It’s hard to be part of an NHL franchise that’s in a rebuild. The team loses more games than they win, fans stop showing up, and there is less of a buzz around the arena and the city. Luckily for the Los Angeles Kings, the ping pong balls fell the right way at last Friday’s Draft Lottery. After moving up to the number two overall pick, the Kings will add another blue-chip prospect to an already powerful pool. Most of the young studs are a long way from making a big impact in the show. So, how will the lineup look on opening night five years down the line in 2025?
|2020 First Round Pick||Alex Turcotte||Samuel Fagemo|
|Arthur Kaliyev||Gabe Vilardi||Tyler Madden|
|Adrian Kempe||Rasmus Kupari||Alex Iafallo|
|Jaret Anderson-Dolan||Aiden Dudas||Carl Grundstrom|
|Tobias Bjornfot||Drew Doughty|
|Mikey Anderson||Kale Clague|
|Sean Walker||Matt Roy|
The Old Core
It hurts to let go of players who have been with the team for a long time. It hurts even more when those players helped you win two Stanley Cups. Unfortunately for the Kings, they will have to move on from most of the core that gave them success in the past decade. The remaining core includes Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter, and Jonathan Quick.
Quick is the most obvious star to move on from. In 2012, Quick won the Conn Smythe after carrying the eighth-seed Kings to their first-ever Stanley Cup. His game has fallen off a cliff in the last couple of seasons, partially due to the injuries he’s suffered throughout his career. Quick has only had one season with a .905 or better save percentage (SV%) since 2016-17, when he only played 17 games thanks to injuries. At 34 years old, his best days are sadly behind him. At least he has a lot of hardware to look back on.
Kopitar has been the captain since 2016, when he replaced Brown. He has racked up 950 points in 1,073 NHL games, won the Selke trophy twice, and won the Lady Byng Memorial Trophy once. He is also 32 years old and has a $10 million cap hit until 2023-24. Starting next season, his No Move Clause becomes a modified No Trade Clause, where he must pick seven teams he is willing to be traded to. He seems like the most likely star on the Kings’ roster to get traded simply because he should have the highest demand.
Doughty and Quick have both slacked lately, whereas Kopitar is an attractive asset to any squad hoping for center depth. The Kings also have tremendous center depth between Alex Turcotte, Gabe Vilardi, Rasmus Kupari, Tyler Madden, Aiden Dudas, and Jaret Anderson-Dolan. For these reasons, Kopitar is not projected to be a part of the Kings’ future.
Doughty is a generational defenseman — or at least he was. Ever since he inked the eight-year, $88 million contract, he just hasn’t been the same. Suddenly, Toronto Maple Leaf fans have stopped begging general manager Kyle Dubas to trade for Doughty, and Matt Roy was often regarded as the Kings’ best defenseman in 2019-20. Unlike Kopitar, Doughty seems more likely to stay with the Kings because he doesn’t have a high demand right now. Rather than shipping him off for weak assets, the Kings should hold onto their blue-chip defenseman and let him mentor the younger kids. If all goes well, Doughty will return to form and give the Kings some production while making a cool $11 million per season.
Brown has been an interesting part of the Kings’ roster over the years, playing many different roles. He’s swapped between being a goal scorer and a physical presence more times than you can count, but has always been a heart and soul player. His painful contract, with a $5.875 million cap hit, is set to expire in the summer of 2022, when he will be 37. Expect Brown to retire or take a one-year deal to go Cup chasing with a contender in 2022.
Carter is the final remaining piece of the core. He followed a path similar to Quick: once very effective, but now plagued by injuries. If the Kings can trade Carter away, they should. Otherwise, he’ll likely spend more time working in physical therapy than on the ice for the Kings.
Center Depth Galore
If anything, the Kings have too many future centermen. That’s not a bad problem to have. Having a bonafide 1C may be as important to NHL teams as having a QB1 to NFL teams. Just ask the Montreal Canadiens. The Kings have a lot of options for who their future top center will be, but right now it’s still Kopitar’s job to lose. He has earned his spot, but the aging center will soon need a replacement.
Option number one is Turcotte. After being drafted #5 overall in 2019, Turcotte dominated at Wisconsin. He has all the makings of a two-way top center. He seems like the safe choice here.
Vilardi is an interesting case. After being projected as a potential top-three pick in 2017, he fell all the way to L.A. at pick number 11. He battled injuries the past few years, and eventually played 10 NHL games in 2018-19. In those 10 games, he racked up 3 goals and 4 assists. The young center can produce in the show, but can he stay healthy?
Kupari is another strong center prospect. After being drafted 20th overall in 2018, he spent his 2018-19 season in the Liiga, and more than doubled his point total from the year before. In 2019-20, Kupari played 27 games for the Ontario Reign in the American Hockey League (AHL), only putting up eight points. Unfortunately, he injured his ACL during the World Junior Championships, and his season was finished. His strong skill set of skating, playmaking and finishing should continue to progress, however. Expect him to be a big part of the Kings’ middle six moving forward.
The Kings took Dudas 113th overall in 2018, which is already looking like a great value pick. He is a two-way center who is more than reliable in his own end. That’s why he projects to be a great depth center option even though the Kings have so much skill at the position. He seems more likely to take on a fourth-line center role than the higher ceiling centers in the Kings’ system such as Akil Thomas or Madden, who would do better in a top-six role even if it means playing the wing.
