This season begins in much the same way as the last season ended; although play has resumed, so much has been changed. New divisions, new schedule styles, and even new jerseys will mark the 2020-21 season as unequaled in the sport’s history.
With as many unprecedented factors coming into the fold this year, some predictions about the season will be the only thing weirder than playing an opponent 10 times in the course of four months. So, as not to disappoint, here are three predictions for the Los Angeles Kings’ blue line that range from likely to wishful thinking.
BOLD: Doughty Will Have a 50-Point Pace
The Kings were able to pick up Olli Maatta from the Chicago Blackhawks in early October. Maatta offers a textbook definition of a first-pair left defenseman, something the Kings undoubtedly had in mind when they organized the deal that brought him to the west coast.
Maatta gives Doughty the opportunity to improve his personal performance with a balanced defensive partner with solid positional play and great vision toward play development. It also helps that Doughty views this season as his opportunity to prove to nay-sayers that he is still an elite defenseman (‘Drew Doughty has heard the criticism and is ready to prove naysayers wrong’, The Athletic, Dec. 31, 2020). Nothing motivates quite like feeling as though your back is against the wall.
With there only being 56 games in the upcoming season, it’s quite unlikely Doughty will actually reach 50 points. That said, with the above factors as motivation, it’s not unlikely that had the season contained a full 82 game schedule, Doughty could get there. If he reaches 34 points by the end of the season, then he will have kept a 50-point pace during any other year.
BOLDER: Prospects Will Crack the Lineup Much More Often
Here’s where the new schedule and division layout will help with development. Since the Kings will have the same familiar opponents much more often, game plans will become much less of a guessing game. Once teams have a better understanding of each other, predicting playing styles come mid to late February will be much easier than they might normally be.
If familiarity will offer the Kings’ coaching staff anything, it’s that they will be able to understand when and where the best opportunities will be to slot in prospects for a few games. Players like Markus Phillips (who, by the way, is directly connected to the trade that brought Wayne Gretzky to Los Angeles in 1988) and Austin Strand can fill roles on the bottom two pairs that will not only help in their development but will help the Kings solidify positions considered to still be up in the air.
Couple familiarity with a team that is rebuilding, and suddenly the Kings have good reason to give their burgeoning young defensemen more opportunities.
BOLDEST: The Kings Will Call Bjornfot Back From the SHL
Currently, defensive prospect Tobias Bjornfot is on loan to the SHL’s Djurgarden HC, with the hope of having a consistent opportunity to develop against players at or around the same level as he plays. Looking at his stats in the league so far, you might not think that he’s made much of a splash, but still waters run deep.
Bjornfot has played the least amount of games compared to all other defensemen on the team, but that’s because he’s representing Sweden at the World Junior Championships for the second time in as many years. Compared to his teammates, Bjornfot’s ice time is near the bottom among defensemen, but still over 17 minutes a game, which is impressive considering he’s the youngest on the blue line by two years.
There’s no doubt that Bjornfot will play for the Kings later in the season (the SHL season ends in March, so there’s a few weeks after the loan ends that the Kings could have him all to themselves). However, the bold prediction is that the Kings will call him back sooner than the loan allows him to be in Sweden. For the same reasons that more prospects will have opportunities to break on to the roster, we have a very good chance of seeing Bjornfot back in a Kings’ uniform sooner rather than later.