Los Angeles Kings 2020-21 NHL season preview

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The 2020-21 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to preview all 31 teams. Over the next few weeks we’ll be looking at how the offseason affected each team, the most interesting people in the organization, and the best- and worst-case scenarios. Today, we look at the Los Angeles Kings.

Los Angeles Kings 2019-20 Rewind

Record: 29-35-6 (64 points in 70 games played); seventh in the Pacific Division; 14th in the Western Conference.

Leading scorer: Anze Kopitar (21 goals, 62 points)

In the beyond-turbulent year 2020, it’s easy to forget a lot of things. So, excuse hockey fans if they forgot that the Kings ended their lackluster 2019-20 season on a seven-game winning streak.

Wisely enough, Kings management didn’t overreact to that strong (but largely irrelevant) finish. Instead, they largely stuck to their rebuild, one that looks stronger with each draft.

Really, the pandemic pause might have hit the sweet spot for this franchise. Rather than that hot streak possibly continuing and ruining their draft lottery odds, the Kings ended their season on a high note, but still managed to nab Quinton Byfield.

The Kings still have a way to go in their rebuild. With Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar combining for $21 million in cap space, there are also some lingering vestiges from those two Stanley Cup wins. But there’s a lot to like, even if most pencil the Kings in for more growing pains in 2020-21.

Additions

Subtractions

King didn’t lose much, but that was after trading the likes of Tyler Toffoli and Alec Martinez in 2019-20.

3 Most Interesting Los Angeles Kings

• Quinton Byfield

Going second overall, Byfield became the highest-drafted Black player in NHL history.

Generally speaking, experts believe that top pick Alexis Lafreniere is more NHL-ready than Byfield. But Byfield’s unclear immediate impact may make him even more interesting this season. Will he be polished enough to draw big minutes? Will he instead be raw enough that the Kings might even ponder preserving the first year of Byfield’s entry-level contract?

(It’s not outrageous to ask; frankly, the Devils and Rangers probably should’ve considered the idea with Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko. The Kings won’t get much time to mull such a choice, though, as the cut-off is seven games during the truncated 2020-21 season.)

Heading into the 2020 NHL Draft, some wondered if Byfield should even go number two. Personally, the towering center looks like a great choice, but we’ll find out soon enough. His rookie season should provide at least glimpses of what Byfield can provide for the Kings.

• Rob Blake

Truly, there’s a temptation to rattle off other Kings prospects. Alex Turcotte, Lias Andersson, and Gabriel Vilardi are just three players who are worth watching, even if expectations will vary.

But Rob Blake and other Kings front office members ultimately make the call about who stays in the NHL, and who gets demoted.

Beyond making those prospect picks, Blake and others must continue to rebuild this Kings team. Via Cap Friendly, the Kings possess an extra choice in the second, third, and fourth rounds of the 2021 NHL Draft. That’s already a good start, yet the Kings could theoretically weaponize their cap space. They’re hovering around $13.6M at the moment.

Also: what if this team makes bigger steps forward than expected in 2020-21? Do they buy, and to what extent?

So … yes, the Kings made some nice progress lately, but there’s plenty of work to do.

• Drew Doughty

When it comes to judging Drew Doughty, it’s a matter of perception.

In the eyes of many, Doughty remains one of the best defensemen in the NHL. Upon release, EA Sports’ “NHL 21” rated Doughty a 91 overall, in front of stars like Auston Matthews, Elias Pettersson, and even his Kings teammate Anze Kopitar. NHL Network rated Doughty as the 15th-best defenseman in the league, ahead of the likes of Shea Weber, Ryan Ellis, and Jaccob Slavin. Generally speaking, the “mainstream” still dotes on Doughty. Those who hear that the Kings’ defense was sneaky-good in 2019-20 might attribute that to the likes of Doughty.

But when you dig deeper into analytics, Doughty drops a few rungs — possibly even until he’s flat-out below-average. (Maybe even … terrible?)

Consider Doughty’s excellent multi-season RAPM charts from not that long ago:

Los Angeles Kings 2020-21 NHL season preview Doughty RAPM 1
via Evolving Hockey

Then compare his multi-season charts from the past few years, via Evolving Hockey:

Los Angeles Kings 2020-21 NHL season preview Doughty RAPM 2
via Evolving Hockey

Troubling, especially for an $11M defenseman.

It’s not just the fancy stats, either. Analysts including Jack Han broke down video on Doughty, and found some noticeable issues.

So, “which” Drew Doughty will we see in 2020-21? Well, to some extent, one can assume that Doughty may struggle to regain his true peak form. After all, he’s 31, and with significant mileage on his body as a long-time workhorse.

That said, it’s the fatigue factor that could be interesting. Players like Doughty rarely get big breaks. Could a rested Doughty (and Kopitar) enjoy a rebound, at least for 2020-21? It’s not out of the question.

Either way, it will be interesting to see how Doughty performs, and how people view his performances.

Best-Case Scenario

Really, there are two different best-case scenarios for the Kings.

• They essentially repeat 2019-20, but maybe with a slightly better season.

