3 Kings Who Can Make a Major Impact in Second Half

The Los Angeles Kings will soon return to play after a long break in their schedule. They will return to play on Tuesday against the Edmonton Oilers, their first game since beating the Detroit Red Wings on Feb. 2nd. While the Kings have already played more than half their games, the break makes it feel like the team is heading into the second half of the season. They have defied the expectations of many people so far, currently sitting third place in the Pacific Division, with one game in hand on the Anaheim Ducks.

Related: Revisiting Kings’ 2021-22 Preseason Predictions at Halfway Point

A postseason return was always the plan for this season, and the team is on track to achieve that goal. But they’ll have to keep up this stellar play and will be looking to a few players to make a huge impact. Here are three players who can make a big impact in the second half of this season.

Quinton Byfield

I don’t expect a huge second half from Quinton Byfield in the sense that he’ll become a point-per-game player who begins his league dominance now. I expect him to finally give the Kings solidity and quality on the “third line.” The team has tried several line combinations this season, mostly revolving around Rasmus Kupari at center but has found limited success. Something coach Todd McLellan touched on several times before the season’s started was the need for improved play from the bottom-six this season. The team has gotten that from the Brendan Lemieux, Blake Lizotte and Arthur Kaliyev line but has not found a working combination for the other bottom-six line, and Byfield can be the key to unlocking their success.

Quinton Byfield Los Angeles Kings
Quinton Byfield, Los Angeles Kings (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

It’s fair to say that through his first seven games in the NHL, Byfield is still adjusting to the league. This isn’t uncommon for Byfield, as we saw him take a handful of games to adjust in the American Hockey League (AHL) last season and again this season after his return from injury. I expect it will be a few more games before he hits his stride, but when he does, watch out. We’ve seen glimpses of his talent. His goal against the New York Islanders and his almost goal against the Colorado Avalanche showed off his blend of size, skill, and speed, but we haven’t seen it consistently. He hasn’t found his NHL pace yet, as he’s still slow in his processing, and he’s had a few defensive lapses, but these will come with time.

Playing on a line with two experienced players in Andreas Athanasiou and Dustin Brown should help him adapt his game quicker, and the speed Athanasiou and Byfield bring has been a big plus in the bottom-six. While I don’t envision it happening anytime soon, if at all, I would love to see Byfield and Kaliyev reunited. They looked great together with the Ontario Reign, and their games complement each other so well. With Kaliyev making huge strides in his defensive game, a line of Athanasiou, Byfield and Kaliyev could work well as a third line, but I’d be shocked if McLellan broke up one of his favorite lines in the Lemieux, Lizotte and Kaliyev line.

Arthur Kaliyev Los Angeles Kings
Arthur Kaliyev, Los Angeles Kings (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

No matter who he is playing with, Byfield will shine in the second half of this season. There are so many tools in his toolbox, and we’ve seen what happens when he adjusts to the pace of play in both the AHL and the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). He won’t be the franchise cornerstone top-line center we know he can be by the end of this season, but he will be a staple for this team’s bottom-six and will play a big role in their push for a postseason return.

Drew Doughty

It’s maybe a cop-out to use, arguably, the Kings’ best player this season in this article, but it’s very realistic that Drew Doughty continues to elevate his game. A common criticism of Doughty throughout his career has been his lack of off-ice commitment and training, but one thing you could never criticize him over is his passion. He’s what people refer to as a “gamer,” someone who maybe looks to be lazy or uninterested at times, but when big games come around, they are always at their best. With the team moving out of rebuild mode and into a competitive team, Doughty has returned to his best as well. Had he not missed 19 games due to injury, he would be in the Norris Trophy conversation right now.

Drew Doughty Los Angeles Kings
Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Not only is he on pace for the best offensive season of his career, scoring at a .85 point-per-game pace right now, but he’s also playing heavy minutes against the league’s best forwards. According to a recent Athletic article, no one is facing “elite” forwards than Doughty. He has played 44 percent of his total minutes against what the article considers elite forwards, meaning nearly half the time he is on the ice, so are the other team’s best players. Considering the matchups he’s up against, the offensive numbers and 5-on-5 defensive metrics he’s posting are astonishing.

“The king is back: Drew Doughty has played the toughest minutes of all NHL defencemen this season. He’s crushed it in that assignment, notching 24 points in 28 games to go along with stellar defensive metrics. It’s a shame he missed so much time with injury because he’d be a legitimate Norris Trophy contender otherwise.”

Harman Dayal (from ‘Which NHL defencemen have (and haven’t) earned their coach’s trust? Analyzing matchup data from all 32 teams’, The Athletic, Feb. 10, 2022)

Doughty’s play has not only given McLellan a reliable presence to play against the other team’s best players, but it has also allowed him to largely shelter a decimated blue line. Mikey Anderson’s 37.2 percent of time-on-ice against elite players is second to Doughty, and the only other Kings defensemen to play above league average minutes against elite opposition is Olli Maatta, who’s played 30.5 percent of his minutes against this group. It has allowed young defensemen like Tobias Bjornfot and Sean Durzi, in particular, to play extremely sheltered minutes. Nearly half of Durzi’s minutes have come against the bottom of the opposition’s lineup, allowing him to thrive in more favorable matchups.

This isn’t to take anything away from a player like Durzi, who has done an incredible job since replacing Sean Walker in the lineup, but it does put into perspective just how impactful Doughty is on the rest of the team. Durzi has been great, Matt Roy has been great, but without Doughty in the lineup taking up the majority of difficult matchups, I question how well this blue line would be doing. We know how desperate Doughty is to win another Cup, and it almost certainly won’t happen this year, but you can bet your life savings that he’ll do everything in his power to make it happen in the second half of this season.

Cal Petersen

After a very rocky start for Cal Petersen in a season where he was supposed to take over the starting goalie job from Jonathan Quick, he is now finding his game. He quickly lost the starting job, as Quick is having a late-career resurgence this season, and Petersen was hitting a massive roadblock. But the month of January was great for Petersen, getting him back on track to be the future in net for the Kings.

I’ve never claimed to be overly knowledgeable in the technical side of goaltending, so I won’t attempt to pick out a change Petersen has made to improve his play recently. One thing I have noticed is an increase in confidence, though. When he was struggling, it was clear that he wasn’t confident in net and didn’t have faith that he would make saves. At one point, his frustration led to reports of Petersen getting very emotional in practice, snapping his stick over the goal post after struggling to make saves.

It’s tough to pinpoint exactly what went wrong at the beginning of this season for Petersen. Perhaps the pressures of becoming the number one goalie were too much for him to handle, and he crumbled a little bit. Now that the pressure is off with Quick playing well, Petersen can step in with lower expectations and confidently play his game. Regardless of why it happened, he is back and is giving the Kings a two-headed monster in net. The ability to confidently put out either goalie will be huge for McLellan, as he’ll need to monitor 36-year-old Quick’s usage in the second half.

Kings Looking to Make a Playoff Push

The Edmonton Oilers’ collapse this season has given the Kings a golden opportunity to take the third position in the Pacific Division. Right now, they’re on pace to grab that spot, but they’ll be relying on a few players stepping up and a few continuing the fantastic season they are having. While everyone has to play well if this team wants to make a postseason return, I’m looking at those three players to play a major role in the second half of this season.

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