LA Kings: Unlikely source in Austin Strand has steadied defense
An unlikely source to steady the defense’s right side, LA Kings Austin Strand is playing with a ton of confidence right now.
He may have been inserted into the lineup to fill in for the injured Matt Roy and Sean Walker, but Austin Strand has nonetheless used the opportunity to quickly establish himself as a promising — not to mention, exciting — blueliner for the LA Kings.
While it is premature to coin Strand as a defensive mainstay for the LA Kings after only four games, the Calgary native has immediately thrived on the responsibilities thrust upon him.
Adding to the one assist he has thus far, Strand has been a defensive asset for the silver-and-black, averaging 5.69 blocked shots in regulation, all the while using his 6-foot-3, 216-pound frame to his advantage physically. So far, the 23-year-old has averaged 2.84 hits in regulation, gradually turning himself into more of an intimidating presence.
When Roy and Walker do return to the Kings lineup, though, it may be back to Ontario for Strand. While that is a situation yet to be determined, Strand is nonetheless working on what he can control, and positive feedback from his current coaches has certainly helped.
Following practice on Sunday, the lanky blueliner spoke with the media about said feedback and how he’s been feeling overall since he began playing with the big club.
“Yeah, I’ve been getting some feedback from the staff a little bit,” Strand said. “From [Kings’ assistant coach Trent Yawney], who has been talking to me. After every game, he’s kind of been coming up to me and saying– we had a chat in the summertime just about being consistent and how that’ll help me stay in the lineup.”
Since being inserted into the lineup, Strand has benefited from Yawney’s expertise, a former NHL defenseman himself.
“He just said after game one, like, ‘That’s game one. Let’s keep you in game two; then, game two, keep it going to game three,’ and he just kind of keeps sending messages to keep playing consistently and keep playing the way I’m playing. He said he’s been happy with [my play] and then just getting some nice, positive feedback from Todd [McLellan], too, and some of the older guys here, too, which has been awesome.”
Later on, Strand was asked in which areas he has settled into most after four games with the LA Kings.
“I think just– I mean, confidence. Just kind of getting comfortable,” the former Seattle Thunderbird began. “Obviously from game one to game four now, just kind of settling in and knowing the guys a little bit more and knowing my routine before games a little bit. So, I think that’s been helping a lot and I’ve been feeling pretty good out there and just getting some more chemistry with Olli [Maatta] on the back end. Before practice, me and him are always out there snapping it around to each other, just getting a feel for where he likes it on his stick and he wants it on his tape.”
When Roy and Walker do return to the lineup, it will be interesting to see where Austin Strand will end up. The initial plan may have been to have Strand fill in a gap on the LA Kings’ back end only to return to the Reign following the return of the aforementioned defensemen. However, Strand’s solid play so far has created somewhat of a dilemma. Then again, getting more time in the AHL certainly wouldn’t hurt Strand, who may benefit from head coach John Wroblewski’s development prowess. Plus, having played with the Reign for the past two seasons, Strand can also serve as a veteran for the club’s younger players. Of course, we will see in due time what happens.
Until then, there’s no sense losing any enjoyment in watching Austin Strand play, showing his team — as well as his team’s fanbase — just how well he has handled the NHL level thus far. Again, it is premature to determine much after just four games, but Austin Strand has nonetheless had an auspicious start to his NHL career.
And that is not something to take lightly.