LA Kings to Watch at the 2021 IIHF World Championship

Although the Los Angeles Kings didn’t qualify for the 2021 playoffs, fans can look forward to a plethora of players who are poised to skate in the 2021 World Championship. Ten Kings are set to partake in the tournament and will represent four countries. This will be a special World Championship, as it will be the first edition of the event since the COVID-19 pandemic began. All of the Kings in this tournament will undoubtedly be vying to take home a gold medal from the tournament in Riga, Latvia.

Team Sweden – Adrian Kempe (Left Wing)

Out of the four countries with a Kings player representing them, Sweden is the sole nation with just one. However, 24-year-old Kempe, who hails from Kramfors, Sweden, is the most established Kings’ player in this tournament. A first-round pick in the NHL Entry Draft, he has skated in the NHL for five seasons.

Adrian Kempe Los Angeles Kings
Adrian Kempe, Los Angeles Kings (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Kempe has established himself as a gritty, physical presence who can find the back of the net and is potent on the power play. In 312 career NHL games played, he has delivered 318 hits, just over one a game. Excluding his rookie season (2016-17), where he played in just 25 games, he has scored 10 or more goals every year since. His career-high of 16 goals came in his sophomore season, however, his career-high of 0.25 goals per game came in 2020-21. His 14 power-play points this season tied for 54th in the league with Mitch Marner, Kevin Fiala, Roman Josi, David Pastrnak, and Mika Zibanejad, cementing Kempe among some of the NHL’s brightest stars in this regard. Overall, he will provide Team Sweden with invaluable help on the power play and will also chip in goals and hits.

Team Canada – Sean Walker (Defenseman), Jaret Anderson-Dolan (Center), and Gabriel Vilardi (Center)

The Mecca of hockey, Canada, will strive to win gold in the 2021 World Championship. Canadian players comprised 43.1% of the entire NHL in 2020-21. As a result, Canada always has a wide array of players to choose from, but Hockey Canada’s 2021 World Championship management squad, led by Roberto Luongo, felt three Kings could help shape their roster.

Both Vilardi and Anderson-Dolan are 21-year-old centers with loads of potential. Vilardi exploded onto the scene in a 10-game NHL stint in 2019-20, which led to him being considered a potential Calder Trophy contender this season. However, this didn’t pan out, as he had a season of ups and downs; at some points, he skated on the team’s second line, while at others, he was a healthy scratch. Despite not recapturing the success of his inaugural 10 games, he still scored 10 goals and added 13 assists for a respectable 23 points in 54 games played. Anderson-Dolan played in just 34 games this season, where he scored seven goals and posted 11 points. The center, who stands 5-foot-11, will likely plug in on Canada’s bottom six, where he can utilize his physical presence (he threw 1.5 hits per game this season) to provide a spark for the team.

Jaret Anderson-Dolan Los Angeles Kings
Jaret Anderson-Dolan, Los Angeles Kings (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Walker is a responsible player in his own zone. In 47 games played in 2020-21, he blocked 72 shots and threw 43 hits. This level of defensive responsibility is in line with the rest of his career and helped him nab a four-year contract extension last September. He is an effective force on both special teams units. In the final five games of the 2020-21 season, he caught fire offensively, scoring two goals and adding two apples. How he plays in the World Championship will be interesting, as he has always been good offensively, but it could help prove if this was just a mirage or if he has more to offer.

Team Finland – Olli Maatta (Defenseman) and Kim Nousiainen (Defenseman)

Nousiainen, a 20-year-old Kings’ prospect, has yet to play in a North American league, but he looks to be a promising talent. In the Finnish Elite League (SM-Liiga), he posted 27 points this season, which ranked ninth among defencemen. He is also responsible defensively, as he posted a plus-minus rating of plus-15, ranking 10th among defenders in this regard.

Maatta is the better known of the two Kings who are set to represent Finland. He played a pivotal role in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ back-to-back Stanley Cup victories in 2016 and 2017. In the 2016 playoffs, his average time on ice (TOI) was 17:44 per game. This ranked seventh on the team but was only two seconds less than what fifth-placed Phil Kessel averaged. Maatta produced seven points, which ranked third among the team’s blueliners. 

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In 2017, Maatta played even more in the postseason, as his TOI average was a whooping 20:36. This ranked third on the team and was ahead of Sidney Crosby, Kessel, Evgeni Malkin and Justin Schultz. Maatta had eight points in the 2017 playoffs, tying for third on the Penguins blue line.

Pittsburgh Penguins pose for a group photo with the Stanley Cup. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Maatta was brought to LA with the intention of being Drew Doughty’s partner in crime. This pairing proved unsuccessful, and Maatta only averaged 16:26 of ice time per game, the least amount of ice time he’s averaged in a season. Additionally, he gathered a measly four points this season, which is another career low. Overall, he will be looking to rejuvenate his career with a successful showing in the tournament.

Team USA – Cal Petersen (Goaltender), Matt Roy (Defenseman), and Christian Wolanin (Defenseman)

Team USA has a defensive-oriented crew of Kings. Goalies are often called “the last line of defense,” and Cal Petersen is an excellent goalie. He played in 35 games this season and proved to be an instrumental player for the Kings. He posted a respectable .911 save percentage, despite LA giving up 31.2 shots against per game, which ranked the ninth most shots against every evening. He stole Jonathan Quick’s role as the Kings starting goalie this season and is proving to be the real deal.

Roy and Wolanin will both represent the United States on the blue line. Roy is known for his outstanding defensive play. In 139 career games, he has blocked 231 shots (1.66 blocks per game) and tallied 214 hits (1.54 hits per game). His defensive acumen resulted in him finishing 13th in Calder Trophy voting in 2019-20, despite only notching 18 points that season.

Matt Roy Los Angeles Kings
Matt Roy, Los Angeles Kings (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Wolanin was traded to the Kings in 2020-21, playing in three games with the team and blocking four shots. He has yet to cement himself as a full-time NHL player, as he has split all four of the seasons he has skated in the NHL between playing in either the AHL or with the University of North Dakota (2017-18 only). In 2018-19, the 26-year-old played a career-high 30 NHL games, and a strong performance at the World Championship could do wonders for his career.

Conclusion

Although the Kings will not be playing in the playoffs, Kings fans can look forward to seeing a number of Kings skating in the 2021 IIHF World Championships.


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