Korpisalo and Gavrikov join Kings grateful and ready to go

EL SEGUNDO –– There was a stretch of sunny days and temperatures in the 70s in Columbus recently, while Southern California had one of its coldest, wettest weeks in memory.

But Vladislav Gavrikov and Joonas Korpisalo didn’t move here for the weather. They left the worst team in the Eastern Conference by record and arrived Thursday to a Kings club that finds itself in the midst of a sprint toward what could be its first divisional title since 1991.

“The only time I’ve been here is for the road trips with Columbus, so that’s usually in and out,” Korpisalo said.

“You mean the burgers?” Gavrikov, a defenseman, interjected.

“I get the burgers, too,” the goalie replied.

While their comedic timing was sharp on Day 1, a look at their defense-goalie exchange would have to wait until at least Saturday. Gavrikov was inserted directly into the lineup Thursday against the Montreal Canadiens, skating on the third pairing with Sean Walker, but the Kings wanted to give Korpisalo a buffer period. He seemed likely to make his debut Saturday against the St. Louis Blues.

For Gavrikov, there was little time to waste given that an aborted trade with another club left him in limbo for nearly three weeks. He last played Feb. 11, after which the Blue Jackets placed the shrink wrap on him pending a swap. But a deal with the Boston Bruins never materialized, and Gavrikov remained in purgatory until late Tuesday night.

“I’d never been in a situation like that before, so I didn’t know exactly what to expect. Obviously, as a player, you want to play, so that’s it,” Gavrikov said. “After one game or two, it’s kind of weird to watch your team play.”

Gavrikov and Korpisalo arrived from the Blue Jackets, who made an enormous splash in the offseason. A franchise that had historically had tremendous difficulty retaining its own players managed to land winger Johnny Gaudreau, the most coveted free agent of last season and arguably multiple offseasons. But four of Columbus’ defensemen went down early in the campaign, including top blue-liner Zach Werenski, and their forward group was also decimated by injuries over time.

This duo goes from a team at the bottom of one conference’s standings that’s been ravaged by absences to a competitive organization that will possess its full complement of top-level players once Trevor Moore (upper body) returns later this month.

While Gavrikov saw his role expand because of injuries prior to his being scratched for trade purposes, Korpisalo was playing on a one-year contract because of a series of maladies during his contract year. Illnesses, injuries and ultimately major hip surgery were all part of a nightmarish 2021-22. This season, he has had to backstop a roster that’s allowed the third-most shots per game in the NHL and forced him to elevate his game in order to give them any sort of chance each night.

McLellan said Korpisalo and incumbent Pheonix Copley, who made his Kings debut in early December and got the start Thursday, should view themselves as “starters.”

“After last season, I signed that one-year deal and had the hip surgery, so there were a lot of question marks. I did my best for the start and throughout the whole season, and I knew there was a chance of me getting traded,” Korpisalo said. “Getting here is a great spot, a great team with big games in the future, so I’m very excited.”

McLellan said Gavrikov would play the left side but did not commit to balancing the pairings on an ongoing basis, nor would he specify if  Walker or someone else was the partner he envisioned for Gavrikov in the long run. For now, the focus was on getting Gavrikov, Korpisalo and their families situated.

“Everyone has been just top notch, guys try to help us out, it’s amazing, to make everything easier for us. That’s exactly what we need right now and we really appreciate that,” Gavrikov said of the transition.

There was only time for a brief orientation for the two newest Kings, who made themselves at home instantaneously.

“As a new guy, you come in, usually you’re going to be super quiet, but they were not quiet, they were talking lots and they both seem like great guys already,” defenseman Drew Doughty said. “We’re just trying to not throw too much at them and make sure they’re settled in.”

Korpisalo said he was aware of outgoing goalie Jonathan Quick’s immense significance to the Kings, and that “no one’s replacing him; I’m just being me and doing my best here.” Quick went the other way in the trade along with two draft picks, and was then dealt anew, to the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday.

Indeed there was no shortage of lingering despondence regarding the departure of Quick, even two days later.

“Maybe after now it’s going to be a little bit easier because we have something to focus on and something to play for, so we have no choice but to move past it and get ready for the next game,” Doughty said. “But I’m not going to say it’s going to get better, nothing is going to heal those feelings we had yesterday and the day before.”

Yet Doughty also expressed optimism at what Korpisalo could bring to the table in goal and what Gavrikov could add to the defense corps. McLellan laid out high expectations for Gavrikov.

“We’re getting size, a defender. I talked to (Columbus coach) Brad Larsen, he used the word ‘soldier,’” McLellan said of the 2018 Olympic gold medalist. “He pays the price for his teammates to have a chance at success. He sells out, and he should improve the penalty kill.”

But Gavrikov isn’t all grit and grind, as his teammates and the local news media discovered Thursday with a sample of his wit. And though he’s a defense-first player, most of Gavrikov’s 15 career goals have been accompanied by a signature celebration where he places his thumb by his ear and forefinger next to his lips, mimicking a call.

So will the Kings fans be seeing that trademark ebullience from Gavrikov?

“I brought my phone with me,” he said.

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