ANAHEIM — It is approaching decision day for the Kings and Ducks.
As always, the final training camp cuts are the most difficult ones.
Both teams have a handful of players that are right on the cusp of making it … or not making it.
After the Ducks’ 5-4 win against the Kings on Tuesday night at Honda Center, the Kings have two more preseason games for players on the brink to make an impression. The Ducks have one more preseason game remaining – against the host Kings on Saturday afternoon at Crypto.com Arena – before the window of evaluation starts to close.
Will the last few games end up tipping the scale for the likes of Kings defenseman Brandt Clarke and Ducks forward Pavol Regenda of Slovakia?
Now the two players have vastly different pedigrees. Regenda, 22, is three years older than Clarke and went undrafted, signed by the Ducks in June to a two-year, two-way entry-level contract. Clarke is a highly touted prospect, taken eighth overall in the 2021 NHL draft.
“He (Clarke) continues to show that there’s parts of the game he really excels at,” Kings coach Todd McLellan said. “Anaheim had a better lineup dressed tonight and he was challenged in certain areas. I don’t think the offensive part of his game – the creativity, the ability to find people blue line in, look-offs, deception – is a huge concern of ours. That comes to him pretty naturally.
“What he does away from the puck and can he improve in those areas as time goes on? I think he can. Is he ready? We’ll figure that out as we go.”
While the Ducks have a few openings to fill up front, the Kings are nearly a closed shop on the blue line. The other difference is that the Kings don’t have an AHL development option for Clarke. Clarke has to play in the NHL or go back to his junior team in Barrie of the OHL.It’s an unfair situation for players like the dynamic Clarke, but that’s a column for another day.
Clarke has been helped by the stabilizing influence of veteran Alexander Edler.
“Having Alex with him is somewhat by design,” McLellan said. “You also saw him play a couple of shifts on (the left side) tonight. We might see that a little bit more as we go forward just to see how it goes. … There’s something about (Edler) that calms down a young guy.”
As for Regenda, he continues to make a strong case to stay in Anaheim and is still in camp after several rounds of cuts.
“I’m close but still so far,” he said at Tuesday’s morning skate.
Hours later, he closed the gap with an impressive showing against the Kings with two assists and a goal-scorer’s goal through two periods. The fourth line of center Derek Grant, Max Jones, and Regenda accounted for the Ducks’ first four goals. Jones scored twice and Grant had a goal and added three assists.
“On the ice, I’m trying to know all the players,” Regenda said. “Today I was asking Grant for advice on what to do better on the penalty kill. I’m trying to get everything from everybody to get better.”
Regenda knew he needed a better showing than his last preseason game – which was on Sunday against the Kings – to stay in the mix.
“Through camp, I’ve been improving,” he said. “The last game was a little bit harder for me. But I’m going to try to get back on track and do my things. Small things, playing around the net, that’s how I score. I’ll try to improve every day. I’m just doing that because I want to play in the NHL and that’s my dream.”
The level of competition here suits him better than the grinding style at the rookie tournament last month in San Jose.
“The guys are smarter,” he said. “The guys can hold the puck. The guys can pass better. It fits me better. I was kind of used to men’s hockey before I played pro (in Slovakia) for two years. I feel much better and just have to continue.”
Ducks coach Dallas Eakins said Regenda was noticeable going back to development camp in the summer.
“You could certainly see there was a prospect there,” Eakins said. “The young man’s traveled a ton and played a whole lot of hockey already. … He’s already played a lot of games. His energy was up.
“The positives he has is that he’s got some size. He’s got a nose around the net – no fear going there.”
Kings goaltender Cal Petersen made his first start since suffering a lower-body injury, which forced him out of the second game of the preseason, at Vegas. He faced 32 shots on Tuesday night against the Ducks.
“He looked real solid at moments,” McLellan said. “And he looked rusty at moments. That’s the way it’s going to be for goaltenders early in the run.”
As you might remember, Ducks defenseman John Klingberg had to make an early exit from the Ducks’ preseason game on Sept. 28, leaving before the third period when his wife Fanny went into labor. He got to the hospital in time for the birth of his daughter Ida Viola.
“I was walking out (for the third period). I did the handshakes with all the guys,” Klingberg said on Tuesday, retelling the story of the hectic night.
“I’m usually one of the last guys hitting the ice. And CJ (Craig Johnson), the assistant coach came out saying, ‘Klinger, Klinger.’ I didn’t realize what it was at first. I said, ‘What’s going on? We’ve got a power play going.’ He said, ‘Hey, it’s time.’ I had to run in, take my gear off, quick shower, and head to the hospital.”
He said it took him about 20 minutes to get to the hospital.
“I was speeding obviously, a little bit,” he said, smiling. “It was good to be there in time.”
The burning question of the day: Will the injured Trevor Zegras be able to play in the Ducks’ final preseason game?
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“We would like it, but we’re certainly not going to push it,” Eakins said. “It’s a real question mark. He skated this morning for a little bit. He’s feeling a little bit better.
“We’re certainly not going to put him in the game for the sake of getting him in a game and getting him hurt again.”
They are also taking a deliberate approach with defenseman Urho Vaakanainen, who was briefly hospitalized Friday night after crashing hard into the end boards in the preseason game against the San Jose Sharks.
“No timeline there. Not at all,” Eakins said. “We’re going to really take our time. There’s zero push on that one.”