With hopes to finally make it out of the cellar of the NHL, the Los Angeles Kings will be looking to compete in the 2020-21 NHL season. In order for them to be competitive, however, there are three players in particular who will need to step up their game. Their abilities to do so will dictate the Los Angeles Kings success for the 2020-21 season.
Three Players Will Dictate the Los Angeles Kings Success
After adding to their roster from within, the Kings will look to follow their 30th and 28th place finishes a little higher in the pack. The roster they’ve constructed should be able to contend for a wild card spot, but only if three guys can elevate their play to the next level.
First and foremost, we have Norris Trophy winner and two time Stanley Cup champion Drew Doughty. Doughty, the now 30-year-old defenseman had two of the worst seasons of his career in the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons. In the 2020-21 season, fans will see if Doughty truly fell off, or if he can rebound from what would’ve been just a bad few seasons on a bad team. Needless to say, Doughty certainly did not play like the true number-one defenseman he once was. In fact, this idea was reinforced because as voted by the media, Kings rookie Dman Matt Roy was voted the most “Outstanding Defenseman” and best “Defensive Player”.
Despite Doughty’s down year, it wasn’t all as bad as it seems. For starters, he wasn’t given all that much help. His most frequent even-strength linemate last season was Joakim Ryan, playing with him 23 percent of the time. Ryan, who the Kings signed to a one-year deal during the 2018-19 offseason, was brought in to provide some veteran presence for the Kings. He was arguably the worst defenseman on the team. His game was riddled with mistakes, and there never seemed to be many positives he could provide. The Kings coach, Todd McLellan, clearly didn’t trust Ryan. He only started him in the defensive zone 46.6 percent of the time. He also only played in 35 games, as he was frequently scratched.
Why He Could Rebound
So, while Doughty’s defensive numbers were down, he certainly wasn’t getting any help having his most frequent linemate be Ryan. On the positive side, however, Doughty showed he still has some gas left in the tank in other aspects of his game. He still controls play relatively well, as his Corsi was sitting at 50 percent. While this isn’t a dominant number, it still means the Kings were not out-possessed when Doughty was on the ice.
The real indicator that Doughty still has the potential to rebound is his offensive production. During the 2020-21 season, Doughty scored seven goals and 28 assists for 35 points in 67 games. This put him on pace to score about nine goals and 34 assists for 43 points in a full 82 game season. For reference, Doughty’s career season average point total is about 45 points, so he was right in that ballpark. It’s a good sign to see that at least his production didn’t really dip from what it usually is. Also, with a better roster around Doughty in the next few years, it wouldn’t be shocking to see his production actually increase slightly. If the Kings want to be competitive in 2020-21, Drew Doughty will need to step up and once again be a true number one NHL defenseman.
Ever since Adrian Kempe was drafted, there was a lot of hype surrounding him, and rightfully so. Drafted in the first round of 2014, he was one of just two first-round picks the Kings made from 2011-2017. The other was Tanner Pearson in 2012. After stepping in to help the Manchester Monarchs in their Calder Cup run in 2015, the hype only grew. He was by far the top prospect in the Kings organization, and the expectations for him were high.
What’s Been Going Wrong
Kempe is a player who’s loaded with speed and skill. He’s really quick, has soft hands, a hard shot, a solid playmaking ability, and is surprisingly a little scrappy too. Not to mention the best attribute he has is his beautiful flow. Regardless, he has practically everything you could want in a player, yet the production simply would not come. One key factor to that was that the Kings were playing him at centre, yet he is much better suited to play the wing.
When speaking about Kempe’s production though, the word that comes to mind is inconsistent. He is a very streaky producer. He’ll go through stretches where he seems like everything is clicking, and he starts developing goal and point streaks. He’ll play like a legitimate offensive threat who can help power the Kings offense. While this sounds great, the only issue is that it goes as fast as it comes. Kempe also has a tendency to go on long stretches where he doesn’t put up a goal or even point. It’s this inconsistency that is holding him back from being a legitimate top-six player and putting him more in the middle-six range.
Opportunity to Improve
Luckily for Kempe, he is still just 24 years old. This coming season is going to be the most crucial one in his career. It could make or break his true role in the NHL. Being 24, Kempe is entering one of the most important years of his development. He will have a spot secured on the left-wing of LA’s second line, the first year where he’s expected to be a winger for the entirety of it. Centring him should be one of the Kings top prospects, Gabriel Vilardi. Playing opposite him will likely be one of Martin Frk or Carl Grundstrom. Not only will Kempe have better even-strength linemates compared to last season (his most common linemates being Austin Wagner and Blake Lizotte), but he should also be looked upon to be a key contributor on the power play as well.
If Kempe can find a little more consistency, he could be a key contributor for this Kings team. The odds seem to be in his favor too. When being moved to the wing and losing the responsibilities of playing center, he produced much better. However, the success of the team will depend on whether or not Kempe can step up his game and be a bonified top-six NHLer.
Petersen’s Already Hot Start
While playing for the Ontario Reign in the AHL, Cal Petersen was a dominant starter. He’s a two-time AHL all star and kept the Reign right in every game he played. When he came up to the NHL, nothing really seemed to change for him. In his eight appearances for the Kings, Petersen put up a goals-against-average of 2.64 and a save percentage of .922. He was standing on his head night in and night out providing a weak Kings team a chance every game. He was a large part of the team’s seven-game winning streak heading into the pause as well.
Keeping it Up
For Petersen, he’s showed there are no more steps he really needs to take. Pegged as the future starting goaltender of the LA Kings, Petersen has been doing everything he can to prove that true. During his short time in the NHL so far, he’s played like a starting goaltender. If he can be consistent and look the way he did during his eight-game stint for the entire season, then the Kings will be in very good shape. Petersen’s ability to retain his quality of play will be a major factor in the success the Kings have during the 2020-21 season.
While underperforming last season, Drew Doughty also showed signs that he’s capable of rebounding. Similarly, Adrian Kempe has shown that he’s got all the tools necessary to be a top-six NHL player, now he just needs to put them together and be consistent. For Cal Petersen, all he needs to do is keep up the good work and show that the short viewing we had of him is his true form.
For the 2020-21 season, the Kings will be hoping to chase a wild card spot in the Western Conference. If these players can do what they need, that goal doesn’t seem totally unachievable. Drew Doughty, Adrian Kempe, and Cal Petersen will seriously dictate the success of the Los Angeles Kings season.