Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Los Angeles Kings.
45-29-8, 98 pts. (4th Pacific Division; 7th Western Conference)
Playoffs: Lost 4-0 vs. Vegas Golden Knights, first round
The Kings got off to a fantastic start, as they went 9-2-1 in the first month of the season. Unfortunately, they followed October up by going just 6-6-2 in November. In the end, the Kings managed to sneak into the playoffs via a Wild Card spot, but they were swept in a first-round series against the Golden Knights (the series was a lot closer than the end result would indicate).
Los Angeles’ downfall in 2017-18, was that they simply couldn’t put the puck into their opponent’s net. Of all the teams that made the postseason, only Anaheim (235) scored less often than the Kings (239) during the regular season.
The team still got some positive performances from key figures like Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown. Both players had bounce-back seasons in 2017-18. After scoring just 52 points in 2016-17, Kopitar put up an incredible 35 goals and 92 points in 82 games. He was incredible. As for Brown, he scored 28 goals and 61 points in 81 games, which is impressive when you consider that he put up just 27, 27, 28 and 36 points in his previous four seasons.
Drew Doughty remained as solid as he’s ever been. The veteran defenseman scored 10 goals and 60 points while playing in every game.
After Kopitar, Brown and Doughty, no other player on the team managed to surpass the 47-point mark, which is problematic considering the depth it takes to win on a regular basis in the NHL now. The Kings are hoping that adding Ilya Kovalchuk to the fold will give them another legitimate offensive threat. Keeping Jeff Carter healthy should also help them in the goal department.
The fact that starting goaltender Jonathan Quick was healthy last season also helped the Kings get back to respectability. Quick played in just 17 games during the previous season, but he managed to handle a 64-game workload last year. The 32-year-old was solid, and he helped the team give up the fewest amount of goals during the regular season (203).
The Kings were able to keep Vegas from scoring, but they simply couldn’t find the offensive production to match. They were able to sprinkle some youth into their lineup with Adrian Kempe, Alex Iaffalo and Mike Amadio, but the roster could stand to get a little bit younger in the coming years, too. They’ll need young guys to chip in offensively if they’re going to do some damage this season.
GM Rob Blake clearly believes this team is in win-now mode, which is why he brought Kovalchuk to California, but it appears as though the window is starting to close on them.
• Gabriel Vilardi, C, 18, Kingston Frontenacs – 2017 first-round pick
Vilardi missed the start of the OHL season because of an injury, but he accumulated an impressive 22 goals and 58 points in 32 games in his first year with the Frontenacs. He’s a big center with great vision and great all-around awareness. As his junior numbers indicate, he’s also capable of contributing offensively. The Kings could opt to send him back to junior to see what he’s capable of doing when he’s fully healthy, but he’s probably not that far away from making the leap to the NHL.
“He sees the ice really well. He finds his teammates,” Kings special advisor Mike O’Connell told NHL.com. He’s going to be a tough guy to stop. He still has work to do, as most players do when they first start, but it looks good. It’s a good foundation. I think he should fit right in.”
• Rasmus Kupari, C, 18, Karpat – 2018 first-round pick
Like Vilardi, Kupari gives the Kings another center that is capable of creating offense with his skill (he’s smaller than Vilardi). In his first introduction to pro hockey, the youngster scored six goals and 14 points in 39 games in Finland’s first division, which is a solid season given his age. Of all the prospects on this list, he’s probably the furthest one from contributing at the NHL level, but he’s talented enough that he could get there sooner than later.
• Kale Clague, D, 20, Moose Jaw Warriors – 2016 second-round pick
Clague has been a pleasant surprise since the Kings drafted him in 2016. Not only has he put up impressive numbers at the junior level, but he also managed to crack Team Canada’s roster at each of the last two World Junior Hockey Championship tournaments. He’s a smooth skater that can carry and distribute the puck around the ice. The 20-year-old is also capable of chipping in offensively, as he put up 11 goals and 71 points in 54 games with Brandon and Moose Jaw. He’ll now make the jump to the professional ranks this season.