Left Wing Locks
The top left-wing spot is currently left open, depending on what the Kings do at the 2020 draft with the #2 overall pick. The most likely scenario sees the Kings taking Quinton Byfield, the 2002 born centerman who tore up the OHL. Should this happen, he will probably take over the 1C or 2C spot, and yet another center will have to slide over to the wing for the Kings. However, it’s hard to predict what will happen on draft day. Perhaps the sky will start raining cats and dogs and the top team will pass on Alexis Lafreniere in favor of the younger Byfield. For this reason, the Kings have a question mark in their future lineup until the end of this year’s draft.
Arthur Kaliyev was regarded as the second best pure goal scorer, behind only Cole Caufield, in the 2019 draft. Even so, Kaliyev slipped all the way to pick #33 in the draft. With their third selection in the draft (after Turcotte and Tobias Bjornfot), the Kings were happy to have Kaliyev fall into their laps. He has the upside of a consistent 30-goal scorer in the NHL. Questions surrounding other parts of his game — see his skating and compete level — make that upside feel much less attainable.
Adrian Kempe is one of the few players on this list who currently play for the Kings. He’s shown flashes of brilliance and many believe he has a whole new level to take his game to. At the very least, he’s a reliable middle-six producer.
Related: Worst Trades in Kings History
Jaret Anderson-Dolan, taken 41st overall in 2017, is another Kings forward whose future is tough to predict. Like Dudas, many question if he will ever be a consistent scorer in the NHL. Even if he’s not, he should be a strong depth piece on forward.
On the Right Side
There is a lot to love about Sam Fagemo. After being drafted 50th overall in 2019, he looked like a star at the World Junior Championships. He scored 8 goals and 5 assists for 13 points in 7 games wearing a Team Sweden jersey, and looked good doing it. He feels like a 35-40 goal scorer if he keeps up his pace.
Madden was recently acquired in the Tyler Toffoli trade with the Vancouver Canucks. While losing Toffoli stung badly for Kings fans, Madden could be the perfect replacement. He tore up the NCAA, scoring 19 goals and 18 assists for Northeastern in 27 games. While he is naturally a center, he could move to wing because of the sheer volume of high-caliber centers the Kings boast.
Alex Iafallo is another guy expected to stick around from the Kings’ current roster. He quietly logged 43 points in 70 games on an awful Kings team last season. Similar to Kempe, he should be a consistent middle-six forward for years to come.
Rounding out the offensive group of the future is Carl Grundstrom. He was drafted 57th overall in 2016 by Toronto, and then came to L.A. in the Jake Muzzin trade. Last season, he put together 28 points in 40 games in the AHL, and he should transition into a depth NHL role over the next couple of years.
Manning the Blue Line
Kings fans should be excited about Bjornfot, selected 22nd overall in 2019 with the pick sent over in the Jake Muzzin trade. He projects as a top-pairing defenseman in the NHL, and has a great skill set. He may spend another year in the AHL before he’s ready to make the jump, which is okay considering the Kings are far from a win-now mentality.
Related: Kings’ Top 10 Prospects
Everyone knows the story surrounding Doughty. The 2015-16 Norris Trophy winner has lost a big part of his game recently. That said, Doughty still is likely to log countless minutes while he works through his $88 million contract. If he can rediscover his game, the Kings’ blue line would benefit greatly. If not, at least the young kids will have a good mentor.
Mikey Anderson will play in the NHL in the 2020-21 season. If that’s hard to believe, rewatch the six games he appeared in last season. The 2017 draft product has already begun logging minutes for the Kings, and got his first goal under his belt. He won’t be a top pairing guy like Bjornfot, but he should be a reliable bottom-four defenseman for years to come.
Kale Clague was drafted back in 2016, 51st overall. Similar to Anderson, he doesn’t seem like he has a particularly high ceiling. However, he does have a bit more offensive upside than Anderson. A Clague/Anderson second defensive pairing seems likely for the Kings’ future.
Sean Walker and Roy both played 70 NHL games in 2019-20. Walker already proved he could produce with 24 points last season. Many Kings fans pointed to Roy as their most dependable defenseman last season, ahead of Doughty. Both Roy and Walker are serviceable defenders. One or both of them may be shipped out for draft picks or prospects, but for right now they project as the Kings’ bottom pairing down the line.
In the Crease
Cal Petersen is the goalie of the Kings’ future. In 2019-20, he posted a .922 SV% and a 2.64 goals-against average (GAA) behind a very thin defense. Comparatively, Jonathan Quick put up a .904 SV% and a 2.79 GAA. According to Moneypuck.com Petersen’s 1.302 SV% above expected is the best among NHL goalies with at least 8 games played in 2019-20. His NHL sample size is small, but everything he’s done points towards him being a star. He was also fantastic for Notre Dame in NCAA play. Unless his career is derailed by injuries — knock on wood — he will be the new top goalkeeper in L.A.
There are only two 2025 roster spots that have been left as question marks for L.A. One of them will be decided by who the Kings pick in the 2020 draft. The other is their future backup goaltender. Backup goalies can switch so quickly, it’s tough to say who will be behind Petersen five years down the line. It may still be Quick, though he will be 39 years old in 2025. More likely, it will be a cheap free agent signing. For now, this remains as one of the less concerning holes to fill down the line.
The Kings have a fantastic prospect pool, arguably the best in the NHL once they add in their #2 overall pick. They have a surplus of center depth, and could even move one or two centers in order to fill holes elsewhere. Petersen looks like the goalie of the future; he could be a legitimate star. The biggest questions will come on defense, but there is still time to draft more talent on the backend. The seven-game win streak with which the Kings ended their season is an omen of the good to come in Los Angeles. Come 2025, L.A. should be a Cup contender again.