The best month of the calendar year has finally arrived for hockey fans: October. For Los Angeles Kings fans, this means everything that has transpired during the team’s offseason will be put to the test.
After a forgettable 2018-19 season, it was clear that major steps needed to be taken in order to restore the success Los Angeles is known to having. General manager Rob Blake took action almost immediately and agreed to terms on a five-year contract with Todd McLellan to become the new head coach. The process continued with a victorious draft class and free-agency landings that could help fill in the gaps.
Usually when a franchise begins to rebuild, the expectations start out low – but what really matters is if it works. If every component is able to come together and work in unison, then it’s a whole different story. That’s a question mark waiting to be answered.
The Kings will kick off the 2019-20 season against the Edmonton Oilers at Rogers Place on Saturday. Before diving into previews and predictions, let’s take a look at the finalized group McLellan will be leading this season.
The 23-Man Roster
- Michael Amadio
- Dustin Brown
- Jeff Carter (A)
- Kyle Clifford
- Carl Grundstrom
- Alex Iafallo
- Adrian Kempe
- Anze Kopitar (C)
- Ilya Kovalchuk
- Trevor Lewis
- Blake Lizotte
- Tyler Toffoli
- Austin Wagner
- Tobias Bjornfot
- Drew Doughty (A)
- Ben Hutton
- Kurtis MacDermid
- Alec Martinez
- Matt Roy
- Joakim Ryan
- Sean Walker
- Jack Campbell
- Jonathan Quick
- Alex Iafallo – Anze Kopitar – Dustin Brown
- Ilya Kovalchuk – Adrian Kempe – Jeff Carter
- Austin Wagner – Blake Lizotte – Tyler Toffoli
- Kyle Clifford – Michael Amadio – Trevor Lewis
- Extra: Carl Grundstrom
Looks familiar, right? All of the forwards listed above were on the opening night roster last season. Other than a few subtractions, the only key difference is that the Kings have a healthy Dustin Brown to start the campaign. The New York native didn’t return to the ice until late October after sustaining a finger injury during the 2018-19 preseason.
While he was away, the Kings went 2-7-1 in a 10-game stretch that ultimately set the tone for the rest of the season. The right winger concluded 2018-19 with 22 goals, 29 assists and a minus-17 rating. Having Brown healthy this time around is a plus for Los Angeles. Expect him to reiterate his 51-point season or go beyond that.
Due to Brown’s absence, it caused former head coach John Stevens to make some major adjustments. Alex Iafallo was one of the few players that were given the opportunity to step up their game. He performed well and kept the momentum even after Brown returned. After an impressive 33-point season, Iafallo was awarded with the team’s player of the year honor. Look out for the third-year left winger to be a serious threat on the top line.
A body on the ice many try to avoid but can’t: Kyle Clifford. While the long-time King hasn’t been a reliable option offensively throughout his career, he’s always been a great contributor defensively. His physical game will be crucial this season as the Los Angeles defense could be questionable.
While Clifford registered his best offensive season to date in 2018-19 (11 goals and 10 assists), his hits and blocks will prove to be more valuable in 2019-20. Expect the Ontario native to continue being what he’s known for: physical and a lover of fights.
- Tobias Bjornfot – Drew Doughty
- Alec Martinez – Matt Roy
- Ben Hutton – Sean Walker
- Extras: Kurt MacDermid, Joakim Ryan
Another long-time King in Alec Martinez will enter his 11th season with the team. The 2018-19 season wasn’t the best for the defenseman, but there was a positive to pinpoint. The Michigan native excelled in blocked shots with 135 – only behind Derek Forbort (139).
When it came to giveaways, however, it was a complete 180. The 32-year-old recorded 70, which was second-most in his career and third-highest on the team. Controlling the puck will be something he’ll have to work and improve on this season.
For the past five campaigns, Martinez has been known as a player who’s given everything to make plays, whether it’s laying out to block shots or scoring goals at a crucial time. That consistency should remain with him in 2019-20. In an interview with The Athletic’s Lisa Dillman, Martinez reflected on the 2018-19 season and how it could help moving forward.
