The Los Angeles Kings are playing their best hockey in years, but one glaring weakness is their lack of a true enforcer. With Matt Johnson being swiped by Atlanta in the expansion draft and Steve McKenna being rendered useless with a bad eye, the Kings need to find someone who can protect their new superstars. After seeing teams like Washington, Boston and San Jose take runs at the Robitaille, Stumpel, Palffy line, the Kings will likely find a stopgap until the nest “Matt Johnson” comes around.
While Matt Johnson is not the best enforcer in the league, he was liked by his teammates and did a great job patrolling the ice. He was just 20 years old when he broke in and seemed poised to protect the Kings for years to come, but as many publications pointed out, he was the slowest player in the NHL. He made tremendous strides, but the next Kings’ enforcer will need the now necessary blend of size, skill and muscle. Here are the two most likely contenders to be the Kings’ enforcer of the future:
Kip Brennan- Again, the editor’s favorite, Brennan is the best fighter in the Kings’s system. Kip is making the move off the blue line to left wing, where he can make the step to the NHL sooner. Kip has scored three goals in nine games so far this season with two assists. Brennan is a -7 which is not unusual for an enforcer. Brennan has been knocked for a lack of skill but I am of the opinion that he will be fine once he get used to playing forward. Brennan has 28 PIM’s in nine games. Kip is probably still a year or two away from having a shot at the Kings’ roster.
Bryan McGrattan- This guy may the the future enforcer because he fears nobody. McGrattan is on the same Sudbury team as Kip Brennan and is also the identical size- (6’3 210). Bryan impressed Kings’ coaches in camp with an aggressive style. McGrattan has a goal and three assists so far and is a -2. McGrattan is fifth in the OHL in penalty minutes with 43, and that is saying something- Taylor Pyatt, Brennan, McGrattan and Kyle Dafoe are all on the Wolves and there are only so many PIM’s to go around! McGrattan is a few years away, although another impressive training camp may accelerate that.
Greg Phillips- Phillips is a dark horse for the position. He is a little older than Brennan and McGrattan and is at Lowell of the AHL. He has 24 PIM’s and has ample size (6’2 205). Phillips probably has more skill than muscle, so he falls third on the list.
Look for the Kings to pick up an older “goon” to hold them over until McKenna is healthy or one of these players develops.
There are several more physical defenseman in the system, but these are the two most likely to hold down the fort.