Los Angeles Kings 2020-21 NHL season preview

Los Angeles Kings 2020-21 NHL season preview Doughty Kopitar
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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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