LA Kings 2020-21 Season Preview

Last season was one to forget for the Los Angeles Kings. The team finished 28th in the league, one of seven teams that did not make the 24-team playoff format. They finished with a record of 29-35-6, totaling 64 points, a .457 winning percentage. Although last season saw no great results for the Kings, it was a key step in the rebuilding phase. The organization was able to capture the second-overall selection at the 2020 NHL Draft, choosing Quinton Byfield, who only adds to an already outstanding group of prospects.

The good news for the Kings is that last season was likely the worst of the rebuild, and things can only go up from here. The 2020-21 season will not be a traditional one for the entire NHL. In fact, the new look of the upcoming season could give the team some playoff hope already.

The Kings Need to Score More in the Upcoming Season

Scoring was one of the biggest issues last season, putting the Kings near the bottom of the league. The team ranked 30th in goals scored with 177, also 30th in the league in terms of goals per game with 2.53. Los Angeles was also not great on the power play — 26th in the league, scoring 17.1 percent of the time. One surprising stat is that the team ranked fourth in the league when it came to average shots per game with 33.2. This means that the Kings weren’t able to get to key scoring areas, and a lot of shots came from the outside.

Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings
Anze Kopitar (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

As expected, the Kings’ scoring last season came mostly from Anze Kopitar, Alex Iafallo, and Dustin Brown. Kopitar put up 62 points in 70 games, Iafallo had 43 points in the same number of games, and Brown scored 35 points in 66 games. One reason the team isn’t scoring too often is because of the lack of winger depth. Right now, neither Iafallo nor Brown are NHL-caliber, first-line wingers, as they simply do not contribute enough.

Forwards to Watch in 2020-21

Despite Iafallo not being a true first-line winger in the NHL, he is a player to watch next season. He is an unrestricted free agent in 2021-22, and is a trade candidate for the upcoming season. He will have to prove what he is worth when it comes to his next contract, and what the Kings will get in return if they do decide to trade him. He has been on an upward trend over the last few seasons, but the question is how much longer will this trend continue? Has Iafallo reached his ceiling, or will he continue to put up more and more points year after year? Either way, he is still not a first-line winger.

Los Angeles Kings Alex Iafallo Vegas Golden Knights Marc-Andre Fleury Shea Theodore
Los Angeles Kings center Alex Iafallo shoots against Vegas Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury as defenseman Shea Theodore defends. (AP Photo/Michael Owen Baker)

Austin Wagner is another forward to watch next season. The 23-year-old put up just 11 points in 65 games last season, a drop off from his rookie season, where he scored 21 points in 62 games. Over the offseason, he signed a three-year, $1.33 million average annual value (AAV) contract with the Kings. Because the team is lacking in the winger department, Wagner will likely see a larger role next season, showing he is worth the money.

Blake Lizotte was a great player in 2019-20, putting up 23 points in 65 games during his first full season. He is a smaller player, but he works hard and can fly under the radar. He has one year remaining on his current contract, getting paid $925,000 per season. If Lizotte can take another big step forward, he will give the Kings reason to re-sign him on a bigger contract.

Forward Prospects Who We Will Likely See in 2020-21

The Kings have a number of outstanding forward prospects, some of which should see some NHL action in the 2020-21 season. Two of the Kings’ best prospects are Byfield and Alex Turcotte, the fifth selection at the 2019 NHL Draft. Both of these players are centers and they will be a big part of the team’s future forward core.

Both Byfield, who put up 82 points in 45 games last season with the Sudbury Wolves of the Ontario Hockey League, and Turcotte, who put up 26 points in 29 games last season with the University of Wisconsin, are likely to get some games in with the Kings this season. There is a lot of competition for the center position on the team right now, so it is unclear how many games they will each play.

Sudbury Wolves Quinton Byfield
Quinton Byfield of the Sudbury Wolves (Photo by Chris Tanouye/CHL)

Another center prospect who will likely play almost if not the full season, is Gabriel Vilardi. He has gone through some injury issues, but it seems like the Kings’ first-round pick in 2017 is ready to take the jump. Last season, he played mostly with the Ontario Reign of the American Hockey League, putting up 25 points in 32 games, but was called up to the Kings at the end of the season. Although he wasn’t able to get too many games in, his small sample size showed some impressive results. Vilardi tallied seven points in just 10 games to end the season with the team. It will be impressive if he can keep up something even close to that pace next season.

