Recently, the Los Angeles Kings re-signed undersized center Blake Lizotte to a one-year contract worth $800,000. After two decent seasons with LA, general manager Rob Blake decided Lizotte had done enough to earn himself another year with the team. This isn’t the kind of signing that gets fans overly excited — but signing a player like him, especially on such a cheap deal, ensures the team has depth through the middle heading into next season. So, let’s look at how his first two seasons went, why the Kings re-signed him, and what he’ll bring to the team moving forward.
A Poor Sophomore Season
At the end of the season, there were plenty of question marks around if the Kings would re-sign him. His second year in the league was certainly a “sophomore slump,” as he regressed in almost every statistical measure. His points-per-game (P/G) went down from .35 in 2019-20 to .24 in 2020-21. It wasn’t just his point totals that were down either; his advanced statistics saw a noticeable drop as well. He saw a roughly six-point drop in both Corsi for percentage (CF%) and Fenwick for percentage (FF%).
While it was certainly a poor season for Lizotte, I think it’s only fair to mention that his struggles also came with a change in usage. During his rookie season, the Kings used him in more favorable situations, with a 54.2 percent offensive zone start percentage (oZS%) and a 45.8% defensive zone start percentage (dZS%). Compare that to his 2020-21 numbers that saw him with a 43.4 percent oZS% and a 56.6 percent dZS%, meaning, last season, they deployed him in significantly more defensive situations. Despite seeing a decrease in average time on ice (ATOI), his increase in dZS% would help to explain his poor numbers.
An Impressive Rookie Season
After seeing what a subpar season he had in 2020-21, fans might be confused about why the Kings re-signed him. The answer is found by looking at his rookie season in 2019-20. After two magnificent seasons with St. Cloud State University, where he posted 69 points in 76 games, he signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Kings on April 9, 2019. Being an undrafted player, expectations were low — he quickly shattered those expectations, proving to be a decent playmaker and a reliable defensive center. It was his defensive game that truly impressed, though. During 2019-20, he contributed with a 2.9 even-strength defense goals above replacement (EVD), meaning the Kings would have conceded more goals with a replacement-level player in his place. A 2.9 EVD put him in the 89th percentile for NHL players during that season.
He combined this fantastic defensive work with some flashes of offensive ability to cement a nice rookie season. Nobody left that season thinking he would develop into a P/G player, but he showed some offensive upside. He uses quick feet and magnificent edgework to win battles in the corners and along the boards before dishing the puck to his teammates. He did tend to skate himself into dead ends where he would run out of options and eventually lose the puck. Regardless, his rookie season was impressive for an undrafted free agent.
Why the Kings Re-Signed Lizotte and What He’ll Bring
Now that we’ve looked at his first two seasons in the league, we can look at why the Kings re-signed Lizotte and what he can bring to the team. It’s a simple answer, really: he brings depth. As of now, most people expect the Kings’ top-four centers next year to be Anze Kopitar, Gabe Vilardi, Quinton Byfield, and Jaret Anderson-Dolan — there is plenty of talent in those four players, but very little experience. We saw how difficult playing center can be for a young player last season, with Vilardi seriously struggling at times, especially in the month of March. Removing Kopitar, if one of the above-listed players hits a slump like Vilardi did last season, having a reliable player like Lizotte will prove to be very valuable.
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If he can re-capture the defensive solidity we saw during his rookie season, he will be an ideal player to move in and out of the lineup when needed. In a perfect world, all the teams’ young centers perform well, and he’s scratched for the majority of next season. With that said, it’s a situation where the team would rather have him and not need him than need him and not have him.
There’s a Possibility He’s Still Moved
I should mention the possibility of Lizotte not being a King next season. There’s almost no chance the team protects him in the upcoming expansion draft, and that might tempt Seattle into securing their bottom-six by taking him. I imagine he falls behind, at least, Kale Clague and Martin Frk on the Kraken’s shortlist, but you never know. It’s also possible that he is used as a sweetener in a trade this summer as the team looks to improve their roster.
Re-Signing Lizotte Is a Good Move
Overall, re-signing Lizotte makes sense for the Kings. He gives them a small safety net in case one of the team’s young centers hits a slump or there is an injury crisis. If it’s clear the team won’t need him during the season, I would expect the Kings to place him on waivers, where someone would likely claim him. I would expect more exciting signings to come soon; however, this was still smart business by Blake and should be recognized as such.