Last season, the Los Angeles Kings ended with a disappointing 31-42-9 record, finishing last in the Pacific Division and second to last in the league.
In order to rebound from such a disappointing year, the Kings need their veteran players to step up. Many of these players had an off year during the 2018-2019 season.
Captain Anze Kopitar earned only 60 points, a 32-point drop from the 2017-2018 season.
Forward Jeff Carter, 34, also had a slow season, recording 33 points.
Drew Doughty, a former Norris Trophy winner, finished with a plus-minus of -34 last season, the lowest of the team. Doughty welcomed his first child on Oct. 1, so maybe his newborn daughter can help energize his game.
Goaltender Jonathan Quick, plagued by injuries in the last few years, only played 46 games last season. His performance was rough at best, putting up a goals against average of 3.38 and a save percentage of .888, his lowest since the 2007-2008 season.
The Kings need to evolve to the modern style of ice hockey today, as their physical style of play has become archaic. Although their physicality helped them win the Stanley Cup in 2012 and 2014, teams today are flying past the Kings. They need to concentrate on increasing speed and puck possession in order to keep up with younger NHL teams.
Although the Kings have an aging core, strong, young players are developing to carry the team in the future.
In the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, the Kings grabbed two first-round picks. With the 5th overall pick, they selected centerman Alex Turcotte. Turcotte, a projected 3rd or 4th pick, was a lucky acquisition for the Kings. Last season, the two-way forward tallied 34 points in 16 games with the U.S. National Development Team. The 18-year-old Illinois native will be playing at the University of Wisconsin this season.
Also in the first round, the Kings selected Tobias Björnfot with the 22nd pick. The Swedish defenceman made the opening roster, and the Kings paired him with top defenceman Drew Doughty. His hockey IQ and defensive instinct speak beyond his years.
However, Björnfot’s long-term plan remains in question. If he plays more than nine games for the Kings this season, he will lose one year off his entry-level contract, forcing him to enter free-agency a year earlier. He will likely return to Djurgardens in the Swedish Hockey League after playing nine games.
Other top prospects include forwards Rasmus Kupari, Arthur Kaliyev and Gabe Vilardi. Kupari is playing with the Kings AHL team, the Ontario Reign, so he may be brought up sometime during the upcoming season.
Considering veteran players’ subpar performances, the “kids” of the team have a chance to exceed expectations and take leadership roles.
The biggest move the Kings made this offseason was hiring Todd McLellan as their new head coach. McLellan previously served as head coach of the San Jose Sharks and Edmonton Oilers. McLellan’s overall coaching record is 434-282-90. He already knows many of the Kings’ players well through countless Pacific Division faceoffs in previous seasons.
McLellan, known for fast, aggressive gameplay, will certainly rev up the Kings’ current style. He will likely give the young guys on the team more ice time to adjust to the fast pace of the game. Perhaps McLellan’s biggest asset for this team will be his mastery with special teams, which is good news for the Kings. Last season, the Kings placed 27th on the power play and 29th on the penalty kill.
With a new coach and a positive 4-2-1 record in the preseason, the Kings look to play an improved game this season.
The Kings will play their season opener against McLellan’s former team, the Edmonton Oilers, in Edmonton today at 7:00 p.m. PT.