NHL Summer Previews: Los Angeles Kings

NHL Pacific Division

Previously: Arizona Coyotes, Vancouver Canucks, Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames 

After suffering key injuries during the 2016-17 season, the Los Angeles Kings enjoyed a rebound season in 2017-18, returning to the NHL playoffs after a one year absence. LA’s trip to the postseason was a nightmare, swept in the opening round by the Vegas Golden Knights, but there were a lot of positives from their season.

Not only did they return to the playoffs, but the Kings got a massive season from Dustin Brown, who looked down as an NHL’er just a year ago. Jonathan Quick returned to elite form, and Anze Kopitar looked better than he had at any other point in his career. That’s saying a lot.

LA’s return to the playoffs was a nice notch in the belt, but there pressure will be on to do some damage in the postseason for the first time since 2014 next spring.

2017-18:

After missing the playoffs in ’16-17, the Kings returned to the postseason by clinching a Wild Card position this past spring. LA looked done in the spring of 2016. Their core players looked too old, and injury concerns were beginning to mount for Quick. Quick’s bounce back, and a strong seasons from Brown, Kopitar, Toffoli, Doughty and Pearson, give hope that there is still time for this core group.

The Kings weren’t without their faults, they still couldn’t score enough last season and their possession numbers weren’t particularly strong, but there are far more positive arrows this summer than last. Young players like Adrian Kempe, Alex Iafallo and Oscar Fantenberg also emerged this season, finally giving the Kings another wave of players coming up and filling roles.

The Kings are likely to have less than $6 million in cap space this summer, and will be in tough to make major additions, but the good news is there is a strong veteran core already in place.

The Leaders:

Kopitar likely won’t win the Hart Trophy later tonight, but he’s very deserving of the nomination that he received for the award. He finished with 92 points (35-57-92) in 82 games and was the best two-way center in the west last season. The Kings don’t make the playoffs without him, and I’d argue he was the most important player to his team in the conference last season. Kopitar was a stud for the Kings and is poised to continue that trend next year.

If I told you that Dustin Brown would finish second in scoring for the Kings, you’d either laugh at me or say the team must have been horrible. Brown looked down after the ’16-17 season and many thought he was a buyout candidate at this time last year. The Kings stuck with Brown, and he repaid them with a 61 point campaign. I’m not sure if he has another season like that in him, but Brown was a force for the Kings last year, and arguably their second best forward behind Kopitar.

Jonathan Quick’s return to playing full-time could not have went better this past season. After missing significant time with injury in ’16-17, Quick came back and played in 64 games for LA, posting a 33-28-3 record with a .921 SV%. I thought Quick kept the Kings in games on most nights and was a major reason why they returned to the postseason.

Pieces To Build With:

Kopitar, Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli form a dynamic trio that leads the way for LA. Brown, Kempe, Iafallo, Pearson and young Mike Amadio for a nice complementary group for the Kings to build with as well. 2017 first round pick Gabe Vilardi is a very promising piece for the future, while I really like Tobias Rieder, who LA acquired at the deadline.

Defensively, Drew Doughty is the workhorse and a piece the Kings should absolutely invest in with a long-term extension this summer. After that, Alec Martinez and Jake Muzzin form a solid duo to build with. Quick, of course, can still play at an elite level and isn’t showing signs of slowing down.

The Draft:

The Kings will select 20th overall Friday night in the entry draft. At that spot, you have to take the best player available, as who ever you pick is likely two-to-three years away. Defender Bode Wilde could be the perfect fit for the Kings, as the rearguard brings a rough-and-tough style to the table.

Center Akil Thomas is a strong skill option if the Kings prefer that route, as is center Jake Wise. I also think defender K’Andre Miller and winger Serron Noel are in the range.

Team Needs:

The Kings need to add a top-four defender and ideally a top-six goal scorer. Those are not easy additions, and seemingly have been plaguing the Kings for a couple of years now. Ideally, LA’s big addition is a top-four, left-shot D to play on the second pairing.

Those are the big needs, but the Kings could also use some help on their fourth line.

The Ideal Off-Season:

  • Select D Bode Wilde 20th overall
  • Re-sign F Tobias Rieder
  • Sign F Scott Hartnell to a one-year deal
  • Sign F Riley Nash to a two-year deal

Unfortunately for LA, the salary cap is very restrictive and the team isn’t willing to move Vilardi. So, while we know what the needs are, I don’t see how LA addresses them this summer.

The Lines:

Dustin Brown – Anze Kopitar – Tyler Toffoli
Tanner Pearson – Jeff Carter – Trevor Lewis
Adrian Kempe – Riley Nash – Tobias Rieder
Scott Hartnell – Nate Thompson – Alex Iafallo
Kyle Clifford

Jake Muzzin – Drew Doughty
Dion Phaneuf – Alec Martinez
Derek Forbort – Daniel Brickley
Kevin Gravel

Jonathan Quick
Jack Campbell

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