Last Word On Hockey’s Puck Drop Previews are back for the 2022-23 season! As the regular season approaches, Last Word will preview each team’s current outlook and stories to watch for the upcoming year. We’ll also do our best to project how things will go for each team over the course of the campaign. Today, we’re previewing the 2022-23 Los Angeles Kings.
2022-23 Los Angeles Kings
Another year of rebuilding was in the cards for last season’s Los Angeles Kings. They had last won a playoff game – never mind a series – in 2015-16. The good news is that Kings management knew it and had already set the rebuild in progress. It was time to develop their picks and give the new generation room to grow. Most pundits* had them labelled as “the best in California” which was fine. Slow, steady improvement was expected.
The 2022-23 Los Angeles Kings finished with 44 wins and 99 points – good for sixth place in the Western Conference. Led by Anze Kopitar
– as always – a resurgent Drew Doughty
, a blazing-hot Adrian Kempe
, and one of the best defensive centres in the league, the best team in California handily qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs. Seriously, when legendary shutdown man Phillip Danault
doubles his career high in goals, that’s a sign. Even losing Doughty wasn’t enough to stop them.
Other than bringing Brendan Lemieux
back at a lower cap hit and extending their own players, there wasn’t much happening here. Dustin Brown
went out on a high note, and they let solid if low-scoring defenceman Olli Maatta
walk. One free agent signing was depth goaltender Pheonix Copley
, and if fans see him something has gone terribly wrong.
Then the Kings decided to speed up the pace. They brought in arguably the most sought-after trade chip
on the market in Kevin Fiala
. The Minnesota Wild
needed to duck their looming cap crunch, so the deal cost the Kings some of their future – but when your future is now, tomorrow can wait. Coaches and management are clearly confident in what they have. You don’t trade away Brock Faber and preach patience, after all. Either way, the end result is the 2022-23 Los Angeles Kings looking like the 2021-22 Los Angeles Kings. That one big addition is big, don’t get us wrong! But it’s a bet that needs to pay off for the Kings to continue improving, and it’s the only one they’ve made.
Adrian Kempe – Anze Kopitar – Kevin Fiala
Trevor Moore – Phillip Danault – Viktor Arvidsson
Alex Iafallo – Blake Lizotte – Arthur Kaliyev
Carl Grundstrom – Quinton Byfield – Brendan Lemieux
It’s almost embarrassing to push Iafallo down to the third line, but Fiala certainly isn’t starting there. It seems a fool’s errand to break up an extremely effective second unit, too, so onto the third line goes Iafallo.
On that first line is Kaptain Kopitar, who has led the Kings in scoring in 14 of the past 16 seasons. He was third in his rookie season – that’s 2006-07 – and second in 2016-17. While he’s busy making a mockery of time, the team is rolling the dice a bit on Fiala’s breakout season not being a one-and-done. We say “a bit” because he was hitting .8 points per game in the previous two seasons and cranking up his shot rate to last year’s high. Putting two finishers beside Kopitar – Kempe hit 35 last season – makes the line dangerous from any direction.
Danault put 27 pucks in the net when his previous high was a paltry 13. Whether the 29-year-old can do it again, we’ll see, but Moore and Arvidsson have enough punch to keep opponents on their toes. More than one team was taken by surprise by this “checking” line.
Despite Lemieux’s return, Iafallo should take his spot beside Lizotte. Now, we’re saying Lizotte’s line is third only because they aren’t going to be as protected as Byfield’s will be. Kaliyev had a solid rookie season, staying in the lineup for the full year, and has earned some more minutes. His 14 goals may have been a little disappointing, but the talent is there for more. It’s a good spot for Iafallo to support him.
Byfield is going to get the first crack at starting with the big club, and Lemieux’s return puts him on the wing. Gabe Vilardi hasn’t quite punched through to his talent level yet and is vulnerable to waivers. There is a definite risk of losing him – and Lias Andersson – if they are sent down. They need ice time, but if the Kings are going to push for the playoffs now, how patient can they be?
There is a pile-up of young forwards looking to make their mark, and soon. Alex Turcotte, Samuel Fagemo, and Rasmus Kupari are knocking on the door. Being waiver-exempt may work against them this season – at least to start. Quinton Byfield may find himself bouncing between leagues for the same reason.
Michael Anderson – Drew Doughty
Sean Walker – Matt Roy
Alexander Edler – Sean Durzi
The Kings defence was plagued by injuries last season, so it’s not like they don’t have anyone to replace Maata when he walked. Sean Walker played just six games in 2021-22 and is expected to fill the blank. He’s skating along the very underrated Matt Roy – and you’re looking him up now, aren’t you? Roy’s played over 200 NHL games, all with the Kings, and all at an even, steady pace. He’s probably going to get around 20 points and you might never hear his name.
Up top, a full season from Doughty – even if not at a 65-point pace – will go a long way to stabilizing the blue line. Anderson is a fine match for him, especially on a one-year, $1 million deal. The stay-at-home defender lets Doughty indulge his more adventurous side, and you know he wants to build on last year.
The veteran Edler “lost a step” four or five steps ago, but he makes up for it with very smart play and good timing. Edler is here until he gets pushed out by a prospect, and the Kings are hoping Tobias Björnfot
steps up. But if not, the left side is a weakness for LA and having Edler on hand is a good stop-gap. That he has a minimum-wage deal is a fair trade for his no-move clause. Even if they can’t send him to the minors, $750K in the stands doesn’t hurt.
Durzi had a bit of a difficult negotiation, given his rookie status last year, but he’s in the fold again. Starting off on the third pair with a veteran like Edler will probably put him in better standing than last year’s partnership with Björnfot. Then again, if Björnfoot succeeds in taking Edler’s spot then he’s improved. That’s a win-win.
Here is the true Achilles’ Heel of the 2022-23 Los Angeles Kings. Petersen was supposed to have taken the reins from Quick by now, but it hasn’t worked out that way. Quick has had a rough ride over the past three seasons, and his fading star has hurt the team’s success – a bit. Again, the Kings expected to enter a rebuild, so it wasn’t as painful as it could have been. Petersen, entering his second full season, stumbled with his share of the workload. Fortunately, Quick had a rebound year, guiding the team to a playoff spot and hard-fought loss in Round One.
The 36-year-old Quick is entering his final contract year, and if he wants to keep playing, it likely won’t be in LA. The crown is Petersen’s if he can take it, as it is very little ready to go behind him. Matt Villalta had a decent year in Ontario of the AHL but isn’t NHL-ready, and Jacob Ingram has bounced from the AHL to the ECHL. For now, the Kings will patch any holes with Copley and hope.
Players to Watch
The obvious answer is obvious, we know, but there is a lot riding on Fiala’s ability to prove last season wasn’t also his best. The Kings haven’t had a point-per-game scorer since Kopitar did it in 2017-18, back when he was 30. It’s unrealistic to assume Kempe and Danault will continue last year’s scoring pace, but not so much for Fiala.
Speaking of taking Kopitar’s crown, he’s a player that has the talent to do so – but probably not for another few years. As we’ve mentioned, there are lots of forward prospects waiting, and someone needs to lead them into the arena. That, hopefully, is Byfield. The second overall pick in 2020 still needs time to develop. The team knows that, but their clock is ticking.
Prediction for 2022-23 Los Angeles Kings
After a 99-point season, no one was expecting, the Kings are going for it. Given the Pacific Division, they are definitely challengers for the third playoff spot. But so are other teams, and finishing fourth might not cut it. The prediction for Los Angeles is that just a little goes wrong, and that’s enough to keep them out of the playoffs this year.