After winning Stanley Cups in 2012 and 2014, the Los Angeles Kings’ talent has dried up, leaving them struggling to keep up with the younger and faster teams. The Kings have only won one playoff game since 2014, and have allowed much of their Stanley Cup roster to leave the squad. Luckily, many of these departures came with an influx of prospects and draft picks. Some of these prospects have begun to pan out, which makes for a quick turnaround in L.A.
The Future Core
The Kings’ future is likely to revolve around Alex Turcotte, Tyler Madden, Tobias Bjornfot, Cal Petersen, and whoever they select second overall in the 2020 draft. Sam Fagemo and Arthur Kaliyev both also have the potential to be effective goal-scoring wingers in the NHL. Gabe Vilardi also has all the talent to be a huge part of the Kings’ next decade, but he has to stay healthy to do so. If he does, he might be their top prospect.
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Turcotte and Madden will provide strength at the center position for years to come. Both should have long NHL careers. Turcotte was drafted No. 4 overall in 2019, whereas Madden was acquired from the Vancouver Canucks in the Tyler Toffoli trade.
Bjornfot is the Kings’ only blue-chip defensive prospect. While he likely won’t crack the 2020-21 lineup, he’s LA’s biggest up-and-comer on the backend. The club’s main priority moving forward should be drafting and acquiring more talented young defenders. It is unfortunate that there is no standout defenseman who the Kings could take at No. 2 overall in the draft; Jamie Drysdale figures to be the top blueliner in the draft, but it would be surprising if he was picked inside the top five – let alone at second overall.
A Cal Petersen jersey seems like a good investment for any Kings fan at this point. The 25-year-old netminder from Waterloo, Iowa, will see a lot of pucks over the next 10 plus years.
Fagemo and Kaliyev both have an excellent scoring touch. If you’re not sure why you remember Fagemo’s name, it’s probably from when he lit the lamp 8 times in 7 games at the 2020 World Junior Championship for Sweden. Kaliyev’s most impressive success came in the OHL, scoring 51 goals and 51 assists in 67 games in 2018-19. It’s hard to believe that Kaliyev slipped to the second round of the NHL draft after that effort. This past year, Kaliyev was putting up even better numbers before the OHL season was halted.
Whoever the Kings select at No. 2 in the 2020 draft will become their top prospect in the system. It is likely to be Quinton Byfield or Tim Stützle. Either would complement their loaded prospect pool nicely, and will have to play a big role in the Kings’ future success.
Creating a Timeline to Cup Contention
It’s hard to map out exactly when a team will cross over from rebuilding to competing. Prospects can often crack NHL lineups earlier than expected– or can fail to live up to their big expectations. However, there’s no harm in an educated guess.
2020-21 Season: The Transitional Season
The 2020-21 season will be interesting for Los Angeles. Vilardi, Turcotte, Anderson, and Madden should all crack the opening night lineup. Petersen and Quick will likely split the crease for much of the season. This will be a great chance for the younger goaltender to steal the top job.
Expect the Kings to be better in 2020-21, riding off the seven-game win streak with which they ended 2019-20. They may sniff a wild-card spot for parts of the season, but will eventually lose out to teams more ready to compete now. That said, next season will likely be shortened thanks to our current global pandemic. In an abridged season, who knows what might happen?
In reality, this should be seen as a transitional season for the Kings, where the older players start to pass the reins to their successors. In the 2021 draft, the Kings should focus on defensemen.
2021-22 Season: High Hopes
The 2021-22 season will carry much bigger expectations than 2020-21. Many of the top prospects will already have a season under the belt, and the others will making their debuts. By this point, Petersen figures to be the No. 1 goalie in Los Angeles. A then-34-year-old Anze Kopitar likely will no longer be the No. 1 center: the top-line honors will be nabbed by Turcotte, Vilardi, or Byfield/Stützle. Bjornfot will be in the NHL full-time, and will have a strong rookie campaign.
The Kings will fight for a playoff spot, and their fate may be decided by the playoff structure. If the NHL keeps the current division-based structure, L.A. may take advantage of a weak Pacific Division and squeak in. If they opt to return to the more “fair” No. 1 to No. 8 format, the Kings will be a bubble team. Either way, they won’t be competing for the Cup just yet. The best comparison for the 2021-22 Kings is the Rangers this season: flashes of brilliance, but not quite there yet.
2022-23 and 2023-24 Seasons: Playoff Hockey
These two seasons will likely hold similar fates for the Kings. By now, a new core will have settled in. Gone are the days of relying on Kopitar, Doughty, and Quick. The Kings should compete for playoff spots in these seasons, but will likely have trouble getting past promising divisional opponents.
The Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks will be Pacific superpowers by now, thanks to players like Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Elias Pettersson, and Brock Boeser entering (or continuing) their primes.
2025 and Beyond: The Contender Era
Starting in the 2024-25 season, the Kings will be a Stanley Cup contender again. This may be a bit optimistic, but given that they have the top prospect pool in the NHL, it seems reasonable. The Colorado Avalanche and Boston Bruins both became Cup contenders after only a few years of rebuilding. If the Kings hit on a few more prospects, and mix in some good free agency signings, they should meet the same end result.
The team will be very inexperienced when it comes to playoff hockey, which may hold them back from reaching their true potential for a few years. However, they will have a nice and long window thanks to their new young core. After a few crushing defeats, the Kings should win another Stanley Cup in the 2020s. Even more exciting, the man who hoists the Conn Smythe Trophy for playoff MVP will likely be the same name that Rob Blake calls out in a few months at the 2020 Draft.