With a wealth of speed, LA Kings forward Austin Wagner is looking to become a legitimate threat on the team’s bottom-six forwards.
While they were definitely one of the bigger teams in the NHL, the LA Kings were also a tad notorious for being one of the slowest teams in the early- to mid-part of the 2010s. However, when they drafted Austin Wagner in 2015 (4th round, 99th overall), the LA Kings sent a message that, while they wouldn’t turn into the fastest team overnight, choosing a speedster like Wagner would nonetheless begin to turn the tide, so to speak.
Austin Wagner has been a crucial part of the LA Kings’ youth movement in recent years. Yet, while his offensive output hasn’t been much to write home about, his aforementioned foot speed has been enough to keep the Calgary native around. Nevertheless, Wagner isn’t satisfied solely with how fast he can zip around the ice.
In what was certainly an unusually long offseason, Wagner challenged himself to be better — and that has shown thus far in training camp.
Following the LA Kings’ first scrimmage of training camp on Saturday, Wagner spoke with the media about his chemistry with his linemates and also changing his jersey number.
First, though, were the areas the 23-year-old focused on in the offseason.
“I tried to work on my breakaways a little bit more this summer,” Wagner said. “That’s a big focal point for me. My shooting I’m working on right now and, you know, picking one spot a day of practice, you know, just keep repetitively trying to hit that spot.”
While he may not be known as a prime offensive threat, Wagner’s numbers could stand to increase.
In 62 games for the LA Kings in 2018-19, the former Regina Pat scored 12 goals and nine assists. Not bad for his first tour of duty. Last season, Wagner’s first full campaign with the silver-and-black, he scored six goals and five assists in 65 games. Needless to say, consistency has been an issue for Wagner to date, but the left-winger knows what he has to do to address said issue.
“My consistency, I think, is a big part of my game that’s improving, not just game-to-game but shift-to-shift,” Wagner continued. “But, you know, for me, it’s moving my feet, like I said, you know, getting on the hunt is going to be a big part of my job. There’s a lot of situations for me that I need to work on, but it’s coming along really well, and I’m working hard this year. I want to get back to what I was before last season where, you know, the scoring and I was playing well.”
“I played with them a little bit last year, too, but we’re good together,” Wagner noted. “And then in the scrimmage especially, our line, getting comfortable. We’re going to get a lot of chances on the forecheck, getting pucks out of our zone, but especially getting on the hunt when we get in the zone. You know, we scored a couple like that today. You know, the one I was making before the forecheck then, you know, we created a turnover and went to [Amadio]. Then, he scored, and, you know, we had another play in the corner again, another forecheck, we got in on it out of the pocket then scored again. So, you know, we know what our job is going to be during the season. We know what’s expected of us, and the chemistry is building. We’ve just got to keep moving forward as a line and as a team.”
When Kings fans think of Austin Wagner in previous seasons, they immediately think of the No. 51 on his back. However, that will no longer be the case as the Calgary native will enter the 2020-21 season donning a familiar number in 27.
“I wore the number growing up, I wore it in junior,” Wagner began of his reasons to switch to No. 27. “The 27th is my uncle’s birthday and a couple of my family members’ birthdays, so that means something to me.”
Of course, LA Kings fans may always synonymize No. 27 with arguably one of the greatest moments in franchise history.
Worn last by Alec Martinez from 2011 to 2020, No. 27 is now forever part of LA Kings lore as the since-traded defenseman scored the overtime-winning goal in 2014 to win the Stanley Cup for the silver-and-black. The goal also marked the first time a home team had won the Cup in overtime since 1980.
As for Wagner, he took the initiative to reach out to Martinez, now a member of the Vegas Golden Knights, for permission to wear his old number.
“He had no issues with it,” Wagner said. “Fortunate that Marty let me switch to it.”
If he improves on a few other facets of his game to add to his impressive speed, there is no telling just how valuable — or invaluable — Austin Wagner can be for the LA Kings this season and even beyond. He knew exactly what he needed to address this past offseason and has been impressive in camp, to boot. Now, we will see just what type of success Austin Wagner can bring to an LA Kings team itching to become a contender once again.