No team made a bigger leap forward than the Kings last year. They went from a rebuilding year that could have turned ugly to making the postseason with some help from a Vegas collapse and a weak Pacific Division. The Kings managed 99 points and took the Oilers to seven games in the first round. Now, with a new toy up front and everyone healthy, Los Angeles will look for the next step.
Offseason additions: F Kevin Fiala, F Nate Thompson (PTO).
Offseason subtractions: F Dustin Brown, F Andreas Athanasiou, D Olli Maatta.
As Anze Kopitar enters his age-35 season, the Kings have to hope that he can avoid the sharp decline from superstardom that other California stars like Patrick Marleau, Ryan Getzlaf, and Corey Perry had. Kopitar still led the Kings in points last season with 67, forty-eight of them being assists. Kopitar has a pair of Selke Trophies, a Lady Byng, and has always averaged at least 20 minutes of ice time, aside from 2014-15. The aforementioned shiny new toy is Kevin Fiala, acquired from Minnesota. The Wild lacked the cap space for him, so Los Angeles was able to swoop in and then extend him for seven seasons. Fiala is coming off a career season in which he scored 33 goals with 85 points in 82 games. Another player who had a career year was Adrian Kempe. Not only did Kempe score 20 goals for the first time, but he finished with 35. There were only five players with at least 35 goals scored and over 110 hits last season. They were Chris Kreider, Alex Ovechkin, Timo Meier, Filip Forsberg, and Kempe.
The Kings’ last offseason brought in key players for 2021-22 and beyond, although no one matches up to what Fiala has done for Minnesota. After the Canadiens perhaps underutilized Phillip Danault, he signed with the Kings to be their second-line center. Many in Montreal doubted his offensive prowess, but Danault scored 27 goals with 51 points last season. He also was eighth in Selke voting, finishing top-8 for the fourth year in a row. Following two tough seasons in a row, Viktor Arvidsson got back to where he was previously in his first season with Los Angeles. The undersized winger played in 66 games, scoring 20 goals with 49 points. He had the best xGF% on the forward core. The most used line last year consisted of Danault, Arvidsson, and Trevor Moore, so the expectation is that it will continue. Moore is coming off the best season of his career, scoring 17 goals with 48 points. He had the fifth-worst goals saved above expected in the league last year. That either means that Moore has a bad shot, or just got unlucky.
The player hurt the most by the acquisition of Fiala is Alex Iafallo, who will have to move from the top line to the third. Playing with Kopitar made sense for him, as Iafallo is a defensive forward who can chip in offensively. But a reduced role means that his 17 goals and 37 points from 2021-22 could be taking a drop. The guy with a ton of expectations this year is Quinton Byfield, the 2020 2nd overall pick who hasn’t been as good in his first two professional seasons as many hoped. He had six points in 11 AHL games, with 10 points in 40 NHL games. On the positive side, he had good defensive numbers in a bottom-six role. The Kings have so much young talent that has gotten stuck between the NHL and the AHL. Both Byfield and Gabe Vilardi are a big part of that group. Vilardi dominated at the AHL level last year, with 38 points in 39 games. But in just 25 NHL games, he had seven points. He scored 10 goals in 54 games the year before, so Vilardi can lock down a roster spot.
One of the players to break through from the tweener group last year was Blake Lizotte, who found a role as a fourth line center. Lizotte had 24 points in 70 games, with the third-best xGA/60 among Los Angeles forwards. The two guys better than him could be his linemates. After a successful AHL season in 2020-21, Arthur Kaliyev scored 14 goals in an 80-game rookie season. For how much his scoring ability was touted, seeing Kaliyev with a 7.2 personal shooting percentage is surprising. If the scouts are right on him, then look for a big jump in scoring this upcoming season. Carl Grundstrom played in 54 games last season at the NHL level, scoring nine goals with 134 hits. Despite his physicality, Grundstrom has just 56 penalty minutes in 129 career games, which is a positive. If the Kings don’t want discipline, then they can go with Brendan Lemieux instead. He had 97 penalty minutes with 122 hits in 50 games. Jaret Anderson-Dolan has 12 points in 50 career NHL games. He was one of the best players on the Ontario Reign (AHL) last season, scoring 24 goals with 47 points in 54 games. Other young forwards in the mix for a spot include Rasmus Kupari, Lias Andersson, Alex Turcotte, and Samuel Fagemo.
Drew Doughty had been very vocal about the narrative that he was declining, and he did prove people wrong in an injury-shortened season. Doughty played in only 39 games, but had 31 points with great underlying numbers at both ends of the ice. Doughty had a 55.43 xGF%, the second-best among Los Angeles defenders. The former Norris winner played primarily with Mikey Anderson in the left-hander’s second full season. Anderson, a former fourth-round pick, had eight points with 69 blocked shots and 133 hits last season.
The only two Kings defenders making over $3 million a season are Doughty and Matt Roy. Good goaltending luck and great defensive play led to Roy having a ridiculous 1.79 GA/60 last season. That was the third-best among defenders in the NHL (minimum 1000 TOI). Roy added 103 blocks and 124 hits to the pile. He was playing with the since-departed Olli Maatta and veteran Alex Edler, who was in his first of 16 seasons not with the Canucks. Edler only got into 41 games, but was very effective. He had 19 points with a team-leading 57.72 GF% and 57.12 xGF%. No other defender on the team was anywhere near Edler’s offensive production in xGF/60.
Not only did Sean Durzi make his NHL debut last year, but he cemented himself as a regular by playing in 64 games with a legitimate share of ice time. Durzi had 27 points with 121 blocked shots and played on both special team units. Former first-rounder Tobias Bjornfot played in a career-high 70 games, but had no goals with eight assists. In fact, he had the most total ice time for a player without a goal. Only three other players (Danny DeKeyser, Erik Brannstrom, and Matt Benning) had no goals and over a thousand minutes of ice time. It also doesn’t help that Bjornfot had a 47 xGF%, the worst among regular defenders on the team. He will be competing with Sean Walker for a spot. Walker missed all but six games with a torn ACL last season, but was a regular in the two years prior.
In 2020-21, the power balance in net looked like it was shifted away from Jonathan Quick, to Cal Petersen. That changed last year, as Quick finished 11th in goals saved above expected. He started 46 games with a .910 save percentage and a 2.59 GAA. Both were his best since 2017-18. Petersen was in negative territory after a 13th-place finish in 2020-21. He had a weak .895 save percentage while replicating his 2.89 GAA from the season before.
Adrian Kempe – Anze Kopitar – Kevin Fiala
Trevor Moore – Phillip Danault – Viktor Arvidsson
Alex Iafallo – Quinton Byfield – Gabe Vilardi
Carl Grundstrom – Blake Lizotte – Arthur Kaliyev
Scratched: Brendan Lemieux, Jaret Anderson-Dolan
Mikey Anderson – Drew Doughty
Alex Edler – Matt Roy
Tobias Bjornfot – Sean Durzi
Scratched: Sean Walker