Last season was an odd one for the Los Angeles Kings. Overall, Los Angeles did improve from the 2014-15 season where they failed to qualify for the playoffs. The Kings were able to get back into the playoffs at the conclusion of last season but were eliminated by the San Jose Sharks after just five games. That’s an improvement.
However, it was a quick exit for the Kings, who held a lead for under four minutes of play in their five-game series with San Jose. The Kings’ exit served as the exclamation point for a second-half slump that saw the Kings lose first place in the Pacific Division to the Anaheim Ducks — who closed a gap that was at one point as big as 14 points between the two teams — to win the division with 103 points while the Kings sat at 102.
All of that is why the 2015-16 season was a bitter-sweet occasion in Los Angeles. While the team did improve, with a seven-point increase and two-place jump in the standings compared to 2014-15 that got the Kings back into the playoffs, the joy of it all was taken away by a late season collapse and throttling by their instate rivals in the opening round of the playoffs.
Team 2015-16 Record: 48-28-6 (2nd in the Pacific Division)
Key Roster Additions:
- Teddy Purcell
- Tom Gilbert
- Jeff Zatkoff
Key Roster Losses:
- Milan Lucic
- Vincent Lecavalier
- Kris Versteeg
- Jhonas Enroth
- Tanner Pearson – Jeff Carter – Tyler Toffoli
- Teddy Purcell – Anze Kopitar – Marian Gaborik
- Dwight King – Trevor Lewis – Dustin Brown
- Michael Mersch – Nick Shore – Jordan Nolan
Anze Kopitar is the leader in Los Angeles, an idea that was cemented when Dustin Brown, who had been the captain for Los Angeles since 2008, was stripped of the ‘C’ in order to give it to Kopitar for the start of the 2016-17 season.
Since joining the Kings, Kopitar has led Los Angeles in points every season except his rookie season, having gone nine for nine since. Kopitar drives the Kings’ offense. When Darryl Sutter needs to spark a player he’ll switch that player onto Kopitar’s line. Kopitar drives the Kings from top to bottom.
Coupled with Kopitar’s offensive abilities is his defensive responsibilities. Fresh off a season where the Slovenian won his first Selke Trophy, which is awarded to the forward who demonstrates the most skill in the defensive component of the game, Kopitar has developed into one of the league’s best two-way players.
It all boils down to Kopitar is a magician with and without the puck, even if he doesn’t use his stick.
When it comes to the Kings’ offensive production next season it should be a two-horse race for the lead in all the major statistical categories. We’ve already mentioned how Kopitar has led the Kings for the last nine seasons, but this season could be the season Kopitar is dethroned by Tyler Toffoli.
Toffoli had a career year during the 2015-16 season where he set career highs in goals, assists and points with 31, 27 and 58 respectively. At just 24-years old, Toffoli is moving into the prime of his career and is the future in Los Angeles.
Early line projections have Toffoli slated alongside Jeff Carter and Tanner Pearson, a line that has tormented defensive units in the past. If the line clicks and looks like it has in the past it could only add fuel to what may turn into the Toffoli show next season.
Going into this year’s free-agency all looked good. Talks with Milan Lucic were going well and the Kings were going to get their big, bruising winger back. Then everything fell apart and rather than keep one of, if not the top forward in this year’s free-agent class, the Kings came out of the first of July with Teddy Purcell.
Purcell started his career in Los Angeles and played his first 91 games with the Kings before he was traded to Tampa Bay. In 310 games with the Lightning, Purcell put up a respectable 203 points which was his most productive time away from the Kings. After the Lightning, Purcell spent time with the Oilers where his production understandably dropped before he was moved to the Florida Panthers late last season.
Now Purcell is back in Los Angeles as a seasoned veteran.
Purcell will likely come in and try to fill the hole left by Lucic’s departure. From the start, those are some big shoulder pads to fill. The physical presence will not be nearly the same but at 30 years old Purcell should still have some gas left in the tank, and skating alongside Kopitar should help the transition process.
- Brayden McNabb – Drew Doughty
- Jake Muzzin – Zach Trotman
- Alec Martinez – Tom Gilbert
If Kopitar is the leader in Los Angeles, Drew Doughty is the heart and soul of the Kings. Doughty seems to never be off the ice for the Kings. Averaging 28:01 of ice time last season, the eight-year NHL veteran was on the ice 65.3 percent of the Kings time with the man advantage, 51.5 percent of the Kings time on the penalty kill and 46.1 percent of the Kings ENTIRE season.
The NHL took notice of Doughty’s workhorse mentality last season and awarded the d-man the Norris Memorial Trophy which is awarded to the league’s top defenseman who demonstrates the greatest all-around ability in the position.
Moving towards next season Doughty should shoulder most of the Kings’ workload.
