Last Word on Hockey’s Puck Drop Previews are back for the 2023-24 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 2023-24 Los Angeles Kings.
2023-24 Los Angeles Kings
The lights were shining brightly in California this season. Los Angeles finished the regular season with 104 points, good for third place in the Pacific Division. Individuals across the board had strong seasons, including Kevin Fiala, who made himself at home in his first entire season. The quest for the cup would come to an abrupt end, as they could not solve the Edmonton Oilers for the second straight season. However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel and a bright future ahead.
The Los Angeles Kings have one of the better prospect pools in the league. General Manager Rob Blake used that to his advantage to make a big splash trade. Blake acquired Pierre Luc Dubois from the Winnipeg Jets and signed him to an eight-year extension. In addition, they replenished the goaltending roll with veteran Cam Talbot after losing Joonas Korpisalo to free agency. Also parting ways from Los Angeles was defenceman Sean Durzi, as the club opted to bring back Vladislav Gavrikov. The lineup appears to be set, as younger guys will have the opportunity to cement their place in the lineup further.
The top six will stay intact and look very similar to last year. The top line of Adrian Kempe, Anze Kopitar, and Quinton Byfield played together last season and were adequate. As a line, they generated 22.9 expected goals and averaged 2.88 per 60 minutes. On the other side of things, they averaged just 2.28 expected goals against per 60 minutes and did an excellent job of defending. Furthermore, it is a massive bonus that Kopitar is a Selke Trophy calibre player. This trio scored the most goals of any line combination on the Kings (31) and will look to play the same way heading into the 2023-24 season.
In search of more offence, Dubois comes in as the second-line centre. He is a skilled player who uses his size to his advantage and is hard on pucks. He is coming off a career year in points (63) and scored 27 goals for the Winnipeg Jets. In addition, he was one of the best players in generating offence (29.9 expected goals) and even excelled defensively with 40 takeaways and a 48.9% Faceoff win percentage. Fiala is coming off a strong season, and his finishing ability will help complement Dubois’ playing style. Kaliyev will get a strong look at the second line. He is coming off his second straight 20+ point season. Overall, these top two lines are stout, and the 2023-24 Kings are looking good.
Danault is one of the best two-way centres in the league and gets to anchor the third line. Viktor Arvidsson is coming off a down season, but his level of play in the high-danger area stands out. He led the team in expected goals from the area, which is impactful from a depth standpoint. Moore is a younger player but has made his mark on the team. He is one year removed from a 48-point season and will look to surpass the ten-goal mark for the fourth straight season. This trio played together last season and will look to continue their established chemistry.
Doughty and Anderson played the most minutes together of a team pair, so their being together is not a shock. Together, they averaged 2.01 goals against per game and were on the ice for 52 goals. Anderson is the younger guy and, paired with a strong veteran, is excellent for the team. Say what you will about Doughty, but he had a strong season last year. With him on the ice, the Kings had 65.46 expected goals for, and he finished with the best Fenwick For (52.98), so his ability to get shots through traffic was a huge boost offensively. His 52 points led all defencemen, so he will look to build off of that.
Gavrikov is everything you could ask for in a shutdown defenceman, and being paired alongside Roy was great from the start. In over 200 minutes played together, they finished with just six expected goals against and averaged an eye-opening 1.68 expected goals against per 60 minutes. Furthermore, they allowed three goals against and averaged 0.83 expected goals against per 60 minutes. This pair will be an excellent shutdown pair and continue their success for the 2023-24 Kings.
Clarke played nine games for the Kings during the 2022-23 season and finished with zero points. This year, he will get a chance to play full-time and on the third pair. Bjornfot played up and down the blueline with many different players. Like Clarke, he played ten games during the regular season, so a youthful pair is coming to the 2023-24 Kings. It should be fun to see, as this team is starting to bring up the kids to pair with the veterans.
Out of their entire lineup, this will be the team’s biggest x-factor. Korpisalo was everything you could have asked for when acquiring him at the deadline, but he has moved on to the Ottawa Senators for the 2023-24 season. Phoenix Copley surprised everyone during the 2022-23 season and was a stable presence in the net. He finished with 4.7 goals saved above expected, so coming up with timely saves was present. Furthermore, he rocked a 2.64 goals against average and a .904 save percentage. However, much like the last season, he will have a partner in crime to share the load.
Talbot is a proven veteran and gets another shot to be the number-one starter. However, this tandem will likely be a 1A/1B and share the crease. Talbot had a down year compared to the season prior with the Minnesota Wild. He was often injured last season and will look rejuvenated for the 2023-24 Kings.
Players to Watch
Adrian Kempe may be the most fascinating name on this team. He finished third in points on the team (67) but led the team in goal-scoring with 41. In addition, he made a bit of history on February 11, 2023, scoring four goals in a game right after Artemi Panarin accomplished the same feat earlier in the evening.
Kempe was a great player and generated a lot of offence. He led the team in expected goals (28.7), and it was great to see him shatter his expected rate this season. He has grown as a player, and his production has increased each season. During the 2021-22 season, he finished with 54 points, so the increase in production is huge for the team. It will be great to see what he can do again this season and continue to play on the top line with Kopitar.
Much of the talk surrounds the development of former first-overall pick Alexis Lafreniere, but the puck behind him is in the same boat. That is what makes him a player to watch for for the 2023-24 Kings. The goal is to see Byfield take that next step as a player, as he can do so.
In his young career, he has yet to hit the ten-goal mark and finished with 22 points during the 2022-23 season. With increased opportunity and a more prominent role, he should be able to take his game to a new level. If he does play alongside Kopitar and Kempe, that should elevate his game. For a team with impactful veterans, looking at a young Byfield to perform could take the 2023-24 Kings to new heights.
Prediction for the 2023-24 Kings
In a competitive Western Conference, the Los Angeles Kings stand out as a team that can make a run to win it all. They have the depth and an established core group. With Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty leading the charge, anything is possible. The most significant question mark lies within the crease, but the team is good enough in front to soften the blow. Los Angeles will indeed make the playoffs and make a run for the Stanley Cup.
Prediction: Third in Pacific Division. Suffers a second-round exit.
Main Photo: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports