LA Kings Monthly: Prospect Development and Power Play

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 started last month with three losses in a row, two to the San Jose Sharks and one to the Arizona Coyotes.

The Kings mixed in a win against the Coyotes in their rematch for their first of the month. The team then split a pair with the Sharks before dropping both games of their set with the Vegas Golden Knights. LA won over the Anaheim Ducks in their first matchup of the month before dropping two more games, one to the Minnesota Wild and one to Arizona. The team ended the month with three games versus the Ducks, winning the first and third contest, dropping the second.

The Kings’ record in April showed an abysmal 5-9-0, totaling 10 points, a .357 points percentage. One would think with a chance at taking the final playoff spot in the Honda West Division, the team would have had a better month, but that was not the case. After an embarrassing loss to the Coyotes early in the month, head coach Todd McLellan spoke about the team’s subpar play with a playoff position on the line.

Let’s face it, we don’t deserve to be in the playoffs if we don’t have the intensity to play to get to the playoffs…It’s as simple as that. I think there’s enough guys that have been there and know that the journey to the playoffs is just as hard as the journey through the playoffs…We have a pipe dream of making the playoffs with the type of commitment and intensity that we brought to the rink tonight, and maybe a couple of other games over the last little bit.

McLellan on playoff hopes after a 5-2 loss to the Coyotes.

With the Kings’ poor month of play, their season record comes to 21-24-6, totaling 48 points, a .471 points percentage. At this point, the team is out of the playoff race, so the end of the season will be more about player and team evaluation than putting up points.

What Went Right in April: A Good Month for Prospect Development

There were a number of important steps taken by prospects in April, both on the individual and team level.

Quinton Byfield’s First NHL Games

Byfield, the Kings’ most anticipated prospect, made his NHL debut in April. He made his debut on April 28 versus the Ducks, a 3-2 loss. Despite the team letting this one go towards the end of regulation time, Byfield had a very good game. While his speed and calmness with the puck stood out to me, he did not just pass the eye test in his first NHL contest.

Quinton Byfield LA Kings
Quinton Byfield, Los Angeles Kings (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Byfield’s impressive play earned him the most individual expected goals (ixG) of any King that night, 0.76 on the evening, though he couldn’t convert. He also posted the team’s sixth-best expected goals for percentage (xGF%), showing a 59.83 xGF% in the game. This production of scoring chances earned the praise of McLellan post-game.

I thought he contributed to a lot of offensive chances. He was good in the circle, he had a pretty good idea and understanding of the structure and how we wanted to play. Overall, definitely a passing grade for him, he was probably one of our better players … He earned the opportunity as the game went on, as I said he was one of the better players. If we didn’t trust him, and we didn’t feel good putting him on the ice, we wouldn’t have … I think his minutes, and the opportunity he got reflects his play, and hopefully we can grow on that.

McLellan on Quinton Byfield’s NHL debut.

One of the most important points McLellan touched on after the game was the trust the coaching staff had in Byfield throughout his debut. While watching him play, it can be easily forgotten that Byfield is just 18 years old. Considering how young he is, along with the additional pressure on him to perform, the trust he has gained through his poised play is impressive.

Kaliyev Developing Into a 200-Foot Player

Before the start of the season, I wrote an article about the importance of Arthur Kaliyev’s development this season. He was a steal for the Kings when they selected him 33rd overall in the 2019 draft, as he possesses offensive abilities that could’ve been top-10 worthy. The issues with his game were in the defensive zone, as questions were circling about his commitment and skill when it came to his own end.

Arthur Kaliyev Hamilton Bulldogs
Arthur Kaliyev of the Hamilton Bulldogs. (Photo by Aaron BellOHL Images)

This season, Kaliyev has proved the doubters wrong. Not only does he lead the Ontario Reign in scoring, as he has posted 11 goals and 13 assists in 35 games, but he has become a well-balanced player, showing skill in every area of the game. We knew he could score goals and we knew he could put up a lot of points, but his rapid development into a dependable player has even come as a bit of a surprise to John Wroblewski, the head coach of the Reign. When asked what he would have thought before the start of the season if he were told Kaliyev would lead the team in goals at this point, he had this to say:

I wouldn’t be surprised in the goals department, you know my thoughts on Arty … but Arty has bought in completely to the idea of being a 200-foot player, and he is one of our more reliable players in our defensive system … hats off to him for his dedication, and even when pucks weren’t going in for him … he didn’t change his game, he didn’t revert back to junior habits, he kept pushing on his faith in the system, and the faith in the work ethic he has been putting in has been commendable.

Wroblewski on Kaliyev’s development this season.

In addition to everything he has accomplished in Ontario, Kaliyev also played one NHL game, scoring his first goal. As long as he continues on the path he is on, we should see a lot more of the Arty Party very soon.

Kings Prospects Taking Over in Ontario

Early in the season, the Reign struggled; the team showed a dreadful 1-10-2 record through their first 13 games. During this stretch, the veteran presence on the team was the main contributor in terms of scoring, as the team’s youth had a tough start.

With about half of the season played, things started to turn around, and the Reign have been winning more games since. Along with this success, the plethora of young prospects the team has playing for them has taken over the scoresheet, as is expected of them. Except for Mikey Eyssimont, the top nine scorers for the Reign are top Kings prospects. They are Kaliyev (19 years old, 2019 33rd overall pick), Akil Thomas (21 years old, 2018 51st overall pick), Rasmus Kupari (21 years old, 2018 20th overall pick), Byfield (18 years old, 2020 2nd overall pick), Alex Turcotte (20 years old, 2019 5th overall pick), Samuel Fagemo (21 years old, 2019 50th overall pick), Sean Durzi (22 years old, 2018 52nd overall pick), and Lias Andersson (22 years old, 2017 7th overall pick).

Kings prospects have carried the load in the AHL this season, and the next step is for them to do the same at the NHL level. The rebuild is expected to be nearly done for the team at this point, and based on the Reign’s leading scorers, things look to be right on schedule.

What Went Wrong in April: Kings’ Power Play Saw a Poor Month

One constant for the Kings throughout the majority of this season has been their special teams. Their stellar power play, in particular, made up for their below-average even-strength offense. In April, though, the team’s power play suffered, contributing to their poor record.

Los Angeles Kings Drew Doughty Anze Kopitar Dustin Brown
Los Angeles Kings Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The Kings’ power-play conversion rate came to just 10.8 percent in April, 26th in the league. The team got their chances, though, as they showed a seventh-best expected goals for per 60 rate (xGF/60) on the power play in April, posting a rate of 7.57. They also put up the league’s eighth-best high danger chances for per 60 rate (HDCF/60) on the power play, 23.9 through the month. The team simply could not convert on the chances they produced. They posted the league’s sixth-worst goals for per 60 rate (GF/60) on the power play, a rate of just 3.76. They also produced a similarly poor high danger goals for per 60 rate (HDGF/60) on the power play, a rate of 0.92 in April.

The Kings couldn’t get anything going on the power play because their top producers were not getting on the scoresheet. Dustin Brown, the team’s leading goal scorer on the power play, scored just one goal in April when up a man. Drew Doughty, the team’s second-highest scoring player on the power play, also scored just one power-play goal in April. Both Anze Kopitar and Alex Iafallo, two more of LA’s expected power-play point producers, were scoreless last month.

Due to the failure of the Kings’ top power-play unit to produce points, several different players got power-play opportunities with different combinations. The team never found a unit that consistently produced, and LA’s man-advantage numbers from the month back up that narrative.

