Puck Drop Preview: 2019-20 Los Angeles Kings

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - JANUARY 21: Dustin Brown #23 and Jeff Carter #77 of the Los Angeles Kings talk before a faceoff against the St. Louis Blues during the second period at Staples Center on January 21, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2019-20, where Last Word On Hockey gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Make sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our 2019-20 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today the series continues with the 2019-20 Los Angeles Kings.

The 2019-20 Los Angeles Kings Preview

2018-19 Season

The Los Angeles Kings didn’t have their best season in the franchise history, that’s for sure. The Kings ended up as the second-worst team in the NHL with 71 points. Only the Ottawa Senators were worse, which made the Kings the worst regular season team in the Western Conference.

Coming off a season in which they punched their playoff ticket, the Kings failed to repeat. In the summer of 2018, the Kings signed Ilya Kovalchuk to a three-year deal worth $6.25 million per year. Certainly, that deal hasn’t paid dividends so far in Los Angeles.

What went wrong for the Los Angeles Kings? Anze Kopitar, who was one of the best players in the NHL in the 2017-18 season and won the Selke Trophy, dropped to only 60 points. That was the best number on the Kings roster though.

The veterans performed worse than what was expected from them. Drew Doughty, whose luxurious $11 million salary came into validation as of October 2018, had a season to forget. Even though his 44 points and average time on the ice per game of more than 26 minutes were good, that was it.

The only real positive for the Kings was Dustin Brown, who reached 51 points and had his best season in a while. It sure seems like the 34-year-old former captain found his game yet again. Players like Kovalchuk or Tyler Toffoli were a major disappointment. Jeff Carter, who was finally healthy and missed only six games, posted just 33 points. On Nov. 4, after a 4-8-1 start, the Kings fired John Stevens and hired Willie Desjardins for the rest of the season.

2019 Offseason

What was the goal of the 2018 Los Angeles Kings off-season? Strengthen a team that had just made the playoffs after a steady regular season. However, it was probably never going to happen with acquiring veteran Kovalchuk and firing a head coach after only 13 games. In the 2019 off-season, the Kings have taken major rebuild steps.

During the 2019 NHL Draft, the Kings selected Alex Turcotte as the fifth-overall pick. Fans voted him as the top prospect for the Kings. That means a ton of excitement surrounds his future in Los Angeles. Then they selected Tobias Bjornfot, a left-handed defenseman, as well as other notable additions as Arthur Kaliyev and Samuel Fagemo.

In the free-agents market, the Kings didn’t make a ton of noise. They just provided a few minor signings with players like Mario Kempe, Martin Frk, Joakim Ryan, and the extensions of restricted free agents  Alex Iafallo and Matt Roy.

Well ahead of the summer, the Kings signed a one-year entry-level deal with Nikolai Prokhorkin. The Russian forward will come handy for the Kings in the upcoming season. The 2019-20 Los Angeles Kings preparation started with another two important moves – the Dion Phaneuf buyout and the hiring of new Head Coach Todd McLellan.

Offence

Now, we take a look at the potential 2019-20 Los Angeles Kings lineup. The Kings begin their 2019-20 season at Rogers Place facing the Edmonton Oilers on Oct. 5. How would Todd McLellan line up his new team for that encounter? This is a glance on their forward lines:

Alex Iafallo – Anze Kopitar – Dustin Brown
Carl GrundstromAdrian Kempe – Tyler Toffoli
Ilya Kovalchuk – Nikolai Prokhorkin – Jeff Carter
Kyle CliffordTrevor LewisAustin Wagner

As for the top Kings lines, this should probably how McLellan sets it up. Despite his past season, Kopitar is still a top-tier centre in the NHL. Brown led the Kings in power-play goals and had one of his best personal seasons. Iafallo completes the trio on the left.

The middle-six is a bit of a guess. The Kings need to revive Carter, Toffoli and Kovalchuk, while they want to implement the new guys. Prokhorkin, Carter, and Kempe might be centres, however, Carter played a ton of games on the right wing.

Using Prokhorkin as a centre of the third line to play with Kovalchuk and Carter might work. Prokhorkin and Kovalchuk used to be teammates in the KHL. On the fourth line, Lewis and Clifford always bring veteran leadership to the table, while Wagner had 21 points in 62 games last year. Other depth options include Blake Lizotte, Matt Luff, Martin Frk, Mario Kempe or Michael Amadio.

Defence

The Kings had some important departures last year. Phaneuf was bought out, Jake Muzzin ended up with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Oscar Fantenberg was traded as well. The 2019-20 Los Angeles Kings defence is going to be a mix of veteran defencemen on expiring contracts and the youngsters.

