LA Kings 2021-22 Season Preview: Forward Lines Projection

With the start of the season fast approaching, it is time to start discussing 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.

While the players that will be in the Kings’ top six are pretty much set in stone, LA has a ton of different possible line combinations for their bottom six. From depth players to future NHL stars, there is a wide variety of forwards who could fill lines three and four, and it will likely change numerous times throughout the season. That said, there has to be one lineup of players to start the season:

Alex IafalloAnze KopitarViktor Arvidsson
Adrian KempePhillip DanaultDustin Brown
Andreas AthanasiouGabriel VilardiLias Andersson
Trevor MooreJaret Anderson-DolanCarl Grundstrom

First Line: Iafallo – Kopitar – Arvidsson

One thing we know for sure heading into the 2021-22 season is that the Kings’ lineup will be centered around Anze Kopitar, the team’s captain. The 34-year-old is entering his 15th season in the NHL, all with Los Angeles. Last season, he led the team in points, recording 13 goals and 37 assists. The 50 points he tallied were just enough for him to reach 1,000 NHL points.

Anze Kopitar Los Angeles Kings
Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

There is some debate as to who should be the Kings’ first-line wingers — Viktor Arvidsson or Dustin Brown on the right and Alex Iafallo or Adrian Kempe on the left. I think Arvidsson should get the spot on the right purely due to offensive production. The Kings traded for him this offseason, sending a 2021 second-round pick and a 2022 third-round pick to the Nashville Predators. He may have had a down season in 2020-21 in terms of points, putting up 10 goals and 15 assists, but his analytics show he still had a very good campaign.

Arvidsson recorded 13.4 individual expected goals (ixG), best on the Predators. His expected goals for percentage (xGF%) and Corsi for percentage (CF%) were also both over 50 percent — 52.92 percent and 52.88 percent, respectively — meaning Nashville possessed the puck and was expected to score more than the opposition with him on the ice. He posted a very solid contribution of 1.3 wins above replacement (WAR) on the season, third on the Predators — WAR refers to the number of wins contributed by a player over that of a replacement-level player.

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As far as Iafallo versus Kempe, I think Iafallo starts the season on the first line. Last season, Iafallo scored 13 goals and added 17 assists, and Kempe posted very similar numbers — 14 goals and 15 assists. At 5-on-5 play, however, Iafallo put up 21 points compared to just 12 for Kempe. Additionally, Iafallo had 14.67 ixG on the season, second on the Kings, was one of only four players on the team to post a CF% better than 50 percent, and he tied for the most overall impact on the roster with 1.2 WAR.

Second Line: Kempe – Danault – Brown

With Arvidsson and Iafallo on the first line, Brown and Kempe slide down as the wingers on the Kings’ second line. Like Kempe, Brown didn’t have a bad season, posting 17 goals and 14 assists, but his numbers were slightly inflated considering the time he got on the power play, which resulted in a lot of man-advantage points. Even though his point production wasn’t stellar, he still recorded 15.56 ixG, best on the Kings, was the only player on the team to have both his xGF% and CF% over 50 percent, and he put up 1.2 WAR, tied for first on LA.

Dustin Brown Los Angeles Kings
Dustin Brown, Los Angeles Kings (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Centering Brown and Kempe will be Phillip Danault, another offseason addition. He scored just five goals and 19 assists last season through 53 games, but he wasn’t signed to his six-year, $5.5 million average annual value (AAV) contract to score. Rather he was brought on to play his solid defensive game and win faceoffs.

Last season, Danault had a 1.87 expected goals against per 60 rate (xGA/60) and a 1.84 goals against per 60 rate (GA/60), fourth and fifth on the Montreal Canadiens for those playing more than five games, respectively. He also had a great xGF% of 57.91 percent and CF% of 58.4 percent last season. In the faceoff circle during the playoffs, he won 273 faceoffs, best in the league by far. Centering the Kings’ second line, Danault will be able to keep pucks out of the net for the team this coming season.

Third Line: Athanasiou – Vilardi – Andersson

Out of the four lines put together for this projection, this one is by far the most interesting. All three players have a lot of potential that they haven’t quite been able to live up to. There was a lot of hype at the start of last season for Gabriel Vilardi after he scored three goals and four assists in his first 10 NHL games during the 2019-20 season.