“I truly believe in the group of guys that we have both on and off the ice. But I guess it’s just like anything; sometimes you’ve got to go through something like this to really get a kick in the rear. We’ve obviously faced a little adversity, but I think that it’s also a good opportunity to reevaluate, look at things, and get better going forward.”— Alec Martinez (from ‘Alec Martinez on Kings’ culture drop-off: ‘The entitlement thing is a valid point,” The AthleticNHL — 6/7/19)
Tobias Bjornfot was the only member from the Kings’ 2019 NHL Entry Draft class to make the roster – and rightfully so. The 18-year-old Swedish defenseman was selected in the first round after receiving the Toronto Maple Leafs’ selection in exchange for Jake Muzzin. Bjornfot first caught Los Angeles’ attention in the SuperElit with the Djurgårdens IF J20 team as he registered 22 points in 39 games.
Fast forward to the last couple of months, his defensive talent stood out to many during training camp and throughout the preseason. Now making the roster, Bjornfot’s role with the Kings, especially alongside Doughty, could be a huge asset as the season progresses. He’s definitely one King to watch.
Breakout Player: Blake Lizotte
With only having one NHL game under his belt from last season, Blake Lizotte had a productive preseason and earned a spot on the 23-man roster. The 5-foot-7 center attended St. Cloud State University and wrapped up his college career with 42 points in the team’s 2018-19 season. He joined the Kings on Apr. 2 and made his debut two days later.
This will be the 21-year-old’s first full season in the professional league and is projected to have a breakout campaign. According to scouts, the Minnesota native is a proficient versatile forward that skates well, which the Kings greatly need. Lizotte will be a good addition to any line.
Comeback Candidates: Drew Doughty & Anze Kopitar
Doughty and Kopitar: both players coming off bad seasons, both due for redemption. While the pair contributed on offense in some capacity during the 2018-19 season, they were liabilities on the defensive end. The campaign did not treat the Kings’ veterans well as they combined for a minus-54 rating, 74 penalty minutes and 163 giveaways.
The captain registered career-highs in 2017-18, but completely slumped last season with a 32-point decrease – all while leading the Kings in multiple offensive categories. It was previously mentioned that whenever Kopitar had a bad season, he responded with a great one. There’s a good chance that he could continue that trend.
Bold prediction: Kopitar will surpass his 60-point total and win his third Frank J. Selke Trophy.
As for Doughty, he saw a rating swing of plus-23 to minus-34 between his last two seasons. His team-high 105 giveaways were also ninth-worst in the entire league. To complete the full circle, Doughty and Kopitar were on the ice for a combined 159 goals scored against the Kings at even strength.
With young talent looking up to them, they need to be better producers and leaders at their respective positions. It’s very probable with McLellan taking charge and leading the squad.
On the Hot Seat: Jonathan Quick
Out of every player on the team, last season probably treated Jonathan Quick the worst. His performance was a shock to everyone. Just to see the decisions he made in between the pipes was odd and costly.
The Connecticut native allowed 149 goals, which isn’t too bad – however, he registered an .888 save percentage (SV%), which is the second-lowest in his career and worst since his debut season back in 2007-08 (.855 SV%). Quick’s 3.38 goals-against average (GAA) was also a career-low since his first season with the Kings (3.84 GAA).
Both stats ranked at the bottom among all starting goalies, which left many asking: will Quick return to his normal self or is it time to move on? The 2019-20 season should shed some light depending how it plays out. Jack Campbell will serve as his backup and may get a few starts here and there.
Will the Kings Make the Postseason?
The team shows promise, let’s get that right – but will they see the playoffs? Most likely not. The Kings are in transition and it would be a big surprise to see them make a push. There are still questions left unanswered and gaps not completely filled yet.
To have any sort of a productive season, the veterans need to reverse their 2018-19 performances. Maybe McLellan and the squad will turn some heads if that happens. It’s definitely possible for the franchise to be back in the postseason sooner rather than later, but not this early in the rebuilding process. However, it doesn’t hurt to keep the hope alive.
Sara Biela is a Los Angeles Kings contributor for The Hockey Writers. Biela graduated from San Jose State University in 2019 with a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism. She covered SJSU Athletics and the San Jose Sharks through the college’s student-run sports-media publication, The Spear.