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Clague, Anderson trying to crack Kings roster

Defensemen could someday comprise same pair in NHL

by Adam Kimelman @NHLAdamK / Deputy Managing Editor

ARLINGTON, Va. -- Kale Clague and Michael Anderson  each sees an opportunity to go from prospect to full-time defenseman for the Los Angeles Kings this season.

"That's my goal," Clague said during the NHLPA Rookie Showcase last month. "I want to be able to step into L.A. and contribute as much as I can. I think I'm ready for the NHL. I want to be the next young defenseman on L.A. to contribute and be a key player on the blue line."

Clague (6-foot, 177 pounds) had 29 points (seven goals, 22 assists) in 52 games last season with Ontario in the American Hockey League. But the 21-year-old's first professional season ended when he broke his left foot during a game March 8.

"He was progressing at the pace that we were really excited about and he would have gotten games last year at the end of the year for us," Kings director of player personnel Nelson Emerson said. "We would have gotten him in some games because he was playing that good."

The injury healed without surgery and Clague said he has been skating since early May.

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He said the Kings asked him to focus on improving his offensive game during the offseason, as well as continuing to improve his defensive positioning.

"I think I've progressed over the summer well," Clague said. "I've been working really hard this summer to get stronger, faster. I've been putting in the work, working on power play-like things. I think it's been a really good summer. I think my shot has gotten better. I think all-around I've improved."

Clague's offensive skills someday could be paired in Los Angeles with Anderson's defensive abilities. The 20-year-old signed his entry-level contract April 23 after winning an NCAA championship for a second straight season at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

"He's crazy with the puck," Anderson said of Clague. "His puck skills, the way he sees the rink, his offensive game is through the roof. … For sure being able to have a little bit of both in the same [defense] pair would be awesome. He'd be a fun guy to play with."

Anderson had 27 points (six goals, 21 assists) in 40 games for Minnesota Duluth and was United States captain when it finished second at the 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship. His five points (three goals, two assists) in seven games led U.S. defensemen.

"Whenever anyone signs an NHL contract the goal is to make the big club," he said. "I feel like the last few years I've put myself in a good position. I'm excited for the opportunity that's available, ready to get into [training] camp and get into the pro life."

His first step into the pro life will take place during the 2019 Anaheim Rookie Faceoff, along with prospects from the Arizona Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche, San Jose Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights, from Sept. 7-10 in Irvine, California.

Emerson said what stands out about Anderson is his hockey IQ and consistency.

"He's a heady player, he plays with his mind, he's smart, he gets himself in the right positions, defends very well because he's got hockey sense and his reads are terrific," Emerson said. "His adjustment to pro hockey will probably be different than others just because of the positive fundamental strengths he has."

Anderson (6-foot, 197) has spent the offseason getting stronger and faster to handle an 82-game NHL season. He also has gotten advice from his older brother, New Jersey Devils forward Joey Anderson, who made his NHL debut last season and played 34 games before turning 21 in June.

"He said it's a little different when it's a job vs. more of a game," Michael Anderson said. "At the same time it's just another hockey game. He says just enjoy it, you learn as you go. There's certain guys to look at and you can follow along to see how they act as pros. He said that's one of the bigger things, noticing who the good pros are and who are guys that you want to follow to make sure you can find a spot in the NHL and kind of stick there."

There's good role models in Los Angeles, including defensemen Drew Doughty and Alec Martinez, two players from the 2012 and 2014 Stanley Cup championship teams. Anderson and Clague could join them and be part of a return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs after Los Angeles finished 30th in the NHL standings last season.

Anderson and Clague are two of the young defensemen the Kings are counting on moving forward, a group that also includes Tobias Bjornfot, the No. 22 pick of the 2019 NHL Draft, as well as Sean Durzi, Markus Phillips and Daniel Brickley.

"It should be a very exciting camp," Anderson said. "I know we've got a lot of young, skilled defensemen coming to camp this year, so it'll be a good battle for a couple weeks. Whatever the management decides, they decide, but I know everyone's putting their right foot forward, making sure we're all in good spots to try and make the team and it'll be a healthy, fun competition."

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