EL SEGUNDO –– The Kings extended the contract of defenseman Sean Durzi on Thursday for two seasons at an annual average value of $1.7 million.
The retention of Durzi, 23, locked into place what will almost certainly be the final piece of the Kings’ offseason. Notably, they had already re-signed leading goal-scorer Adrian Kempe and shutdown defender Mikey Anderson in addition to adding point-per-game winger Kevin Fiala via trade.
Durzi started last season with the Ontario Reign of the American Hockey League, but figured significantly into the parent club’s first playoff berth since 2018. Durzi’s 24 assists were the most by a Kings rookie defenseman in over 20 years, since Lubomir Visnovsky posted 32 in 2000-1. In 64 NHL games last season, Durzi finished second in points (27) for a Kings defenseman behind Drew Doughty and blocked more shots (121) than any other Kings’ rearguard.
Doughty missed more than twice as many games last season alone as he had cumulatively in his entire career from 2008 to 2021. Durzi, also a right-handed shot with strong mobility and power-play capability, filled some of the voids created by Doughty’s absence.
“He took advantage of injuries. He didn’t wait for it, he actually went in there and came to the Kings’ locker room and ran with it … he was dialed in from Day 1,” said Reign coach Marco Sturm, who was an assistant with the Kings running their power play last season. “You could tell, he didn’t want to go back down. He wanted to stay in this locker room. I’m very happy for him, now he’s a King and he gets some extra cash, too.”
Doughty was far from the only injury on the Kings’ blue line. Another right-handed shot, Sean Walker, missed almost the entire season after undergoing knee surgery. The Kings also lost two defensemen to waiver-wire claims. In sum, they used 14 different defensemen last season, with Durzi being the most productive emergent force on the back end.
That sort of depth and agility were almost unimaginable even a season earlier, when injuries to Walker and Matt Roy threw an already shaky defense corps into total flux. Now, the Kings boast not only a robust mix of rearguards at the top level, but one of the top defensive prospects in all of hockey, 2021’s eighth overall pick Brandt Clarke.
“There’s a lot of talented D players in this organization and they have a lot of faith in all of them. It’s good, there’s a little bit of competition there but we all help each other out,” Clarke said.
Kings sign Mikey Anderson to 1-year contract extension
Durzi joined the Kings via trade from the Toronto Maple Leafs when he and Carl Grundstrom ––whom Kings coach Todd McLellan said his staff identified as one of the most improved players in the organization last year –– arrived along with a first-round pick (which later became defenseman Tobias Bjornfot) in exchange for defenseman Jake Muzzin.
Muzzin has given the Leafs a reliable defender but their win-now push has stalled in the first round year after year. The Kings were one win away from their first playoff series win since hoisting the Stanley Cup in 2014, and the continued development of Durzi and Grundstrom, among others, could help create that push.