The Los Angeles Kings have surprised many, as they currently sit second in the Pacific Division. One of the main reasons they have found so much success this season has been the play of new signing Phillip Danault. After an incredible run with the Montreal Canadiens in the 2020-21 playoffs, Danault decided to test free agency, in the hopes of earning a more offensive role. He found that role with the Kings and has been thriving ever since. He was the best free-agent signing in the league last summer and here’s why.
Danault’s Season so Far
Several people viewed Danault as a purely defensive center whose main role was to shut down the opposition’s best players. A common criticism of him was a lack of offense and particular goals. Upon his signing, most people pointed to his excellent 5v5 playmaking numbers as a reason to be excited about his potential offensive impact, and even those who liked Danault agreed that he was far from a goalscorer. Interestingly, his goalscoring has been one of his best attributes this season, already surpassing his career-high of 14 goals, on his way to a stellar 26-goal season.
Again, even his biggest fans would have never predicted this kind of season from him, as he’s turned into a goalscoring pivot. With 20 of his 21 goals coming at even strength and 37 of his 39 total points coming at even strength, he’s remained a mainly even-strength producer. Projected to score 26 goals this season, he will likely finish second on the team in this category, and will certainly be top-five in points. He’s earning these goals by going to the dirty areas of the ice as well, having not scored a goal from beyond the hash marks all season. Nearly all of his goals have come from right around the crease, turning his hard work into production. For a player who many said didn’t bring enough offense, and no goals, he has proven a lot of doubters wrong.
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Interestingly, the area of his game that everyone could agree was elite, his defense has taken a backseat this season. Not a liability by any means, and still good in his own zone, he is not putting up Selke candidate defensive numbers. Most models show him somewhere in the bottom half of the league in even-strength defensive impact, and like the rest of the team, his penalty-killing numbers aren’t great. One area where he has been excellent is in the faceoff circle, where he’s one 53.6% of faceoffs, good for 17th in the league. He’s flipped the script on many people, proving to be a dominant player offensively, while toning down his defensive impact.
His Affect on Linemates
I’d argue the biggest impact he’s had on this Kings team has been his ability to elevate the players around him. Coaches all over the world will tell you that the very best players make everyone around them better, and Danault does exactly that. Nearly every player who has played on a line with Danault has experienced their best period of production during that time, the only exceptions being Arthur Kaliyev and Adrian Kempe, who stayed consistent on and off his line.
The two biggest benefactors of playing with Danault have been his current linemates, Trevor Moore and Viktor Arvidsson. Moore has seen the benefit of playing with Danault more than anyone, he had seven points in his first 31 games not playing with Danault. This led several fans to worry about Moore’s play, and one foolish writer even suggested moving him to the fourth line. Since moving onto Danault’s line for the Dec. 30, game against the Vancouver Canucks, Moore has exploded offensively.
Since moving to Danault’s line, Moore has grabbed 34 points in 34 games, leading the team in points during this time. Of course, Moore deserves a ton of credit for his increased production, but it’s hard to ignore Danault’s contribution. Arvidsson has also reaped the benefits of Danault’s play, the two newcomers found chemistry together and have been on fire this season. The original plan for Arvidsson was to place him alongside Anze Kopitar, giving Kopitar a much-needed boost to his line. Unfortunately, those two were unable to build chemistry, forcing coach Todd McLellan to make a change. Arvidsson’s improvement was far less dramatic than Moore’s, as he was still producing on the top line, just not as much. He also played far fewer games away from Danault.
Arvidsson posted eight points in 12 games before moving onto Danault’s line and 32 points in 38 games with Danault. The big benefit to Arvidsson with Danault has been Arvidsson’s increased goalscoring though. He was brought in to be a goalscorer and he wasn’t doing enough of it on Kopitar’s line. He had three goals in twelve games with Kopitar, a 20-goal pace, and has 15 in 38 games with Danault, a 32-goal pace. On the top line, Arvidsson looked like a solid, hardworking forward who would chip in with points, and on Danault’s line, he looks like the star goalscorer the Kings were hoping for.
Danault’s Effect on the Team
Danault doesn’t just have a positive impact on his line either, his presence helps the entire team. A big talking point when he was signed was how he would help Kopitar. Finally giving Kopitar a reliable center to play behind him and despite some feeling like Kopitar has had a down year, Danault’s presence has still helped. Kopitar still leads the team in points by 14 points and will lead the team in points by a wide margin. Having Danault has not only allowed Kopitar to face easier matchups more frequently, but it has also lifted some of the pressure off his shoulders. He has gone through a few scoring slumps this season, and in past seasons, that would be devastating for the Kings, however, Danault’s play has helped the team through Kopitar’s struggles. Having a safety net behind him for the first time in a long time has been huge for Kopitar this season, as it’s always difficult to ask a 34-year-old to carry the majority of your offense.
The other player who has benefited greatly from Danault is Quinton Byfield. Just below Danault in the lineup, Byfield has had the benefit of easing into the NHL, facing easy matchups and rarely having to take defensive zone starts. The Kings have seen how detrimental it can be thrusting a young center into a role they aren’t ready for after Gabe Vilardi struggled through last season. The team hasn’t made the same mistake with Byfield and Danault has facilitated this. Danault allows the team to have their cake and eat it too, they can develop a superstar center like Byfield in a sheltered environment, while remaining competitive, because they have Danault in the lineup.
Danault Has Proven to Be a Star
Many people were concerned about the contract Danault signed in the summer, feeling like it was too much money and too much term for a pure shutdown center. Well, he has put any of those worries to rest this season, as he’s provided offense and helped the team compete for a playoff spot for the first time in several seasons. Most people would agree that Danault is underpaid at this point and the Kings got him for a steal last summer. In fact, according to Shayna Goldman and Dom Luszczyszyn’s player card model at The Athletic, Danault’s market value is $7.5 million, $2 million more than he actually makes. He has been everything the Kings had hoped for and more this season and will be a pivotal reason they reach the postseason.