The Best of April

Goal of the Month: Lias Andersson – Apr 30 at Anaheim Ducks

Though Andersson is the one that ends up getting the goal, the play mainly showcases Gabriel Vilardi’s skill. Vilardi has had a tough season, but he has stuck with it, getting rewarded as of late. On the goal, Sean Walker kept the puck in the zone by getting it deep where Trevor Moore picked it up, passed it through Simon Benoit’s legs to Vilardi in the slot. He didn’t have a great angle to shoot at, so he instead pivoted, passed the puck on his backhand between his legs to Andersson, who hit the empty net.

The goal was scored with just over five minutes remaining in the game, tying the game 1-1. It sparked the Kings’ comeback, as Kopitar scored the game-winner with just under a minute to play. Though the team was virtually out of the playoff race at that point, it is always nice when the Kings can take one from the Ducks, and Andersson’s goal helped push LA to victory.

Save of the Month: Jonathan Quick – Apr 30 at Anaheim Ducks

Jonathan Quick made a number of outstanding saves in this game. The Kings turned over the puck too many times, forcing him to make some impressive stops. His best saves of the night can be found at 1:24, 3:02, 3:29, 4:17, 5:17, and 5:38 of the game recap.

The only reason the Kings even had a chance to come back in this game was because of Quick’s goaltending. He put up an astounding .971 save percentage (SV%), as well as an equally impressive 2.86 goals saved above expected (GSAx) on the night.

Player of the Month: Dustin Brown

Brown has been a consistently good player for the Kings all season, despite his recent issues on the power play, and the month of April was no exception. He tied Kopitar for the team lead in points for the month with nine in 14 games. He also put up the team’s third-best ixG of 3.8.

Dustin Brown Los Angeles Kings
Dustin Brown, Los Angeles Kings (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Brown was also very dependable in April when it came to the team game. He put up a Corsi for percentage (CF%) of 55.19, third on the team, and a 59.31 xGF%, second on the team. All around, he had a stellar month, and he should look to continue his great play through the end of the season.

Game of the Month: Apr 30 at Anaheim Ducks

Putting aside the fact that this game included both the goal and save of the month, it was overall a very exciting matchup. Haydn Fleury kicked off the scoring just over five minutes into the game, his first as a Duck. The second period and most of the third saw no scoring until Andersson scored the goal of the month, tying the game. With less than a minute to go in regulation time, Kopitar scored to win the game for LA, another beautiful goal that could’ve easily been considered the best of the month.

The Month Ahead

The Kings have already begun play in their final month of the 2020-21 season. The abbreviated season has just flown by, and the team has just five more games to play. LA lost their first game of the month to the Ducks, but they were able to redeem themselves with a pair of wins in Arizona, the second one featuring Kopitar’s 1000th point, an incredible milestone. The team will head back to LA for their final three home games of the season, featuring a pair versus the Colorado Avalanche and one versus the St. Louis Blues. They will then fly to Colorado to wrap up their season with a set there.

Player to Watch in the Month Ahead: Calvin Petersen

As I’ve spoken about a couple of times over the past few months, Calvin Petersen is having a great season. For the first time in the campaign, though, he had a poor month. In April, he posted a .897 SV% and a -4.15 GSAx. One month doesn’t define a whole season, and he should still be considered the real deal, despite his down month.

Los Angeles Kings goalie Calvin Petersen
Los Angeles Kings goalie Calvin Petersen (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Larry MacDougal)

Though I don’t think opinions of Petersen will change if he has another subpar performance in May, it would be nice for him to end the season on a good note. This would just give the management, coaches, and fans of the Kings confirmation that the net will be in good hands moving forward. Considering his play this season so far, I don’t think Petersen will have any problems bouncing back.

Game to Watch in the Month Ahead: May 10 vs. St. Louis Blues

Unfortunately, the Kings are out of the playoff race. If they were still in the running, this game versus St. Louis could have been the deciding factor. Instead, the Kings will use this game to give their fans one last performance before the end of the season. Kings fans haven’t gotten to see too much of the team live this season, as they could only return to the Staples Center last month. A good showing in the team’s final home game of the season would make for a nice send-off from the Kings.

Advanced Stats per Evolving-Hockey and Natural Stat Trick