Being that the Kings are in a rebuild, missing the playoffs isn’t necessarily a disaster. If the Kings show signs of growth and land another high pick in the 2021 NHL Draft, that could be a “best of both worlds” situation. At least if we’re being realistic.

• A bunch of young players blossom faster than expected, and they surge to the playoffs.

Sometimes teams grow gradually. Other times, they explode. For all we know, the Kings could combine the (more-rested) old with the unpredictable new. Hey, a rested Jonathan Quick could enjoy a resurgence of his own, for all we know.

Worst-Case Scenario

The Kings could compete just enough to ruin their 2021 NHL Draft chances, possibly even buying at the trade deadline, yet miss the playoffs by a healthy margin.

Pointsbet – Los Angeles Kings Stanley Cup odds

Kings +8000 (PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links.)

James O’Brien is a writer forPro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line atphtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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    Mitch Marner extends Maple Leafs-record points streak to 21 games

    Mitch Marner
    USA Today
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    TORONTO — Mitch Marner extended his franchise-record points streak to 21 games with a second-period goal and the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Los Angeles Kings 5-0 on Thursday night.

    Marner gave Toronto a 4-0 lead with his 11th goal of the season, scoring on a slap shot after a Los Angeles turnover inside its blue line.

    Marner became the 10th player in the past 35 years to string together a streak of 21 or more games. He has 10 goals and 16 assists during the run.

    Auston Matthews, Pierre Engvall, David Kampf and William Nylander also scored for Toronto. Ilya Samsonov made 29 saves for his first shutout with the Maple Leafs and the seventh of his career.

    Toronto has won seven of eight to improve to 17-5-6.

    Los Angeles dropped to 14-11-4 with its seventh loss in 10 games. Kings goalie Jonathan Quick made 36 saves.

    Penguins’ Kris Letang returns to practice 10 days after stroke

    Kyle Ross-USA TODAY Sports
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    PITTSBURGH — Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang returned to practice with his teammates just 10 days after suffering the second stroke of his career.

    The 35-year-old Letang remains out indefinitely, with the club describing him as “day to day.”

    Letang said he felt “pretty good” after being greeted by stick taps from his teammates when he skated onto the ice at the team’s practice facility. Still, the married father of two called the experience “scary,” particularly for his family.

    “My kids, they don’t care if I’m a hockey player or not,” he said. “They care about having a dad. Same with my wife. She could care less about hockey. She knows there’s so much more. After hockey, there’s a long time and you want to be able to enjoy those moments with your family, with your kids.”

    Letang missed more than two months in 2014 after his first stroke, which was caused by a small hole in the wall of his heart. The condition also led to the second stroke, which Letang suffered on Nov. 28 after dealing with a series of debilitating headaches.

    This time, the symptoms have resolved themselves much more quickly, according to team physician Dr. Dharmesh Vyas, who described this stroke as “smaller” than the one Letang endured in 2014.

    Letang began skating on his own just two days after the diagnosis and was cleared to return to practice on Thursday though both Letang and Vyas stressed they are in no rush for him to play in games.

    “We don’t think this is accelerated in any way,” Vyas said. “We are taking all the right precautions to make sure that it is safe to go out and play and when that time comes we’ll let him go back to playing his sport.”

    Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said it was a “relief” to see Letang back at work.

    “It’s a great visual that he’s making progress,” Sullivan said. “Our medical team that has monitored him extremely closely feels comfortable with some of the progress that he’s making and the steps he’s taken. Everyone was excited for him to join the group.”

    Letang signed a six-year contract extension over the summer that will carry him into his 40s if he decides to play that long. Vyas said the data around strokes is “evolving” though it is unclear if Letang is now more susceptible to having additional strokes now that he’s had a second one.

    The six-time All-Star is cautious but optimistic.

    “We’ve been through this,” Letang said. “Me and Dharmesh have a clear understanding that we’re going to take all the time we need and make sure the research is possible and it’s no danger for me to keep going.”

    The Penguins are 8-1-1 over their last 10 games and have won three straight heading into a home-and-home series with the Sabres. They’re also eager to have Letang’s familiar No. 58 back in the lineup, but only when he’s ready.

    “He’s been here for a long time and his experience and everything that he brings on and off the ice, the way he competes (is important),” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “But I think in the (locker) room, (he has) poise and (he’s) somebody who’s been around a long time and whose experience you feel when he’s around.”

    Thompson nets 4 in 1st, 5 overall, as Buffalo tops Columbus

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    Russell LaBounty/USA TODAY Sports
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    COLUMBUS, Ohio — Tage Thompson matched an NHL record by scoring four times in the first period and finished with five goals and an assist as the Buffalo Sabres won their third straight road game, 9-4 over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Wednesday night.

    Thompson is the second U.S.-born player to score five goals in a game. He is the fourth player in NHL history to record four goals in the first period of a regular-season game, joining Peter Bondra (1994), Grant Mulvey (1982) and Joe Malone (1921). He is also the fourth active player to score five goals in a game, joining Timo Meier (Jan. 17, 2022), Mika Zibanejad (March 5, 2020) and Patrik Laine (Nov. 24, 2018).

