LA Kings 2021-22 Season Preview: Defensive Pairings Projection

With the start of the season fast approaching, it is time to discuss what the Los Angeles Kings’ roster for 2021-22 might look like. The team is in a bit of an odd position; they are coming out of a rebuild and could contend for the last spot in the Pacific, but they could also find themselves in the bottom half of the league once again.

For the Kings to make the playoffs this season, their defense will have to be better. At 5-on-5 last season, their 2.62 expected goals against per 60 rate (xGA/60) ranked 29th in the league. LA signed Alexander Edler for one year at $3.5 million, adding a veteran presence to a young defensive core. With him in the lineup this season, I predict that the team’s pairings will look like this:

Mikey AndersonDrew Doughty
Alexander EdlerMatt Roy
Tobias BjornfotSean Walker

First Pair: Anderson – Doughty

There’s not a whole lot to argue when it comes to which players should be on the Kings’ first defensive pair. While Doughty has slowed down over the past few seasons, he is still a crucial piece of the team’s defense, and I think he will continue to serve as LA’s top defenseman on the right side. Last season, he scored eight goals and put up 26 assists through 56 games, second on the team. He also recorded 83 blocks, first on the team.

Drew Doughty Los Angeles Kings
Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Anderson does have a bit more competition on the left side; some argue that Edler should get the top spot, but I don’t see it. Edler is an older player on a one-year contract, while Anderson is an emerging, young star who looks like he will be part of the franchise long-term. In the 2020-21 season — his first full campaign — the 22-year-old posted one goal and 10 assists in 54 games. He also finished just behind Doughty — his partner last season — with 74 blocks.

Second Pair: Edler – Roy

Roy might be the most interesting player to watch this season for the Kings. He had a stellar 2019-20 season, but he was not able to follow it up with a similarly good campaign in 2020-21. Just for some reference, here is his 2019-20 season compared to 2020-21:

Corsi for percentage (CF%)56.0646.12
Expected goals for percentage (xGF%)56.0843.76
Wins above replacement (WAR)2.20.3

When looking at the bottom three rows, it is clear that the impact Roy had on the Kings last season was not even comparable to what he brought to the team in 2019-20. For a visual representation of the two very different seasons he has had since 2019, here are his regularized adjusted plus/minus (RAPM) charts from the two campaigns:

Hopefully Roy can have a bounceback season in 2021-22. If he does, his time on the second pair will be more than justified. Paired with Roy will likely be Edler, the newest addition to the Kings’ D-core. He is not a flashy player, but he will bring the veteran presence of a 35-year-old who has played 925 games. For what it’s worth, he did provide a positive contribution to the Vancouver Canucks last season with a WAR of 0.9. He also blocked 118 shots, fourth in the entire NHL.

Third Pair: Bjornfot – Walker

The Kings’ third pair is not a bad one by any means. Last season, Walker finished second on the team in points among defensemen, putting up five goals and 13 assists in 47 games. He also blocked 72 shots, good for third on the team behind LA’s top two defensemen in this projection.

Sean Walker Los Angeles Kings
Sean Walker, Los Angeles Kings (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The 26-year-old Walker is paired with one of the Kings’ top defensive prospects in Bjornfot. He played a solid number of games for LA last season, his first time on the team for any significant period. Through 33 games, he scored his first NHL goal and put five assists on the scoresheet as well. He projects to be a great shutdown defenseman, so it will be exciting to see him continue his development this season.

Kings 2021-22 Full Lineup Projection

I recently projected the Kings’ forwards lines for this coming season — you can see that article here. I have also discussed goaltending for this coming season — you can see that article here. Altogether, LA’s lineup to start next season could look something like this:

Alex IafalloAnze KopitarViktor Arvidsson
Adrian KempePhillip DanaultDustin Brown
Andreas AthanasiouGabriel VilardiLias Andersson
Trevor MooreJaret Anderson-DolanCarl Grundstrom
Mikey AndersonDrew Doughty
Alexander EdlerMatt Roy
Tobias BjornfotSean Walker
Calvin Petersen
Jonathan Quick

Looking at this potential lineup as a whole, the Kings clearly have a better roster for this season than they have had in recent seasons. The team is coming out of the rebuilding phase, and they are hoping to make the playoffs this season. A lot would have to go right, but I think this roster has a shot at it.

Advanced Stats per Evolving-Hockey