including a goal. However, Clague must clear waivers to play for the Reign this season, which essentially takes him out of the running, and unless he has a terrible training camp, is likely to be on the Kings roster, not the Reign.
At 24, Strand is one of the older defensive prospects for LA and yet another guy who could conceivably be on either roster for the Kings organization. He played 13 games in LA last season and 19 with Ontario, recording five and one points, respectively, but, like all the other prospects, he’s got his work cut out for him to try and impress at training camp and in the early stages of the season.
The bright side for Strand is that he’s likely to make the Kings, if only because, like Clague, he has to clear waivers to be sent down. Perhaps a more likely situation for Strand is that he will be a piece in a trade, as he is one of those elusive right-handed defensemen that every team craves.
The first goalie on the list for the Reign is John Lethemon, though he’ll likely not see a ton of time for them, and is more likely to be in the ECHL this season, where he spent most of last season unless the Kings have another goalie injury spree like they did a few years back.
Lethmon spent last season with the Greenville Swamp Rabbits (owners of the best logo in the ECHL), where he played 25 games and recorded a .903 SV% and a 2.71 GAA. Decent numbers, to be fair, but they’re unlikely to translate to the AHL, and there are other goalies ahead of him on the depth chart for Ontario.
Parik, a third-round pick of the Kings in 2019, has spent most of his career thus far in his homeland of the Czech Republic, apart from a short stint last season with the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the USHL, where he played 28 games, only recording a .867 SV% and a GAA of 3.35. Adjusting to North American ice is always tricky for European goalies. Still, you have to hope that Parik will take a step forward in his development this year if he wants to be considered for any significant playing time in Ontario.
Once a highly-touted prospect for the Maple Leafs, Sparks has had a bit of a fall from grace since then. He’s 28 years old and has yet to record any significant NHL time with any of the teams he’s played for, and with Petersen and Quick the de facto one and two in LA, it seems unlikely he’ll get that option here.
Last season he split time between the Stockton Heat of the AHL, where he played 16 games with a .913 SV% and a 2.69 GAA, and the Orlando Solar Bears of the ECHL, which is where he’s spent the bulk of his career thus far, recording a .928 SV% and a 2.21 GAA in 6 games.
Sparks is likely to spend the bulk of this season in the AHL, which could be a good or bad thing. He’s a veteran and could stabilize a young team, but equally, he could take playing time away from a promising young prospect, like Jacob Ingham, who played extremely well at the rookie tournament this past week.
Ingham is a former sixth-round pick for the LA Kings, drafted in 2018, and he spent most of last season with the ECHL Greenville Swamp Rabbits, where he recorded only an .892 SV% and a 3.13 GAA in 13 games. He performed very well at the rookie tournament this past week, but the true test of whether he’s ready for AHL time will be training camp. If he can recreate that success, then the Reign will have a much harder time justifying sending him back to the ECHL.
However, the addition of Sparks creates a little bit of a logjam for Ontario goaltenders, as there are potentially four goalies to vie for two spots. Ingram will likely start in the ECHL, with the potential for a call-up in case of injury.
Villalta seems to be the heir apparent of the LA Kings. However, his development is a question mark of sorts, as he split time last season between a very bad Reign team and the taxi squad of the Kings, and as such, he only played 18 games last season, coming away with an .889 SV% and a 3.43 GAA.
A third-round pick from 2017, this will be Villalta’s third season with the Reign, coming from a very strong junior campaign with the Soo Greyhounds, registering a .908 SV% and 2.71 GAA over three seasons. Between call-ups, taxi squad stints, and COVID shortened seasons, this will be Villalta’s first full season since the 18-19 season, though he’s likely the first goalie on the list in case of injury to either Quick or Petersen.
There will be more players added as training camp progresses and cuts are made, so we likely won’t have a solid roster until the end of Kings camp, or potentially even the end of the Reign’s own training camp.
Next week, we’ll be looking at players who are question marks and could potentially split their season, like forward Lias Andersson or World Juniors star Alex Turcotte.
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