Derek Forbort – Drew Doughty
Alec Martinez – Matt Roy
Joakim Ryan – Sean Walker

Drew Doughty has already formed a partnership with Forbort. Forbort had a ton of ice time as he played 81 games in the past season, but failed to impress as he has a salary cap hit of $2.52 million. His contract expires next year.

Alec Martinez’s contract expires in 2021 and he might see ice time on the second pair with Matt Roy. Roy ended up shining for the Kings, but only played 25 games. On the third pair, Ryan came in as a free agent from the San Jose Sharks. There is a reason why the Sharks dropped him, of course.

Nevertheless, the Kings are in need of left-handed defencemen and Ryan already has an NHL experience.

Sean Walker played in 39 games, collecting 10 points last campaign as he came to the AHL only two years ago. Since then, he has taken some big steps forward. The Kings have plenty of depth options – right-handers like Kurtis MacDermid or Paul LaDue, or left-handed blueliners like Michael Anderson or Kale Clague. Bjornfot might still not be ready for the Kings as they are in no hurry to rush his progress following the draft.

Goaltending

Jonathan Quick
Jack Campbell
Cal Petersen

This trio will take care of the 2019-20 Los Angeles Kings goal crease. Quick, despite his struggles, should remain as the number one goaltender. Last year, the 33-year-old veteran netminder had an off year. His .888 save percentage alongside 3.38 GAA were the worst of his career. But still, Quick has appeared in 602 NHL regular season games, posting a GAA of 2.36 and save percentage of .914 overall.

Last year, Jack Campbell appeared in 31 games, mainly in the late stage of the season. He managed to post very solid numbers. His save percentage reached .928 and his GAA was at 2.30. That was pretty impressive following his tough route to the NHL. Campbell will become an unrestricted free agent next year and will certainly want to make a statement now.

Lastly, Cal Petersen has made 11 appearances with the Kings. His save percentage of .924 and the GAA of 2.60 indicated that the 24-year-old goalie might be nearly ready for more action in the future. Would this happen next year? Would the Kings rotate three goaltenders? Or will Jonathan Quick have a bounce-back year? The Los Angeles Kings goaltending situation is a bit of mystery and the next season will be a big indication of the things to come.

2019-20 Los Angeles Kings Players to Watch

There are no players who should deliver big-time for the 2019-20 Los Angeles Kings season. Almost everybody had some struggles and issues. Maybe expect Anze Kopitar to bounce back and record more than 60 points. He should be able to handle it. But what about Jeff Carter, Ilya Kovalchuk or other veterans? If they repeat their average 30-point seasons, it’s more than clear that their time is up.

Tyler Toffoli, who dropped from 31 goals in 2016 to only 13 last year, is a big question mark as well. The 27-year-old right-winger will try to bounce back as well as he enters his contract year.

Drew Doughty will be under huge scrutiny from the Los Angeles fans and media. On a huge $11 million-a-year contract, struggling for two seasons in a row will be close to inexcusable. Some exciting players are coming up for the Kings.

The youngsters and rookies like Adrian Kempe, Carl Grundstrom, Alex Iafallo or Nikolai Prokhorkin look to take spots on the forwards line. Matt Roy, Sean Walker, Kale Clague, Michael Anderson, Sean Durzi, and others, will try to do the same on the blue line.

As the Kings enter this rebuilding phase, expect the younger players to get their chance to sparkle. There are no fixes in the Kings lineup, especially under the new head coach. If they play well enough, they’ll get their playing time. This should be an encouraging message for any young skater trying to snatch his roster space.

2019-20 Los Angeles Kings Prediction

The 2019-20 Los Angeles Kings season is a tough one to predict. For sure, the Kings are poised to miss the playoffs. The odds of that happening are just too high. However, the Kings still have some capacitated veterans, whose improved seasons might propel the Kings to the royal highs again. Would it be enough? Once again, the odds for that to happen are pretty low.

The Kings wrapped up their 2018-19 unsuccessful season with 71 points. I would be brave enough to bet for that number to go up. Maybe the Kings reach 80 points, maybe more. As of the past few seasons in the Western Conference, not many points were required to punch a playoff ticket. Potentially, a good stretch might help the issue.

Nonetheless, the main goal for the Los Angeles Kings is to speed the rebuild. From now on, if the Kings miss the playoffs in 2022, that would be a failure for them, but not now. The expectation is to exceed 71 points, but the Kings will likely miss the playoffs.

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