LA Kings Monthly: The 2020-21 Season Begins

LA Kings Monthly is a series that analyzes the Los Angeles Kings and how they performed throughout the previous month. Each article discusses what went right for the team, what didn’t, as well as the best highlights, player, and game from the month.

LA Kings Monthly Anze Kopitar Drew Doughty

Each edition also takes a peek at what the next month looks like for the Kings, with the top player and game to watch in the coming weeks. The team has not played a game since March 2020, so rather than discussing the month we’ve just finished, I will give a brief recap of the 2019-20 season and offseason.

Recap of the Kings’ 2019-20 Season

Last season, the Kings finished 28th in the NHL with a record of 29-35-6, 64 points, and a .457 winning percentage. While this isn’t great, it’s important to keep in mind that the team finished the shortened season on a seven-game winning streak. That means that LA played consistently worse than their record shows for most of the season. Before the win streak, they ranked 30th in the league with a record of 22-35-6, for 50 points, and a .397 winning percentage.

Todd McLellan Los Angeles Kings
Todd McLellan, Los Angeles Kings (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The 2019-20 season was also a continuation of what we’ve seen from the Kings over the last couple of seasons. The veterans who once brought the Stanley Cup to Los Angeles don’t have as much of an impact anymore. Drew Doughty had a decent season when it came to points, putting up 35 in 67 games, but he gave away the puck often, falling to the bottom of the roster when it came to possession metrics.

Jonathan Quick, the Kings’ star goaltender from the Cup era, had a better season than in 2018-19, but it still wasn’t good. He finished 2019-20 with a .904 save percentage (SV%) and a 2.79 goals-against average (GAA). The 36-year-old Jeff Carter, the oldest of the bunch, put up 27 points in 60 games to continue his diminishing play that began after an injury a few seasons ago.

Jeff Carter Los Angeles Kings
Jeff Carter, Los Angeles Kings (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

There were some solid veterans last season, like Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown who put up 62 points in 70 games and 35 points in 66 games, respectively. While this is nice to see, they will inevitably follow in the footsteps of the others and begin a downtrend in the next few seasons.

While it may be hard for Kings fans to watch the team decline, things are looking up for the future, and the 2019-20 season did bring some exciting moments. Last season was hopefully rock bottom. They’ve gone through the worst of the rebuild, and with all of the youth coming in, each of the next few seasons should see better play than the one before it.

A number of players who will be a part of the future made their NHL debut for the Kings last season. This included defensemen Mikey Anderson, Tobias Bjornfot, and Kale Clague. The team also saw Gabriel Vialrdi’s debut, who became a star in the 10 games he played, posting seven points.

Gabriel Vilardi
Gabriel Vilardi (Terry Wilson/OHL Images)

Other players also broke out in 2019-20. Blake Lizotte posted 23 points in his first full NHL season, and Matt Roy earned 18 points in his first full season as well, winning numerous awards for his hard work shown in his advanced stats. Calvin Petersen showed he is ready to take over in net, posting a .922 SV% and a 2.64 GAA in the eight games. Alex Iafallo also continued his uptrend, moving from .333 points-per-game (P/GP) in 2017-18 to 0.402 P/GP in 2018-19 and to 0.614 P/GP last season, posting a total of 43 points in 70 games.

Rob Blake and the rest of the Kings’ management also made solid trades last season. They added Trevor Moore and Tyler Madden to their system, dropping players who didn’t fit in Los Angeles anymore. The team also picked up a plethora of draft picks which they used during an overall outstanding offseason.

Recap of the Kings’ Offseason

Due to their poor regular season, the Kings picked second overall at the 2020 NHL Draft. There was a consensus second and third-overall pick heading into the draft, but it was debated which player LA would select. Many made the argument for Tim Stutzle, who can play on the wing, which suited the team’s needs better. The Kings decided to go with Quinton Byfield, though, and they made the right choice. Byfield is a power center who can likely take over for Kopitar as the team’s number one when the latter moves on.

Sudbury Wolves Quinton Byfield
Quinton Byfield of the Sudbury Wolves (Photo by Chris Tanouye/CHL)

The Kings also took advantage of some highly ranked players who dropped down in the draft. They selected Kasper Simontaival 66th overall, yet he was projected to go as high as 26th. This was a great pick, and he really impressed at the 2021 World Juniors. The team also picked up Martin Chromiak at 128th overall, and he could be considered the steal of the draft. He was projected to go as high 29th overall, yet the team selected him in the fifth round.

In addition to the Kings’ solid drafting, they also traded their 60th overall pick to the New York Rangers in exchange for Lias Andersson. He is a bit of a risk, as he already gave the NHL a shot, and it didn’t work out, but the team didn’t give up too much to get him. LA only made one other significant trade this offseason, acquiring Olli Maatta from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for Brad Morrison. The Kings needed more defensive depth, and it looks like Maatta will play a bigger role this season than many expected him to.

Olli Maatta Chicago Blackhawks
Olli Maatta, former Chicago Blackhawk (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

The Kings also made one major signing this offseason, inking Andreas Athanasiou to a one-year, $1.2 million contract. This is a solid signing, as there aren’t a lot of risks involved. In the best season of his career, Athanasiou scored 54 points in 76 games. Though he hasn’t been able to perform at that level consistently, if he can come even close to those numbers, it will be well worth it for LA. If things don’t work out, it’s not a big deal either. The deal is only for one year, so the team simply wouldn’t re-sign him.

Overall, the Kings had a very good offseason. They already have the pieces in place to be good in the future, so they didn’t need to do too much, and that is exactly what they did. They did a great job with their abundance of draft picks and only brought in a few players outside of the draft.

The Month Ahead

It is finally time for the Kings to play an NHL game again. This season, the team will play in the reconfigured Western Division, along with the Anaheim Ducks, Arizona Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche, Minnesota Wild, San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues, and Vegas Golden Knights.

West Division NHL Honda 2021

The Kings will kick things off on Jan. 14 and 16 at home with a pair of games versus the Wild. They then take on a Stanley Cup favorite, the Avalanche, on the 19 and 21, the last games before they hit the road for the first time. The team will then head to St. Louis for a pair of games there, then north to Minnesota for two games to conclude the month.

Player to Watch in the Month Ahead: Lias Andersson

This could have gone to anyone, as it has been a while since we’ve seen any King in action. It’s hard to know how much Andersson will play in January due to the number of centers on the team, but when he does play, we will be able to see if he looks ready to come back to the NHL. As previously mentioned, it was risky for the team to pick him up due to his previous experience with the Rangers, so it will be interesting to see if it pays off.

Game to Watch in the Month Ahead: January 14 vs. Minnesota Wild

Unlike the player to watch, this was an easy pick. No NHL team has ever had 10 months off, so it will mainly be interesting to see how the Kings play once they get back on the ice – and we hopefully never have to wonder this again.

While we may be getting ahead of ourselves to think about where the team will finish this season, all eight games against the Wild will be crucial for the team’s success. For many, the Kings are not expected to make the playoffs this season. While that may be true, considering their division, it might be more of a possibility.

It is clear who the top three teams will be, leaving the fourth playoff spot up for grabs. If the Kings’ young players have a larger than expected impact, the veterans turn back the clock, and the goaltending situation works out, they could compete to make the postseason. The Wild looks to be the favorite to take the final playoff spot, though, so every game against them will have slightly more meaning. The Kings will get four chances in January to prove to the Wild that they should be the ones to take the final spot, and the season opener will be a perfect time to start.

Sign up for our free ‘Kings Substack Newsletter‘ for all the latest.