Led by captain Anze Kopitar, The Los Angeles Kings posted a 45-29-8 record in 2017-18, earning them a wild card spot in the Western Conference. The dynasty’s bid for a third cup run was quickly obliterated by the expansion Golden Knights as they eliminated LA in a four-game rout. Remarkably, Vegas swept the Kings despite scoring just seven goals in the series. The Kings’ offense ran dry and they were only able to muster three goals in four games. It was a disappointing end to a season that had been somewhat of a pleasant surprise for Los Angeles. As their first-round loss to Vegas showed, the Kings’ offense was far too reliant on one line last year, or perhaps more accurately, one player.
Kopitar erupted for a career-high 35 goals and 57 assists last season after registering just 52 points the year before. He was one of the best players in the NHL last season and he single handedly kept the Kings’ season alive while Jeff Carter missed 55 games with an ankle injury. A healthy Carter and the newly-signed Ilya Kovalchuk should afford the Kings a much more balanced attack in 2018-19. However, the Kings will be without Dustin Brown to start the year. The 33-year-old broke his finger in the Kings’ final preseason game on Saturday and is expected to be sidelined for about a month. While it is a notable loss, Los Angeles has enough depth on the wing to get by without Brown. Given their elite defense and goaltending, the added help for Kopitar should be all the Kings need to get back to the playoffs in 2019.
➕ Ilya Kovalchuk (Free Agency)
➕ Peter Budaj (Trade)
The Brown injury creates some questions concerning the Kings’ opening night lineup. Alex Iafallo is expected to start back on the top line alongside Kopitar. Iafallo registered just 25 points in 75 games last season despite playing 78% of his 5v5 ice time with Kopitar. The two played over 800 minutes together yet Kopitar had nearly 70 more points. Iafallo possesses little to no offensive upside but for whatever reason, head coach John Stevens is set on starting him back on the top line. Kovalchuk is the most likely candidate to replace Brown on Kopitar’s right wing. The 35-year-old Russian hasn’t played in the NHL since the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, where he put up 31 points in 37 games for the Devils. He is set to return to the NHL after a five-year stint with St. Petersburg SKA of the KHL. He logged 285 points in 262 games over that span.
While nothing is set in stone, the combination of Carter, Tanner Pearson, and Tyler Toffoli is the most likely second line for LA. The trio became a common fallback for Stephens late last year and they were effective. They registered a 52.97 CF% at 5v5 together and averaged 31 scoring chances per 60. There is some speculation that Carter might move over to the wing to play with Kopitar in Brown’s absence, but that would leave LA without a viable second-line centre. This second line has plenty of experience playing together and it gives the Kings a strong, well-rounded top-six. Adrian Kempe is the most likely to move into the top-six should Stephens opt for a different look.
Mike Amadio is set to start the year as the Kings’ third-line centre. Kempe can be assumed to take up one of the wings, while Trevor Lewis or Austin Wagner compete for the other. Wagner has incredible speed and his impressive training camp seems to give him the edge over the veteran Lewis. The 21-year-old scored 10 goals and added seven assists in his first AHL season a year ago. Former second-round pick Jaret Anderson-Dolan is expected to start the season with the Kings as their fourth centre. It seems likely that he returns to the NHL after a nine-game stint to preserve a year of his entry level contract. The Kings aren’t particularly deep at centre so JAD could stick around if he impresses early on. The 12th forward should be one of Kyle Clifford or Nate Thompson on opening night.
Led by Norris winner Drew Doughty, the Kings’ blueline remains one of the best in the league. The strength and depth of the Kings’ defensive corps has made them a terrific shot-suppressing team for the better part of a decade. Derek Forbort made his pre-season debut on Saturday as he continues to recover from a back injury. The No. 15 overall pick from the 2010 NHL Entry Draft had 18 points in 78 games last season with 156 blocked shots. His offensive contributions are minimal, but his strong defensive play is the perfect complement to Doughty. Doughty is coming off a career-high 60 points last season. His 10.0 on-ice SH% is bound to regress this year, which should drop his production back down to around 50 points. Still, he is an elite two-way defenseman and will continue to be heavily-utilized in all situations.
Jake Muzzin and Alec Martinez make up the third-best second pairing in the NHL, according to Corsica. Muzzin is another dynamic two-way defenseman and is coming off a career-high 42 points. He’s posted a CF% greater than 52% in every year he’s been in the league. He is excellent at transitioning in and out of the zone and is an integral part of this blueline. Martinez’s game is more defensive in nature, but he can chip in offensively. He picked up nine goals and 16 assists in 77 games last season. Muzzin could move up to the top pair if Forbort’s back injury forces him to miss any more time, which would in turn bump Dion Phaneuf into the top four.
The 33-year-old Phaneuf can be a defensive liability at times, but he has offensive upside. He picked up 10 points in 26 games for the Kings last season and is somewhat of a powerplay specialist for their second unit. That being said, he hasn’t scored double-digit goals since 2011-12 and that’s unlikely to change in his current role. Oscar Fantenberg is expected to break camp as the Kings’ sixth-defenseman. He picked up 9 points in 27 games last year while playing less than 15 minutes a night. He is a solid depth-defender but shouldn’t be much of a difference-maker this season.
Jonathan Quick is as consistent as any goalie in the league and is coming off just his second ever season with a SV% above .920. Quick made 63 starts for the Kings last season after missing 59 games the year before with a lower-body injury. He is a six time 30-game winner and, assuming a clean bill of health, should start another 65 games for LA this year. Peter Budaj returns as the Kings’ backup after making 53 appearances for them in Quick’s injury-riddled 2016-17 season. He struggled for the Lightning last season, posting a .876 SV% in just 8 appearances. He is no threat to Quick’s playing time and shouldn’t play anything more than the tail ends of back-to-backs.
|Jeff Carter (31)||Anze Kopitar (45)||Anze Kopitar (70)||Jeff Carter (10)|
|Ilya Kovalchuk (29)||Ilya Kovalchuk (39)||Ilya Kovalchuk (68)||Ilya Kovalchuk (8)|
|Anze Kopitar (25)||Drew Doughty (37)||Jeff Carter (63)||Anze Kopitar (6)|
Kings in the DFO Top 300
- 32. Anze Kopitar — C12
- 49. Jonathan Quick — G6
- 62. Drew Doughty — D12
- 69. Ilya Kovalchuk — LW12
- 108. Jeff Carter — C29
- 177. Jake Muzzin — D48
- 198. Tyler Toffoli — RW39
- 204. Dustin Brown — RW41
- 219. Dion Phaneuf — D56
- 243. Alec Martinez — D63
Predicted Pacific Standings
A lack of depth up front really hurt the Kings’ chances last season, but the Kovalchuk signing goes a long way towards correcting that. The Brown injury hurts, but it’s nowhere near as detrimental as the Carter injury was last season. LA needs more out of their second and third lines and a healthy Carter is the key to making that happen. The strength of this team is their goaltending and their blueline. They don’t need to be near the top of the league in scoring to be successful, but it sure would help. Though they fall short of them on paper, the Kings are strong enough to compete with the likes of San Jose and Vegas for the Pacific Division title. Kopitar’s renaissance of a season last year reignited a dying dynasty. The captain will need to lead the way again in 2018-19.