    “It’s definitely a rewarding feeling,” Thompson said. “You’ve spent a lot of years working to get to this point and to be rewarded for it is a pretty good feeling and it just leaves you hungrier.”

    Thompson’s outburst helped Buffalo score six times in the first 16:40.

    “That was an amazing performance by Tage, and really, the whole group set the table,” Sabres coach Don Granato said. “I thought the energy, the collective effort, the focus to start was really good and enabled that to happen.”

    Alex Tuch had a goal and three assists, Dylan Cozens added a power-play goal and two assists and Rasmus Dahlin finished with a goal and two assists. Peyton Krebs also scored. Jeff Skinner picked up four assists and Jacob Bryson had two. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen stopped 20 shots.

    Patrik Laine and Gustav Nyquist each scored twice for Columbus.

    Joonas Korpisalo stopped two shots before being pulled in the first in favor of Elvis Merzlikins, who stopped 15 shots through the second period. Korpisalo returned in the third and finished with six saves.

    Columbus has lost six straight home games and five of its last six overall.

    “We didn’t have an answer for that one line,” Blue Jackets coach Brad Larsen said. “Tage Thompson just tore us up tonight.”

    Buffalo dominated from the puck drop, scoring four goals on its first six shots.

    Cozens put the Sabres on the board at 3:21 of the first, 53 seconds into a Blue Jackets penalty, and Thompson made it 2-0 just 2:09 later. Dahlin scored Buffalo’s third goal at 7:28 of the first, driving Korpisalo from the net in favor of Merzlikins, who gave up Buffalo goal No. 4 to Thompson 32 seconds later.

    Thompson’s third career hat trick and second of the season came on a power-play goal at 12:22 of the first. He followed with his fourth goal, also on the power play, at 16:40.

    Columbus scored two goals in just over a minute, with Laine at 10:49 and Nyquist at 12:04, before Buffalo reeled off three straight in just over three minutes to end the period, including Thompson’s fifth, and goals by Krebs and Tuch.

    Laine and Nyquist scored in the third period for Columbus.

    STREAKING

    Cozens has 12 points in his last five games and is riding a career-best, five-game point streak. Thompson has eight goals and five assists in his last five games and 10 multi-point games. Dahlin has a five-game point and assist streak, and Gaudreau stretched his points streak to six games.

    NOTES: The Sabres joined the Kraken as the second team this season to score nine goals in a game. … Thompson is the second player in Buffalo history to have five goals in a game, joining Dave Andreychuk, who had five goals and an assist on Feb. 6, 1986.

    UP NEXT

    Buffalo: Hosts Pittsburgh on Friday.

    Columbus: Hosts Calgary on Friday.

    Ovechkin, Strome lead Capitals past struggling Flyers 4-1

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    Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports
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    PHILADELPHIA — Alex Ovechkin scored two empty-net goals, Dylan Strome had a goal and an assist and the Washington Capitals defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 4-1 on Wednesday night.

    T.J. Oshie also scored for the Capitals, who finished 3-3 on a six-game trip. Charlie Lindgren made 29 saves.

    Kevin Hayes scored for Philadelphia, which has lost 13 of 15 games. Carter Hart made 23 stops.

    Strome broke a 1-all tie with 10:41 remaining when he deflected John Carlson‘s shot from long range past Hart.

    Hayes had a golden opportunity to tie it on a Philadelphia power play, but Lindgren made a great right pad save on a try from close range with 8:20 remaining.

    Ovechkin iced it, scoring into an empty net with 1:35 left and adding another empty-netter with 8.2 seconds left for his 15th of the season. Ovechkin has 795 career goals, good for third all-time. He is six goals away from tying Gordie Howe for second place. Wayne Gretzky, with 894 goals, tops the list.

    Hayes scored his ninth goal of the season for his team-leading 28th point with 4:14 left in the first period to give the Flyers a 1-0 lead. Hayes rushed to the bench after breaking his stick on a slap shot attempt, and scored on a wrist shot from the high slot with his new stick.

    The Flyers had a power-play goal for the third straight game and have four overall in that stretch. Philadelphia, which began play ranked 30th in the NHL in scoring on the man advantage, now has converted 16.7% (14 of 84) of its chances.

    Oshie tied it 3:51 into the second on the Capitals’ fourth power play as the Flyers continued to take sloppy penalties. This time, James van Riemsdyk committed Philadelphia’s third tripping minor of the game. Oshie made them pay with his fifth goal of the season when he finished a nifty passing sequence with Strome and Evgeny Kuznetsov with a perfectly placed one-timer over Hart’s left shoulder.

    NOTES: Van Riemsdyk returned after missing the last 20 games due to a broken right index finger. . Flyers forward Tanner Laczynski was placed on injured reserve after departing midway through the third period of Monday’s 5-3 win over Colorado with what looked like an injury to his left leg. . Washington was without several injured players, including starting goalie Darcy Kuemper (upper body). Kuemper was with the team, but missed his second in a row. . Carlson had two assists. . Philadelphia’s Cam Atkinson, out all season with an upper body injury, has been practicing and is close to returning.

    UP NEXT

    Capitals: Host Seattle on Friday night.

    Flyers: Open four-game trip at Vegas on Friday night.