The Los Angeles Kings have signed former Montreal Canadiens center Phillip Danault to a six-year contract with an average annual value (AAV) of $5.5 million. Danault seemed to be the King’s number one free-agent target, as he was the only player to be consistently linked with them heading into free agency. He is one of the league’s very best shut-down centers and his signing proves that the team is serious about contending for the playoffs in 2021-22. But what does he bring, and how does this affect the rest of LA’s roster?
What Danault Brings
I mentioned it in the opening paragraph, Danault is a premier shut-down center. He is a three-time, Selke Trophy finalist who excels on the penalty kill and even strength. He eats up difficult minutes against the opposition’s best offensive players. His offensive game is not stellar; however, his playmaking often goes underrated. His even-strength production will be a massive help for a Kings team that struggled to generate offense 5v5. The big knock on his game is finishing, something he certainly struggles with.
As this tweet from JFreshHockey points out, his primary assist per 60 (A1/60) is amongst the leagues best. Proving that he is a very good playmaker in 5v5 situations. His addition undoubtedly improves this roster as they look to make a return to the playoffs. He also fits into the team’s 200-foot ethos that they’ve held for some time now. A line featuring him and Alex Iafallo would be near impossible to produce offense against.
How It Affects the Team
I think there are three players that are most affected by this signing. Anze Kopitar, Gabriel Vilardi, and Quinton Byfield. It’s worth noting that this signing furthers what is already a massive logjam at center, but I imagine general manager Rob Blake has a plan for this issue. So, how will it affect these players?
Related: 2021 NHL Free Agent Signing Tracker
Anze Kopitar: I see this signing as a massive positive for the team’s captain. He has always played the toughest minutes in LA, having to be both the team’s best shutdown center and their best point producer. With the addition of Danault, Kopitar might be given more offensive freedom, with less defensive responsibility. Of course, he will still be stellar defensively, that’s his game, but he should see more favorable matchups moving forward. Kopitar and new signing Viktor Arvidsson might headline a “scoring line” while Danault anchors a more defensive second line, whose focus is shutting down the opposition. Regardless, this signing will take some of the defensive pressure off Kopitar, which will only be a positive.
Gabriel Vilardi: This signing is likely to impact young center Vilardi as well. After struggling to take command of the second-line center role last year, it seems like the Kings are removing that expectation from him entirely. I think that gives them three options with the former 11th-overall pick. They can push him down the lineup, allowing him to continue developing in a more sheltered third-line role. They can move him to right wing, where he projects to play in the future or use him as trade bait to add the much-coveted, elite, left-shot defenseman. I hope it is one of the first two options, as I’d hate to see him moved before he fulfills his potential. Like Kopitar, this move is nothing but positive for Vilardi, as the decreased pressure should help his development.
Quinton Byfield: This signing will also influence young star, Byfield. Most would have had him slotted in as the third-line center heading into the year. However, this signing could remove that possibility — if, for example, Vilardi is moved down to the third line that knocks Byfield down the lineup, or moves him to the wing. Fortunately for the Kings, it’s reported that players who played more than 20 games in the American Hockey League (AHL) last season, can return to the AHL instead of being forced back to the Ontario Hockey League (OHL).
This added option for LA is massive, as there will be no pressure to shoehorn Byfield into a position he is unready for or one that’s detrimental to his development. It’s impossible to tell what the team’s plans for him are at this time, but we should know more after training camp. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him start next season in Ontario as he continues to develop. Without a doubt, he will leapfrog Danault as the second-line center in the future, but this signing gives him time to grow.
A Fantastic Signing
Overall, this was a great signing from LA. Not only does Danault improve the team in the short term, but it also expands their options for developing prospects. The added benefit of giving Kopitar more offensive freedom is just a cherry on top. In the next few seasons, Danault will likely be pushed down to the third line by the emergence of Byfield. When this happens, LA will have, arguably the deadliest center depth in the league. The only negative you can find about this signing is the term. Six years is longer than most would have liked, but Danault’s ability to play in multiple roles means he should be an effective player throughout the contract. The Kings have secured their center depth for the next six years and fans who wanted to see signs of improvement this offseason have their wish granted. Everyone wins with this signing.
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.