The Los Angeles Kings’ season opener is just around the corner, and there is real optimism both inside the organization and amongst fans. The plan is to turn the page on the rebuild and return to playoff contention this season. The Kings made some great moves during the offseason and have a few prospects entering the fold. Here’s my season preview and predictions for the team.
This forward group has me very excited, as it is the first time in a long time that the Kings have been four lines deep. From top to bottom, this group has ways to hurt you. I think it might take a few weeks for the top-six to develop chemistry, but once they get rolling, this team will be dangerous. The three newcomers all look set for big seasons after a strong training camp. Phillip Danault seems to have found his home on the second line, defensively responsible as ever. Viktor Arvidsson needs to find his finishing touch again but generated plenty of offense during the preseason, and Vladimir Tkachev looks fantastic, with seven points during the preseason, so it looks like he’ll bring an offensive spark to the Kings.
|Viktor Arvidsson||Anze Kopitar||Dustin Brown|
|Alex Iafallo||Phillip Danault||Adrian Kempe|
|Arthur Kaliyev||Gabriel Vilardi||Vladimir Tkachev|
|Trevor Moore||Blake Lizotte||Carl Grundstrom|
When everyone is healthy, I think Arthur Kaliyev will get sent to the American Hockey League, and Blake Lizotte will get placed on waivers. Andersson is currently day-to-day and could feature in Thursday’s opener. This would move Carl Grundstrom to the press box, Kaliyev to the fourth line, and Andersson back onto the highly skilled third line. I think the second line will be a huge determining factor for the Kings’ success. If they can find chemistry and act as a true shutdown line, I think the team will have one of the division’s best forward groups. I think we’ll see more young players, specifically Jaret Anderson-Dolan and Rasmus Kupari, join the team throughout the season, adding more young talent to the forward group.
Kings Defense Pairings & Goalies
I think this is the biggest area of concern for the Kings. There are plenty of question marks with this group that will likely make or break the Kings’ season. They need both Mikey Anderson and Tobias Bjornfot to take big steps in their development, and they’ll be relying on 35-year-old Alex Edler to continue his solid play in his 16th NHL season. There’s also the situation in net, with Cal Petersen taking sole position of the starting job from Jonathan Quick.
|Mikey Anderson||Drew Doughty|
|Tobias Bjornfot||Matt Roy|
|Alex Edler||Sean Walker|
I’m cautiously optimistic about this group for the Kings. I’ve always been a big fan of both Anderson and Bjornfot, and I expect them to step up this season as big contributors. The same goes for Petersen, who should see improved numbers with a better team in front of him. Edler should be huge for the team as well, as having a veteran who can take some of the heavy minutes off Bjornfot and Anderson will be great. He isn’t the player he once was, but he doesn’t need to be either.
The big difference-maker on the blue line is Drew Doughty, who’ll be rejuvenated by the offseason additions and the upcoming Olympics. He has stated many times that making Team Canada is a huge goal of his, and I think he’ll step his game up this season because of that. We saw him put together a small bounce-back season in 2020-21, and he should build upon that this season. We might not see the full return of Norris-caliber Doughty, but I don’t think he’ll be far off it this season.
Where the Kings Finish
The Kings are heavily aided by a weak Pacific Division this season, and because of this, they should be challenging for the third spot in the division. After the Las Vegas Golden Knights and Edmonton Oilers, it’s an open field, and the Kings could end up as the best of the rest. The improvements made over the summer should be enough to see them push for the playoffs this season, and I don’t see them finishing lower than fourth.
The team has several candidates for big breakout seasons and has set their veterans up for success. There are still concerns, of course. There’s the possibility that Arvidsson can’t rediscover his goalscoring touch, Doughty regresses, and Petersen isn’t ready to be a number one goalie. There’s also slight concern with Dustin Brown still on the first line, but that feeling shouldn’t last long. Overall, I’m confident that the team’s summer additions will be a huge help and that they’ll start reaping the benefits of having the league’s best prospect pool.
It’d be a shock if anyone but Anze Kopitar leads this team in points. He has led the team in points for 13 of the last 14 seasons, and I don’t see that changing. In fact, we’ll likely see an increase in production from him this season. With the addition of Danault, there will be less defensive responsibility on him, allowing him more offensive freedom. At 34 years old, there might be some worries about regression, but I don’t think we’ll see him fall off just yet.
I don’t think we’ll see the return of the 92-point player he was during the 2017-18 season, but I do think his production will increase. I expect him to post 80 points, eight more points than his 82-game average. The aforementioned decrease in defensive duties will play a key role in this, and the team’s power play should improve, boosting his point totals. Kopitar will once again be an elite center and should be the best center not wearing an Oilers jersey in his division.
Newcomer Arvidsson will lead the team in goals this season. His shooting percentage should come back up from its dismal 6.6 percent last season, and he’ll likely be the main beneficiary from Kopitar’s increased production. He should also feature on the team’s top power play unit, where he’ll pick up plenty of goals. I’m going to be optimistic with his projection, maybe too optimistic, and say he breaks the 30-goal mark for the third time in his career. Prediction? He scores 31 goals, four more than his 82-game average.
One Bold Prediction
My one bold prediction for the season is that Adrian Kempe gets traded during the season. I think the team will have to make room for one of its prospects in the top-six, and Kempe will be the easiest player to move. With just one year left on his contract and a small $2 million cap hit, teams hoping to add some offense near the deadline will be interested in the Swedish forward.
With how thin they look at left wing, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Toronto Maple Leafs reignited their interest in the 25-year-old Kempe. It’d be sad to see him go, although I must say that he has never reached his full potential with the Kings, and he might not ever reach it in Los Angeles. A change of scenery could be just what he needs, especially for a team hoping to make a Cup run. If he was traded to the Leafs, we might see him develop into the highly productive complementary forward that he could be.
Optimism in Los Angeles
Maybe I’m being too optimistic with this Kings team and overvaluing some of their pieces. But a playoff return is very possible for them. They’ve improved in key areas and will see reinforcements come from within. Vilardi, in particular, will take a huge step up this season and will begin looking like a legit top-six forward. It’s possible the reinforcements aren’t enough, the kids aren’t ready, and the Kings finish near the bottom of the league again, but I just don’t see that happening. Let me know in the comments what you think. Am I being too optimistic? Will the Kings make the playoffs? Who do you think will impress the most, and who will disappoint?
My name is Austin Stanovich, as a lifelong player and fan I’m hoping to bring my own unique perspective on the hockey world, specifically covering the Los Angeles Kings. As a SoCal native I grew up a Kings fan, and after graduating from Long Beach State in 2020 I’ve joined The Hockey Writers crew as a columnist for the Kings.