So much is going on with the Los Angeles Kings right now. With the temperature super hot and the outlook positive, the franchise is positioned to populate the farm with more highly regarded prospects in the upcoming NHL Draft.
That’s not all. They continue to make what could be far-reaching moves. They let assistant general manager Mike Futa go. They’re making statements about what they want in the draft. And they already have the best – or among the best, depending on which websites you read – pool of young up-and-coming talent in the league.
With a large assortment of draft picks over the next few years, general manager Rob Blake and president Luc Robitaille, with some advice from Ron Hextall, are still in the beginning stages of what looks like a near-total makeover. There are some pivotal veterans likely to stick around for a while, like Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar, Jonathan Quick and Jeff Carter, along with a handful or two of solid role players.
The Franchise Needle Appears To Be Pointing Up
All systems are go, it seems, with the forward-thinking club that has been offensively challenged the last few seasons. As Blake mentioned recently, long-term defense is a need. That problem could be mitigated in the draft (say, if Jamie Drysdale is available when it’s the Kings’ turn to choose) or from inside the system, where prospects like Tobias Bjornfot may emerge as full-time NHLers.
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Offense doesn’t appear to be too much of a worry, with Alex Turcotte, Gabe Vilardi, Arthur Kaliyev, Samuel Fagemo and Tyler Madden, among others, being groomed to have staying power in the big league. The Kings also might hit gold at the forward positions in the draft, depending on where they pick. Some possibilities are consensus No. 1 choice Alex Lafreniere, Quinton Byfield, and Tim Stutzle.
Under the radar now because of their lack of contention on the ice, expect to see the Kings’ stock rise slowly come training camp. Coach Todd McLellan had the team on a great run (seven-game winning streak and 10-3-1 in their last 14) just before the COVID-19 health crisis hit hard. It’s obvious that he had the players doing what he wanted, and that includes long stretches earlier in the season when the team was losing by small margins and licking its wounds for better days.
Fans See The Glass More Than Half Full
The thermal reading among fans is high, as usual. And there are signs that the stock has already begun its slow rise.
Lisa Dillman of The Athletic wrote that she walked around Staples Center during the season to gauge the sentiment (from “Kings Fan Survey: McLellan’s Job, Excitement For Turcotte, Vilardi And More, The Athletic, April 21, 2020). Despite a season in which the Kings were not going to qualify for the playoffs for the second year in a row, Dillman described Kings fans as “calm” and “measured.”
In The Athletic‘s survey on the Kings in April, 550 subscribers chimed in, with (some of) the following results:
- Coach McLellan received high grades, with 86.6 percent rating him good to excellent. In addition, he had zero poor ratings.
- The front-office duo of Robitaille and Blake received notable approval, but not quite as high as McLellan. Still, 64.1 percent gave the Hockey Hall of Famers either a good or excellent mark.
- Only 13.3 percent believe the Kings will make the playoffs in 2020-21, but another 57.3 see them joining the postseason fun in 2021-22.
- Three prospects at forward – Turcotte, Vilardi and Kaliyev – have the fan base salivating. Out of the 550 who responded, 450 chose one of those three as the up-and-coming player they’re most excited about. And those three are just the tip of the iceberg in that aforementioned crop of youngsters who could soon be bringing major help to the team – guys like defensemen Bjornfot, Cole Hults, Kale Clague and Mikey Anderson among many others.
- The fan outlook is bright for goaltender Cal Petersen as the heir apparent to Quick eventually.
His ceiling is higher than most people think. He’s very mentally tough. I can see him being a top-15, maybe even top-10 goalie in the league in a couple years, especially under Quick’s tutelage.Two Los Angeles Kings fans, on goaltender Cal Petersen in The Athletic
He could be a Vezina winner. He could wash out after a season. My expectation is that he ramps up as Quick is ramping down and becomes our No. 1 in 21-22.
Despite the warm weather-type stigma, the Kings have really solid fan support. That never hurts. The Die Hard LA Kings Fanatics fan group is 11,000 members strong and they have direct input to the franchise, according to Fansided.
In addition, according to Fansided, “They have pulled together money towards funerals for a member’s family, sent a countless number of fans to their first live Kings game, found jobs for each other, sent hockey kids to hockey tournaments either locally or traveling, and one member even gave a car to another member when their car died. An amazing unit brought together by an organization that has become an extended family.”
The biggest excitement this summer for Kings fans, though, will be the NHL Draft, when a date is finally set. That’s when the franchise might just get a transformative superstar who can be the cornerstone in bringing back the glory.
At No 28 out of 31 teams when the 2019-20 was put on pause, the Kings are down in the weeds right now. Pretty soon, though, that lowliness might be a distant memory.
>> Sports journalist since 1981
>> Grew up in Marlboro, Mass., and live in Mililani, Hawaii
>> “I always play to win when it comes to skin and bones.” — Bill Lee/Warren Zevon
>> No coach ever screamed “pass the puck” at me