A couple of days ago and in the first of a three-part series reviewing the performances of Kings players in the wake of a 2014-15 season that fell just short of the mark, I tackled the center position. After all, every game starts with a center touching the puck, and besides, the Kings are widely acknowledged as being particularly strong up the middle. It seemed like a good place to get the puck rolling.
A quick synopsis of the centers’ season
How did the centers do this past season?
Collectively, their output was pretty uneven. Jeff Carter and Trevor Lewis had strong seasons. Anze Kopitar had some of the lowest numbers — both traditional statistics as well as advanced — of his career. Jarret Stoll and Mike Richards likely punched one-way tickets out of town. Nick Shore showed some potential in limited duty.
In short, the offense was a big source of frustration last year, and the epicenter of those frustrations was right here. When perception exceeds reality, it’s a bitter pill to swallow.
But that’s the centers, and it’s time to move on to the next group of players: the wingers. Based on the numbers, how do they grade?
Toffoli was undoubtedly one of the best stories for Los Angeles this past year. After a decent (12G, 17A) rookie season, Toffoli had a breakout campaign last year, recording 23 goals and 26 assists in 76 games.
He demonstrated his nose for the net and sniper’s touch with this incredible shorthanded goal against Edmonton:
At 277, Toffoli’s iCorsi was fourth-best on the club, behind Drew Doughty, Jeff Carter and Dustin Brown. His +25 led the team by a wide margin, and that was despite playing just the 7th most minutes among forwards on the team.
All in all, Tyler Toffoli has nowhere to go but up, and should see his stock continue on its impressive trajectory next year. He’s a restricted free agent, so Los Angeles will need to figure out how to keep him in the fold.
The Kings knew exactly what they were getting when they acquired Gaborik from the Columbus Blue Jackets at the 2014 trade deadline for forward Matt Frattin, a second round pick and a conditional third rounder. To wit: a highly-skilled sniper on the wrong side of 30 with a history of injuries.
In 2014-15, they got pretty much what was advertised out of Gaborik, as he put up 27 goals and 47 points in 69 games. If you enjoy watching Gabby in action, you’ll love this montage of every goal he scored this past season:
Gaborik is a solid possession player, with an iCori of 211 (7th best on the club) despite playing in just 69 games. He was also tied for eighth on the Kings in +/- at +7.
Signed through the 2020-21 season, it’s hard to imagine he’ll remain highly productive throughout the term of his contract. However, as it stands right now, Gaborik is worth every cent.
The blockbuster three-team trade that netted Los Angeles Justin Williams for the low, low price of Patrick O’Sullivan and a second round pick may seem like just a few years ago, but it was actually back in 2009, meaning Williams has now spent over six seasons in Hollywood. During that time, he’s cemented his “Mr. Game 7” moniker with some amazing playoff runs, culminating in the Conn Smythe Trophy in 2014.
He’s both humble and articulate, as you’ll see in the following clip:
Unfortunately, he may soon to be an ex-King, as Los Angeles is up against the salary cap and Williams is a free agent. His numbers last year were pretty good (18 goals, 41 points, with an iCorsi of 248) but with the number of large, long-term salaries the Kings already have, it won’t be easy slotting Williams in.
Here’s hoping they can figure something out.
For most of his career, Dustin Brown has been a very good player. In fact, I’d argue he’s been a bit under-appreciated, given that he hits like a freight train, puts up very solid possession numbers and for the five seasons between 2007-08 and 2011-12, averaged 26 goals and 56 points.
Did I mention that he was a huge hitter?
Unfortunately, that was then and this is now. Brown had a solid (18 goals, 29 points) lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign, but has seen his production literally fall off the map since then. Meanwhile, his eight-year contract extension has barely kicked in, so if Brown doesn’t turn things around, the Kings are going to be stuck with a financial albatross of a deal for what will seem like eternity.
Dustin Brown still puts up an impressive iCorsi (288) and exhibits solid leadership, but with offensive numbers about half what he used to generate, he’s clearly not getting it done.
Dwight King has become a steady, reliable third/fourth line ‘tweener, averaging 14 goals and 28 points over the last two years. Still just 25, there’s room for more in his game, although he doesn’t project to be an NHL top-six forward. That being said, if he continues to crash the net and make things happen like he did in the following clip, you never know:
King’s iCorsi (184) was a notch better than Anze Kopitar’s, and he’s signed for two more seasons at an affordable $1.95 million cap hit.
One third of the celebrated ‘That 70s Line’, Pearson started the 2014-15 campaign on fire, scoring seven goals in his first 11 games. Although he cooled off somewhat after that, he was still on a .5 points/game clip through November. His numbers really took a hit in December (just two goals) and he was injured in January, missing the remainder of the season.
There’s no question he’s got the tools to be a consistent producer in the NHL. It’s just a matter of staying healthy and putting it all together:
With 12 goals, 16 points, a +14 and an iCorsi of 111 in just 42 games, it would appear the best is yet to come for the 22-year old left winger. He’s under contract for two more seasons at a $1.4 million cap hit.
Kyle Clifford is the type of player every good team must have in order to compete for the Cup. He hits, fights, kills penalties, holds the puck in the zone and scores a few timely goals. His 15 points last year were a career high, as were his 111 shots. As a point of reference, Anze Kopitar had 134.
Clifford made short work of Troy Bodie in this heavyweight battle last January:
After notching 15 points and an iCorsi of 186 this past season, it’s clear that when considering everything else he brings to the table, Clifford is the quintessential fourth liner.
The description above also applies to Jordan Nolan, although he’s not as strong on the puck (iCorsi of 89). He also rarely shoots the puck.
This is a pretty typical Jordan Nolan hit:
Nolan is signed through the 2017-18 season at the bargain price of an $850,000 cap hit.
The 23-year old Andreoff is a typical Kings prospect. He’s got size (6’1″, 207 pounds), speed and a decent pedigree. His likely upside is as a third liner in the NHL, but it’s way too early to know for sure how far he can go.
Andreoff was all smiles after his first NHL game:
He’s an RFA as of the end of this season, but based on what we’ve seen so far in relatively limited action, there’s little doubt the Kings will want him around for at least one more year.
Look for my review of the defensemen and goaltenders on Monday morning. Don’t forget to check out my review of the team’s centers.
Do you agree or disagree with anything you’ve read? Leave your thoughts below, or send a message to @McLaughlinWalt.
Walter McLaughlin is a Los Angeles Kings correspondent for The Hockey Writers. He is an avid sports fan, having followed the Kings since living in L.A. in the mid-1970’s, as well as suffering through Seattle sports teams’ general futility. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Finance and has worked in community banking for over 25 years, specializing in SBA loans. He is married and has two daughters.