The Kings aren’t as deep at the winger position, but they do have a few players who we could see make an impact next season. One of these is Carl Grundstrom, a 22-year-old originally drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs. Like Vilardi, Grundstrom played most of last season with the Reign, putting up 28 points in 40 games. He was able to get in 13 games with the Kings, putting four assists to his name. His play is nothing fancy, but he is a hard worker who will be valuable to the team in the coming season.

Carl Grundstrom Los Angeles Kings
Carl Grundstrom, Los Angeles Kings (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Kings also have two other talented winger prospects in Arthur Kaliyev and Samuel Fagemo. These players likely won’t get in too many games this season, if any, but if the team finds themselves in dire need of wingers, we could see them inserted into the lineup. Both players are pretty young, and there are some question marks about their defensive play and work ethic. There is no question, though, they will both be a part of the future for the Kings. Last season, Kaliyev put up 98 points in 57 games with the Hamilton Bulldogs, and Fagemo put up 22 points in 42 games with Frolunda HC of the SHL. These two are elite goal scorers.

Offseason Additions to the Kings’ Forward Group

The Kings didn’t make too many significant moves this offseason, but they were able to trade the 60th-overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft to the New York Rangers in exchange for Lias Andersson. The 22-year-old center had a rough start to his NHL career, only playing 66 games over three seasons, putting up just nine points.

Lias Andersson New York Rangers
Lias Andersson, New York Rangers, Nov. 23, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Andersson moved back to Sweden, but the Kings have decided to take a chance on him. Although he does play center, he can also play on the wing, which is likely where he will be placed. It is possible that he could turn his NHL career around and be a difference-maker, but even if he is not able to contribute a whole lot, the team won’t have given up too much to get him.

The Kings’ Defense Should Look Slightly Better in 2020-21

Surprisingly, the Kings didn’t have bad defensive numbers last season. The team ranked 13th in the league in goals against, giving up 209, and 14th in the league in goals against per game, with 2.99. They didn’t have a great penalty kill, as they were only successful 77.4 percent of the time, but they were one of the best teams in the league in shots against per game with an average of 29.7.

Drew Doughty Los Angeles Kings
Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

As usual, Drew Doughty sat atop the team’s defense, as he scored 35 points in 67 games. Although he was the top scorer, he didn’t have a great season overall in 2019-20. He was a minus-16, and out of any player with a full season, he ranked last in terms in both Corsi for percentage (CF%) and Fenwick for percentage (FF%). The rest of the Kings’ defensive core should look better this season, but Doughty will have to step it up if the team wants to see some improvement.

Defenseman to Watch in 2020-21

There is only one defenseman who stands out as a player to watch next season, and that is Matt Roy. He had a very impressive year, and similarly to Lizotte, he is an under-the-radar player who can make a big impact. He finished last season with an outstanding plus-16 rating — considering how bad the team was as a whole — near the top of the roster with 1,268 minutes played, was best on the team with 100 blocks, and was third with 132 hits.

Matt Roy Los Angeles Kings
Matt Roy, Los Angeles Kings (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Roy also ranked near the top of the team in almost every advanced statistic category there is. He won numerous awards last season due to his hard work. He has just one season left on his outstanding contract of $700,000 per season. Roy will get a pay raise, but he will determine how big of a raise that will be. Was last season just a fluke or could he become a big piece of the team’s defensive future?

Defensive Prospects Who We Will Likely See in 2020-21

Mikey Anderson is a defensive prospect that is likely to play many more games this season than he did last. He put up 15 points in 53 games with the Reign and was able to play six games with the Kings last season, scoring his first NHL goal, and posting a plus-four rating. It will be interesting to see what he does with more games in the coming season.

Mikey Anderson of the Waterloo Black Hawks
Mikey Anderson of the Waterloo Black Hawks (courtesy USHL)

The Kings also have two more elite-level defensive prospects in Tobias Bjornfot and Kale Clague. Bjornfot, who was selected in the first round of the 2019 NHL Draft, put up 19 points in 44 games with the Reign last season, also playing three games with the Kings, but he was not able to put up any numbers. Fellow teammate Clague put up 25 points in 49 games in the AHL. He also got four games of NHL action, but did not get on the scoresheet. Both of these players are highly skilled and will be part of the team’s future, competing for minutes in the coming season.