Gabriel Vilardi LA Kings
Gabriel Vilardi, Los Angeles Kings (Photo by Juan Ocampo/NHLI via Getty Images)

After such an impressive start to his career, Vilardi was given a much more significant role in 2020-21, which he struggled with at times, finishing the 54-game campaign with 10 goals and 13 assists. A bit of a reduced role to start this coming season will probably be beneficial for him.

The Kings acquired Lias Andersson, the seventh-overall pick from the 2017 NHL Draft, during the 2020 NHL Draft in exchange for a second-round pick. He had a tough time with the New York Rangers, allowing the Kings to pick him up at a bargain price. He played some of last season with the Kings’ American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate, the Ontario Reign, where he put up six goals and 11 assists in 15 games. In his 23 games with LA, he scored three goals and tallied three assists as well.

While Andersson maybe didn’t appear to be the most impactful when he was in the Kings’ lineup, he actually recorded the best wins above replacement per 60 rate (WAR/60) of any player on the team last season, 0.113 through his time in Los Angeles.

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The Kings signed Andreas Athanasiou to a one-year, $1.2 million contract before the start of the 2020-21 season with the hope of adding some offense, as he was once a 50-point player. He had a good start to his time with LA, scoring a goal in each of his first three games with the team.

However, Athanasiou would only go on to score 10 goals over the course of the season, putting down 13 assists on the scoresheet as well. It would be massive for the team’s offense if Athanasiou could return to his old form and Vilardi as well as Andersson could take another step towards becoming the players we know they can be.

Fourth Line: Moore – Anderson-Dolan – Grundstrom

There are a few ways the Kings could go for their fourth line, especially at center. Jaret Anderson-Dolan stepped into the lineup last season, and he provided a surprising amount of offense, so I think the team should go back to him to start the 2021-22 campaign. Through 34 games during the 2020-21 season, he was able to tally seven goals and four assists.

Jaret Anderson-Dolan Los Angeles Kings
Jaret Anderson-Dolan, Los Angeles Kings (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Like Anderson-Dolan, Trevor Moore is a player who emerged as a valuable forward last season. The 26-year-old was traded from the Toronto Maple Leafs to the Kings during the 2019-20 season along with a 2020 third-round pick and a 2021 third-round pick in exchange for Kyle Clifford and Jack Campbell. Last season was his first full NHL campaign, and he was still able to score 10 goals and 13 assists.

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The Kings’ fourth line ends with Carl Grundstrom who also played his first nearly full season with the Kings in 2020-21. He hasn’t quite broken through offensively, putting together just six goals and five assists through 47 games last season, but the potential is there, so I think the team will give him a spot on the fourth line to start the season.

Kings Have Options for Their Bottom Six

The players that will be on the Kings’ top two lines are pretty much a lock, but the team has a ton of options as to who could play in their bottom six. Maybe the most debated is Quinton Byfield. The Kings’ top prospect spent most of last season in the AHL where he put up eight goals and 12 assists in 32 games. He did get in six NHL games as well, getting his first assist.

Typically, Byfield would face the Kings’ decision of keeping him in the NHL or sending him back to the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), but the new Canadian Hockey League (CHL) and NHL agreement will allow him to go back to the AHL for this coming season. I think it would be a good move to have him in the AHL at least to start before moving him up to the Kings. That said, it is more than likely that he will be in the Kings’ lineup this season and it would look something like this:

Alex IafalloAnze KopitarViktor Arvidsson
Adrian KempePhillip DanaultDustin Brown
Andreas AthanasiouQuinton ByfieldGabriel Vilardi
Trevor MooreJaret Anderson-DolanLias Andersson

Putting Byfield aside, there are several other players who could force themselves into a spot on the third or fourth line, such as Brendan Lemieux, Austin Wagner, and Blake Lizotte. Regardless of who ends up getting on the roster to start the season, it will be exciting to see a new group of forwards hit the ice in pursuit of a playoff spot.

Advanced Stats per Evolving-Hockey