After Doughty, there isn’t much of a clear-cut number two, or numbers two through four for that matter. It’s more of a supporting cast to Doughty as Doughty is often pieced together with various partners which changes the composition of the defensive pairings regularly.
But if you had to give a player the number two spot, it would likely go to Jake Muzzin. Muzzin is one of the best in the league at moving the puck and getting the Kings out of their defensive zone cleanly.
While Doughty is more known for his mobility and willingness to skate the puck out of the zone, Muzzin is more of the opposite, willing to thread the needle with a difficult pass in order to make that first move out of the zone.
Goaltending: Jonathan Quick’s Net
The crease in Los Angeles belongs to Jonathan Quick, plain and simple. Quick is a two-time Cup champion with the Kings, he won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the playoff’s MVP in 2012, he holds the Kings record for most shutouts and is under contract with the Kings until the 2023 season.
It’s Quick’s net.
Breakout Player: Michael Mersch
Michael Mersch should get a legitimate chance at making the Kings’ opening night roster this season. Mersch got called up to the big club last season in December when he stayed with the Kings for 15 games, and in February when he played another two games before being sent back down to the AHL after the Kings brought in Kris Versteeg at the trade deadline. The move also allowed Mersch to be playoff eligible for the Reign.
Mersch put together a solid campaign last season in the AHL where he recorded 24 goals and 43 goals in 52 games for the Ontario Reign.
The Kings are set on the left side in the top six with Pearson and Purcell, but Mersch has the skill to grab some bottom six minutes and contribute if and when he gets the opportunity.
Player with Most to Prove: Dustin Brown
Some things just write themselves. There is no player on the Kings’ roster, and maybe even the NHL, with more to prove than Brown. Brown was the longest-serving captain in Los Angeles’ history, he lifted the Stanley Cup twice as the team’s captain and was the symbol of the Kings’ tough and physical style of play.
There is no player on the Kings’ roster, and maybe even the NHL, with more to prove than Brown. Brown was the longest-serving captain in Los Angeles’ history, he lifted the Stanley Cup twice as the team’s captain and was the symbol of the Kings’ tough and physical style of play.
But Brown’s overall production has been dropping season by season. Along with Brown’s dropping production, Brown carries a cap hit of $5.875 million which only sours the position both Brown and the Kings are in.
Overall you can’t blame Brown, he cashed in on his new contract when he had just won the Stanley Cup in 2012, followed that with a trip to the Western Conference Final in 2013 and was still offensively relevant.
But since then, Brown has been trending down, putting up career lows in almost every category while he has fallen down the Kings’ lineup. Brown has the most to prove this season and needs to show it. There’s an expansion draft coming and plenty of rumors saying Brown won’t be protected by the Kings when the time comes in order to get rid of his contract and lack of production.
This may be the last shot Brown has to save his career in Los Angeles.
First Player in the ‘Call-Up’ Line: Adrian Kempe
Since being drafted by the Kings in the first round of the 2014 NHL Draft there has been plenty of hype surrounding Adrian Kempe. The 19-year-old played in 55 games in the American Hockey League last season with the Reign. It was Kempe’s first prolonged time playing professional hockey in North America.
Kempe did not disappoint, putting up 11 goals and 28 points in his 55 regular season games with the Reign. Once the playoffs started for the Reign, Kempe continued to contribute in the formof four goals and five points in 13 games for the Pacific Division winners.
Kempe has a knack for finding the puck and finishing an opportunity when the chance presents itself.
There is some depth already with the big club when it comes to who could make the opening night roster. So it would take a significant amount of movement with the big club to make a move for Kempe, or any depth prospect for that matter.
Season Outlook: Much of the Same
There are two ways to look at the Kings going into next season. When you look at what took place during the offseason, things could have gone much better. Los Angeles lost out on Lucic, he signed with a division rival, the Kings weren’t able to make much of a splash when it came to bringing in new faces and there was a bit of drama about the makeup of the Kings’ leadership. Not the best narrative for a summer.
On the other hand, the Kings have much of the same core that has been successful in the past. A team anchored by players like Kopitar, Toffoli, Quick, Muzzin, Marian Gaborik and Jeff Carter, the Kings still have the strong core that can do some damage.
The big question when talking about next season will be how will the Kings fair without Lucic? If they can find an offensive replacement for Lucic the Kings should be just fine moving forward.
Overall the Kings didn’t get much better since they last skated, but at the same time, they didn’t get much worse. A lot of where Los Angeles finished next season will depend on the Kings youth movement.
But looking toward next season, both a noticeable jump up or fall down the standings might be a stretch. So another finish in the middle of the Western Conference’s standing could be on the menu.
Kings 2016-17 Record Prediction: 49-28-5 (2nd in the Pacific Division)
Eric received his BA in Journalism from California State University, Northridge. Eric has contributed to RinkRoyalty.com, Buffalowdown.com and California Rubber Magazine.