Offseason Additions to the Kings’ Defensive Group

The Kings made one significant defensive move over the offseason, acquiring Olli Maatta from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for Brad Morrison. Maatta is more of a veteran player at 26 years old, winning two Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016 and 2017. Last season, he put up 17 points in 65 games with the Blackhawks, and he has maxed out at 29 points in his career so far.

He did have a solid playoff in 2020, though, with six points in nine games, also posting an impressive plus-seven rating. He is not a huge move for the Kings, but he is a well-rounded player who will provide some value for the next couple of seasons.

Goaltending Is a Question Mark for the Kings in 2020-21

The Kings’ goaltending situation last season was an interesting one. The team started with Jack Campbell and two-time Stanley Cup champion Jonathan Quick. After Campbell was moved to the Maple Leafs last season, Calvin Petersen stepped in as the backup goalie. Compared to Quick, Petersen’s numbers impressed.

Last season, Quick posted an unexciting .904 save percentage (SV%) with a goals against average (GAA) of 2.79, albeit a step up from the year prior. Petersen didn’t have a large sample size, only playing eight games, but he was able to post some good numbers. A .922 SV% and a 2.64 GAA helped the team end the season on a good note.

Los Angeles Kings goalie Calvin Petersen
Los Angeles Kings goalie Calvin Petersen (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Larry MacDougal)

Quick is 34 years old and likely won’t return to the player we saw during the Kings’ cup runs. Petersen, on the other hand, is 26 and he is being looked to as the next starting goalie for the team. Because of this, Quick will likely see less playing time in the 2020-21 season to make room for Petersen. Quick is still a very important player for the team, at least for the time being, as he will help Petersen attempt to transition from a backup to a starter.

Goaltenders to Watch in 2020-21

There is no doubt that Petersen is going to be a very interesting player to watch next season. Although he has shown impressive numbers so far, he hasn’t played the minutes of a starter, or even a 1B goalie, so it is hard to know how he will be affected.

Without putting too much pressure on him, the team’s future is somewhat dependent on if he works out. The Kings do not have a goalie prospect who is ready to play in the NHL, and Quick is on his way out. If Petersen fails to impress, the team will end up looking for a new starting goalie elsewhere until prospect Lukas Parik is ready for the NHL.

Unless there are injuries to Petersen or Quick, there will likely not be another goalie who will play for the Kings next season.

2020-21 Division Realignment Could Give the Kings Playoff Hope

Don’t get me wrong, it is unlikely that the Kings will make the playoffs in 2020-21, but the new proposed divisions make the idea more realistic than it was before. The NHL is still unsure what the 2020-21 season is going to look like, and due to issues relating to COVID-19, divisions will probably look different next season.

If the NHL does decide to go ahead with the currently proposed divisions, the Kings would be in the new western division along with the Anaheim Ducks, Arizona Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche, Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild, San Jose Sharks, and Vegas Golden Knights.

NHL Map Teams North America
The new western division would feature every U.S. team west of the St. Louis Blues.

Let’s say that the NHL goes with the top four teams from each division to make the playoffs. If we can assume the top three in the division would be the Avalanche, Golden Knights, and Stars, the last playoff spot would be left for the remaining teams. The Ducks are probably the least likely to be a playoff team, and the Sharks seem to have more issues than they would like to accept.

With Arizona’s poor offseason, they are not looking like a playoff team, either. That leaves the Kings and the Wild for the last spot, making the playoffs look much more manageable for Los Angeles. Though it will be difficult with what Minnesota’s lineup is looking like, if the Kings are able to somehow get ahead, they would be looking at the playoffs in the summer of 2021.

If the Kings were ever able to pull this off, this would be the year to do it. The season will be shorter, and the entire situation will be nothing but traditional. NHL fans should expect the unexpected, and entertaining the idea of Los Angeles in the playoffs is certainly doing that. Even if they were able to squeeze into the playoffs, they wouldn’t be going on a run, but it would be a very valuable experience for the young guys on the team.

Playoffs or Not, the 2020-21 Season Will Be a Very Important One for the Kings

The 2020-21 season will be an important one for the Kings because it will serve as a transitioning year. The team is on the rebound from what was hopefully the worst season of their rebuild, and they will move towards being a consistent playoff contender. The reduced number of games will be very important for the young players and prospects of the organization, and if everything goes well, the 2021-22 season will start the journey to bring the Stanley Cup back to Los Angeles.

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