The two-time Stanley Cup champions enter their third year of a franchise rebuild in 2021, but odds are looking up for the Los Angeles Kings. They ended the 2020 season on a seven-game winning streak and possess the top farm system in the NHL, according to The Hockey Writers. While LA shouldn’t have aspirations of reaching the postseason, they are going to make noise with a young core continuing to mesh and a plethora of prospects that will give Kings’ fans hope for the coming years.
Let’s start with the negative: the championship core.
Dustin Brown, Drew Doughty, Jonathan Quick and Jeff Carter are all Kings legends and will rightfully be remembered forever as key players in the Kings’ run between 2012-2014. However, two titles cost a lot as all four of these players continue to eat the cap and have faded with age.
Brown is locked in until after the 2022 season, Quick’s contract doesn’t expire until 2023, most likely meaning he will retire as a King, and Doughty is the real concern as he is a major cap hit for LA and after his 2018 historic 8-year/$88M extension. Doughty most likely won’t have the value to be traded and so the Kings will have to keep paying him until that contract is up. Carter’s contract also doesn’t expire until 2022.
While the Kings were mediocre in scoring in the two playoff appearances in 2016 and 2018, Quick was able to provide a blockade in the net that was unstoppable. LA allowed the fewest goals in 2018 and were third-best in 2016. However, 2019 and 2020 saw Quick fade due to injuries and underwhelming play. In the 2018-19 season, Quick had a Goal Against Average (GAA) of 3.38 (a career-high) and a save percentage of just .888 (a career-low). He improved last season with a 2.79 GAA in 42 appearances, but his save percentage was still his lowest since 2013.
He will be the No. 1 goalie for LA again as Cal Petersen deals with an undisclosed injury on non-roster IR. Troy Grosenick will serve as the backup to Quick.
The Kings’ main issue over the last two years was their goal scoring. In 2019 and 2020, LA ranked 30th of 31 teams in goals scored. Longtime veteran Anze Kopitar led the Kings in points by a long way with 62. Alex Iafallo was second with only 43 points.
Youth may be why LA couldn’t find the offense the last two years, but that should change this year as the Kings have depth in their young talent. It starts with the trio of Iafallo, Adrian Kempe and Michael Amadio. All three men are under the age of 27 and can take a chunk of the Kings’ offensive production. While these three will more than likely become trade value when LA wants to make a playoff push, they will be fun to watch in 2021 as they take over the production once brought by Brown and Carter.
To help improve the offense, the Kings signed Andreas Athanasiou to a one-year deal. He had a poor 2019-20 season with a league-worst plus/minus of -46.
Then, there are the prospects. This is where the fun begins. Sean Walker and Blake Lizotte were the farm players that produced the most for the Kings last season. They will be the key leaders to help catalyze the rest of the youth still waiting to pounce in the NHL.
The Kings will have a Calder Trophy hopeful in Gabriel Vilardi as he will be a mainstay in the rotation. He scored 25 points with the Ontario Reign in just 32 games and nabbed seven points in 10 appearances with LA last season. Expect big things for the 21-year old this year.
Then, there’s Alex Turcotte and Arthur Kaliyev. While we shouldn’t expect to see either much in 2021, these our names to write down. They were stars for the United States in this year’s U20 World Juniors Championship as they took home the gold medal. Kaliyev was sent down to the AHL alongside 2020 second-overall pick Quinton Byfield, but they will make sporadic appearances throughout the season.
The Kings will have some depth defensively to help out Quick as Sean Walker, Matt Roy and Kurtis MacDermid are a trio of hard hitters that will bring the physicality missing from the team over the last few years. To top off the defensive depth, the Kings acquired Olli Maatta from the Chicago Blackhawks. Maatta was a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins during their back-to-back Stanley Cup titles in 2016 and 2017.
I don’t have high expectations for the Kings in 2021, but there is a sliver of hope as the Honda NHL® West Division is top-heavy with the Colorado Avalanche, Vegas Golden Knights and St. Louis Blues. If the Kings can play to their abilities, then they could be in the running for the fourth spot in a tight battle with the Minnesota Wild and Arizona Coyotes.