Kings 2021-22 Success Laying a Foundation for the Future

For the first time since the 2017-18 season, the Los Angeles Kings are looking at a return to the postseason. While making the playoffs is always a positive, it’s especially important for a Kings team who lacks playoff experience. The organization has built up a fantastic prospect pool, and playing in even one playoff series will be huge for the rookies this season. The Kings might not challenge for the Stanley Cup, but it will lay the foundation for future success.

The Kings’ Lack Playoff Experience

This may seem odd since the team has multiple two-time Stanley Cup winners on the roster, but it’s true. At forward, Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, and Viktor Arvidsson are the only ones with more than 50 playoff games played, while Phillip Danault comes in with 38 and a trip to the Stanley Cup Final last season. Trevor Moore’s seven playoff games leads the rest of the forward group, meaning just five of the team’s twelve forwards have played more than one playoff series, and several have zero experience. Brown and Kopitar bring a lot of experience between the two of them, but they alone cannot provide enough.

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

On the blue line, it’s much of the same, with Drew Doughty, Olli Maatta, and Alex Edler being the only defensemen with any NHL playoff experience. When you factor in that it will likely be either Maatta or Edler in the lineup during the playoffs, this leaves the Kings with just two defensemen who have played a single playoff game. Tobias Bjornfot, Mikey Anderson, Matt Roy, and Sean Durzi all have zero playoff experience. Like the forwards, between Doughty, Edler, and Maatta, there is a lot of experience, but outside of them, there is none.

Why NHL Playoff Experience is so Important

A common cliche in sports is that players have to “learn how to win.” It may seem simplistic, but it’s true in many ways, especially in hockey. Arguably no sport changes more between the regular season and playoffs; the games become more physical as players are afforded far less time and space. Not to mention the controversial change in refereeing during the postseason. It can often take players a few series to become accustomed to this style of play. Gaining valuable experience this season, one where there is no expectation to have a successful playoff run, is so important. Key players can get a taste of playoff hockey without the massive pressure to perform.

Fortunately, the Kings have built a team that should translate well to the playoffs. Players like Iafallo, Moore, and Brendan Lemieux already play a brand of hockey that excels in the postseason. However, the in-game experience will still be very beneficial for these players. They won’t have to change the way they play and will have to adapt less than others, but they will have to elevate their game.

Kings Who Will Benefit the Most

A postseason return will benefit every player on the roster, even those who have plenty of experience, but it will help some more than others. As I’ve just mentioned, there are a few players who should have a relatively easy time transitioning their game into the playoffs. Here are a few players who will gain the most from any postseason games played.

Adrian Kempe

Adrian Kempe does have several tools which can help him succeed in the playoffs. He’s a big player who doesn’t shy away from physicality, but he could struggle with the decreased time and space. He excels playing off the rush, using his immense size and speed to expose defensemen in transition. While these opportunities will still arise in the playoffs, they will come far less often.

Adrian Kempe Los Angeles Kings
Adrian Kempe, Los Angeles Kings (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Teams are less likely to give up odd-man rushes, and it will be more difficult to spring him in behind. His willingness to drop his shoulder and drive to the net will help a lot, and he will likely have to commit to a slightly more power-forward type of game in May. His consistent goal-scoring this season has been a huge part of the team’s success, and they’ll need him to sustain it during the postseason if they want to be a threat this season and, more importantly, in the future.

Arthur Kaliyev

I’d argue no forward on the team has seen more growth this season than Arthur Kaliyev. Moore certainly has a case, but I’ve been extremely impressed with Kaliyev’s improvement in his weakest areas. That being said, he could seriously struggle in the playoffs. His lack of foot speed and poor play in transition could be exposed. He’s been an effective forechecker this season, but in the more physical postseason, this could easily fall off. Expectations should be low on Kaliyev in his first playoff appearance, but the experience will be invaluable. He’s another player who will have to be a good playoff performer if the Kings want any future success.

Quinton Byfield

There’s perhaps no player more important to the Kings’ future than Quinton Byfield. He is expected to take the top-line center role from Kopitar and is seen by many as a franchise cornerstone. He also has all the tools to be an effective postseason performer, and these playoffs will be all about the experience for Byfield.

If the Kings are to build a dynasty with the prospect pool they’ve worked so hard to gather, Byfield has to be the centerpiece of the team, and he’ll need to be a fantastic playoff performer. Getting a taste of postseason hockey will be huge for him and will give him an idea of what to work on if he wants to succeed in that environment. Like Kaliyev, expectations should be low for Byfield, but this early experience will be massive for him and the team moving into the future.

Gabe Vilardi

This is more of a hopeful entry than anything. As things stand, Gabe Vilardi wouldn’t get any NHL playoff experience, as he’s still in the American Hockey League (AHL). However, it has been reported that Vilardi will likely not be dealt this season, and he should be back with the team in the next few weeks. If both of these things happen, he could suit up in May, gaining some very important experience. While some people have written him off as trade bait, I’m still hopeful he will be an impactful player for the Kings, and general manager Rob Blake seemed confident in him being a King recently. Now somewhat of a wildcard in the team’s system, Vilardi would benefit massively from a few playoff games.

Tobias Bjornfot, Mikey Anderson, & Sean Durzi

I’ve combined the three defensemen because all three desperately need playoff experience. Of the three, I expect Anderson’s game to translate the best; he’s a physical, shut-down defenseman, and nothing will change for him. Still, up against everyone’s top line, it will be a difficult task when the league’s best elevate their play during the postseason.

Mikey Anderson Los Angeles Kings
Mikey Anderson, Los Angeles Kings (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Durzi is the defenseman I’m most interested in for the Kings come playoff time. Seen as a revelation on the backend by many, he could find it tough in the playoffs. He’s been fantastic in his rookie season, stepping in and thriving after some tough injuries. His ability to transition the puck from defense to offense and his injection of some points from the blue line has been massive. Still, he’s struggled at times defensively and lacks physicality. I’ve learned to never count out Durzi and wouldn’t be surprised to see him thrive, but his play should be interesting to watch. Regardless of how he plays, this will be a great experience for someone who’s become an important part of the team. If he suffers some growing pains, it will be great to get them out now.

Related: Kings Should Not Be in the Market for a Forward

Bjornfot’s game should translate well to the playoffs when he’s at his best. However, we haven’t seen his best yet. One of the youngest defensemen in the NHL this season, it’s been a tough season for him at times, as he’s struggled to keep pace with the league’s speed and physicality. Still a high upside defenseman, I’m worried he could be exposed, especially if he is paired with another rookie in Durzi. His long-term impact is undervalued, in my opinion, and he’s someone who could excel in the postseason in a few years, making this experience huge for him and the team.

Making the Playoffs Will Help the Kings Long-Term

Again, this team will not be a serious threat to win the Stanley Cup this season, and their lack of playoff experience is a big reason why. That doesn’t mean making the postseason isn’t hugely important, though. Even if it is just a handful of games, getting a taste of postseason hockey will be massive for the young players on the roster. Eventually, players like Byfield, Kaliyev, and Vilardi will have to take over from the veteran core, and these games will help make that transition more seamless. This will lay the foundation for the Kings to become a perennial Cup contender; when that will happen is a topic for another day.

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