The Los Angeles Kings defied expectations this season, not only making the playoffs but taking the Edmonton Oilers to seven games in Round 1. This has left fans and the organization extremely excited about what the future holds. There is a general feeling amongst the fanbase that this summer is the time to fully commit to becoming a contender again, searching for big moves to help the team take the next step. Some of that sentiment seems to be echoed within the organization, leaving the front office with a difficult summer of decisions.
Kings Must Add Goal Scoring
A big issue all season for the Kings had been goal scoring. They finished the regular season with the lowest team shooting percentage, shooting at an abysmal 8.2 percent, while also having by far the lowest goals above expected. Their 37.44 goals below expected are six worse than the next closest team and paint a damning picture of the team’s offense. Because of this, the main focus for most people this summer will be adding a goal-scoring forward, more specifically a winger, to the team.
The candidate on most people’s minds is Nashville Predators forward Filip Forsberg, but I’m going to leave the Forsberg talk for its own dedicated article. Regardless of the name, most fans want general manager Rob Blake to aggressively pursue a goal-scoring, top-six winger. That addition would help the team, but it isn’t easy and comes with risks. Blake answered questions surrounding the need for added scoring in his exit interview, and his answer was very telling.
After fielding two questions from The Fourth Period’s Dennis Bernstein and Mayor’s Manor’s John Hoven, asking if the team will look to add scoring externally or internally and discussing the pressure of making impactful free agent signings, Blake seemed adamant that there needs to be internal improvement this summer.
Blake said, “I think some of that internally driven now, we’ve had some draft picks the last three years… now they’re getting a couple of years in the American League (AHL) and getting tastes of the NHL, so I think internally that drive should be there too.” Blake did say that scoring help can come externally as well, but he seemed very committed to the idea that it can come internally.
People will point to these comments and say they’re nothing, as general managers often play their cards close to their chests and are often conservative in the way they speak about external additions. While I understand that point, these comments are vastly different from than ones he made last summer, where he was clear the team was looking to add players externally. Arthur Kaliyev moved to the top line during Game 7 against the Oilers and would be a prime candidate to step up next season and be the internal solution for the team’s scoring problems.
It’s never good to read too much into one interview, but I do think Blake and his management group will explore several options this summer to improve the team, including giving young players greater opportunities. It wouldn’t be the flashy move most people are hoping for, but it could certainly pay off. The team just watched Adrian Kempe put together a career season, scoring 35 goals to lead the team, and a big reason for that was the greater opportunity provided to him.
It was the first year he saw exclusively top-six forward ice time, and he stepped up. While I wouldn’t expect a 30-goal season from any young player next season, a significant improvement could come from someone like Kaliyev if he’s moved into the top-six. The team has stuck to their rebuilding plan and remained fairly conservative throughout, to immense success, and they might stay conservative in their pursuit for a top-six winger again this summer.
Adding a Left-Shot Defenseman
Blake didn’t make any comments regarding the need for a left-shot defenseman to potentially replace Alex Edler this summer, but it’s no secret that the team has been searching for a player in this position. The name floating around for nearly a year now has been Jakob Chyrchrun. I’ve made my opinions known about pursuing Chychrun in the past. At the current asking price, he isn’t worth it, but I do think the Kings need to make a move for a player in his mold. If the team wants to make an aggressive addition this summer, that is where it should be. They have the assets to make a big addition, and they should be used to acquire a left-shot defenseman.
Mikey Anderson stepped up in a big way this season, especially in the playoffs, and has his spot next to Drew Doughty on the top-pairing locked down, but the team could use some star power on the second pairing. The main reason they need to focus in this area instead of at forward is that, unlike at forward, the team doesn’t have a prospect who can potentially fill the need internally. Even as a big Tobias Bjornfot believer, I understand that he can’t fill the role this team needs. They need a dynamic, point-producing defenseman to play on the second pairing. Ideally, this player could also provide secondary scoring from the blue line.
Adding an offensive threat to the blue line could even help the team’s goal-scoring issue. Drew Doughty led the team with seven goals, despite playing in just 39 games this season, signaling a huge problem of production from defensemen. The team didn’t have a single defenseman score double-digit goals this season, and while injuries played a part in that, only Doughty scored at a pace that would have seen him score 10 or more goals. While you can’t have a defenseman be your primary source of foals, adding an extra 10 goals on the back end would be huge. Finding that player won’t be easy, but it’s achievable. The one name I’ll throw out is Philadelphia Flyers defensemen Ivan Provorov, who could become available if the Flyers commit to rebuilding.
Kings Need Toughness
Another interesting tidbit to come out of Blake’s exit interview was his admission that the team needs to add toughness to the roster. Hoven asked a question regarding Alex Turcotte and the concussion he sustained with the Ontario Reign, which transitioned into a question about whether the Kings feel they need more toughness to help protect the young players coming through. I was a huge fan of his comment from Blake and agree wholeheartedly that this team needs to add some toughness and snarl to the lineup.
In Round 1, the Oilers had a clear plan to physically impose themselves on this young Kings team, particularly the blue line, and the Kings had no answer. Some players did their best to step up, Anderson and Carl Grundstrom picked up the physicality in this series, and that was great to see, but it wasn’t enough. Zack Kassian, in particular, was able to physically impose himself in this series, with no one there to stop him. Yes, Kassian is just one player and not a reason to panic and acquire toughness, but the team’s inability to deal with a presence like Kassian is a concern and was an issue all season. The Kings don’t need to acquire a true fighter like Kurtis MacDermid, but adding someone who can physically punish the opposition, drop the gloves when necessary, and be an effective player on the ice would be ideal.
A player who checks all of those boxes won’t be easy to find and will come with some cost, but there are players who fit this mold. The player I would love the Kings to target is Predators forward Yakov Trenin. Trenin is a big, nasty forward who is more than willing to drop the gloves. His 191 hits during the 2021-22 season were 57 more than the Kings’ closest player, and Sean Durzi has first-hand experience of Trenin’s ability to fight, eating several big punches from the Russian forward. He brings far more than physicality and fighting, though. His 17 goals would have left him tied for fifth on the team, and he’s excellent defensively and on the penalty kill, an area where the team needs help. This package of skills will mean he’s hard to pry from the Predators, but if Forsberg walks, they might be willing to move pieces in the hopes of starting a quick re-tool.
Another name that I’ve mentioned before when looking for this profile of player is Lawson Crouse of the Arizona Coyotes. He brings a similar package as Trenin and can play higher in the lineup if needed. He will cost more than Trenin, so I don’t see the Kings going after him, but he would be a fantastic addition.
This Summer Won’t Be Easy for Blake
One thing is for certain: I do not envy the difficult decisions Blake will have to make this summer. This Kings team has clear deficiencies, but there is a risk of going too big this summer. Fans want them to acquire a big name forward, but that comes with a massive cost and the side-effect of blocking a prospect’s route into the top-six.
The Kings also need an upgrade on defense and added toughness. A big move that shifts several assets out could be the key to this team winning a Cup, but it could also backfire, undoing so much of the work this team has done to rebuild their prospect pool. Blake has given me no reason to think he’ll get it wrong this summer, and it will be interesting to see what moves he makes.
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.