With the recent addition of Brendan Lemieux, the Los Angeles Kings have added yet another crucial piece to becoming perennial contenders for the Stanley Cup. The Kings have had the best prospect pool in the NHL for a few seasons now. With key draft picks such as Akil Thomas, Gabe Vilardi and Alex Turcotte starting to hit their strides, it will soon be time for them to be permanent fixtures on the roster. This, along with the emergence of players like Adrian Kempe and the guys from the old core still having a few years left of worthy point production, is starting to ring the bells of yesteryear.
With the acquisitions of young gritty guys like Lemieux, LA’s prospects starting to get up to NHL speed, and the upcoming trade deadline, the Kings can have a solid mix of youth and veteran experience, just as they did in 2012 and 2014. The patience in letting their prospects develop and giving them occasional taste testing of NHL action has paid massive dividends. It has allowed them to mature just as intended, no rushing necessary.
One of the League’s Deepest Center Lines
With captain Anze Kopitar still going strong and producing solid numbers in his mid-30s, he still stands high and mighty as their No. 1 center for years to come. Kopitar has been consistent throughout his entire career even going as far as putting up a career-high 92 points in the 2017-18 season. There is not much you can say about Kopitar that we do not already know. What the key focus is on would be the centers on the second through fourth lines. The current clear No. 2 center is Kempe. He has spent the years since the Kings drafted him in 2014 splitting time between the NHL and AHL, having made his permanent move to the Kings roster during the 2017-18 season.
Kempe has been improving his stat line every year he has been in the NHL. Had last season not been shortened due to the global pandemic, he would have had a career year. If the Kings choose to play Lemieux on a line with Kempe, it would allow Kempe to focus solely on putting up plenty of points and not trying to be a power forward. Although Kempe sometimes plays on the wing, it would be most beneficial to the team and to Kempe himself if they focused on permanently playing him at center. The Kings current No. 3 and No. 4 spots at center seemingly change night in and night out as they figure out which of the young up and comers will fill those spots best.
Who I think will fill these spots in the coming years will be Gabriel Vilardi and recent No. 2 overall pick, Quinton Byfield. Some people say Byfield is next in line to take over for Kopitar. He may be, but not yet. The Kings could start him on the third line and let him develop alongside guys like Jeff Carter and eventually skip over Kempe to take Kopitar’s spot at No. 1, for now, however, the Kings should let him develop in the minors to help adjust his speed to the NHL.
The Strong Supporting Cast
With their old core slowly showing signs of defeat at the hands of father time, the Kings have played it smart at recent trade deadlines by taking an abundance of draft picks and solid, young prospects. With those picks and prospects, LA has been able to stock up on very solid guys to support the future core. Let’s start with the Kings’ situation in the crease. They struck gold by taking on Cal Petersen and drafting Matthew Villalta. With Petersen improving himself season by season since he was brought into the Kings system, he has emerged as the clear No. 1 starter heading into the future. As for Villalta, he is maturing and improving game by game and will be ready in a few seasons’ time to back Petersen up for years to come. Up next is the defense.
Over the last couple of seasons, the Kings have had a tough time finding solid blueliners, with their most consistent performer being, of course, Drew Doughty. He cannot do it all by himself, however. The Kings do have a very solid upcoming crop of defensive talents waiting in the minors. From guys like Kale Clague, who put up very solid numbers in the WHL and are performing well on the Ontario Reign, to Tobias Bjornfot being a top Swedish defensive prospect for the Kings, the team is well taken care of when it comes to their future at the blue line.
Where the Kings’ prospect pool well and truly shines through is their forwards, with players like Akil Thomas, Byfield, Drake Rymsha, Turcotte, Arthur Kaliyev and Samuel Fagemo, to name a few. All these players put up very convincing performances at either the WJC, playing in the CHL, AHL, NCAA, or a combination of the four. Then there are guys like Bokondji Imama who bring grit and grind or Rasmus Kupari who you can count on, night in and night out to dish his teammates the puck to create scoring chances.
The Final Verdict
What the Kings have done here is a lot of things and they have done them right in all the ways possible. Some may ask why they kept the old guys of yesteryear around for so long, or why didn’t they let a certain prospect play sooner. The best way to answer that is that they are being patient. This method is high-risk, high-reward, and the Kings are reaping those rewards. The Kings have paid their dues when it comes to rebuilding and their method may be studied and used more widely by other teams in the future. Yes, it might cost a few winning seasons in the immediate future but four or five years down the line, the benefits will make it all worth it.
My name is Nicholas Chudoba and I was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. I am a life long Kings fan and have been around hockey in some capacity being, watching it, writing about it or playing it. I am an avid gear nerd and I take great interest in what equipment the players use. I also take great interest in observing the game and learning from what the professionals do and integrate it into my own skill set. Hockey is the greatest game and I couldn’t be happier having the oppurtunity to write about it!