LA Kings Adrian Kempe

Photo Credit: Julio Cortez / AP

With a crowded forwards group, these three players on the LA Kings are entering make-or-break seasons in the 2021-22 season.

With the recent additions of Viktor Arvidsson and Phillip Danault, as well as re-signing Andreas Athanasiou, there’s no question that the LA Kings roster is crowded. The latter was brought back on a one-year deal, which could open the door for others beyond the 2021-22 season.

However, with Arvidsson and Danault committed to three and six years, respectively, something has to give on the roster. It’s certainly a good problem to have from the previous few seasons where the depth was in question all over the roster.

Now with the top-six forwards likely set for the season and the No. 1 prospect pool knocking on the door to the NHL roster, these three players should start to feel the heat.

1. Lias Andersson

Acquired for a second-round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, Lias Andersson still has a ton of potential. The former seventh overall pick in 2017 accumulated just three goals and six assists in 66 games with the New York Rangers, averaging out to 0.14 points per game

In his first year with the Kings, the 22-year-old racked up three goals and six points in 23 games, doubling his point-per-game average (0.23) from his three seasons in New York.

He spent a considerable amount of time with the Ontario Reign of the AHL, tallying 17 points in 15 games. He also scored a goal in the Reign’s lone playoff game last year. Andersson recently accepted his qualifying offer, and he’ll become a restricted free agent, again, after the 2021-22 season.

Lias is no longer waiver exempt, and he likely plugs in along the bottom-six forwards for what figures to be a long look. A look at the last several No. 7 overall picks who have made their NHL debuts:

And there’s no denying the Kings forward is the outlier here. Lias Andersson needs to have a big year.

2. Adrian Kempe

Prorated over an 82-game schedule, Adrian Kempe‘s 2021 numbers projected out to approximately 21 goals and 22 assists, career-highs in both. So, why is he on this list?

Inconsistency has largely defined the former 29th overall pick in 2014.

Adrian Kempe is also entering a contract year that will see him earn a team-friendly $2M before becoming a restricted free agent. His 0.42 PPG has him in the same company as players like Blake Coleman, Boone Jenner, Nick Ritchie, and Richard Panik, among others, since the 2016-2017 season.

He’s shown the ability to score in bunches, as seen in his five goals in two games against Anaheim last season, but Kempe also disappears from the box score for stretches at a time.

LA Kings Adrian Kempe
Photo Credit: JFresh Hockey

Kempe is a vital piece of the Kings first powerplay unit, carrying the puck through the neutral zone and into the attacking zone, often via the drop pass. His size and speed make him a difficult matchup for teams, but he must prove the 2021 season was not a fluke.

If he were to regress in the upcoming 82-game schedule, Kempe could be moved at the end of the year in favor of one of the prospects.

3. Austin Wagner

Where does Austin Wagner slot into the lineup this coming season? That alone would suggest he’s on his way out of town in this crowded lineup. The former fourth-round pick in 2015 has a surplus of speed, but he cannot for the life of him seem to finish.

LA Kings Austin Wagner
Photo Credit: JFresh Hockey

Wagner had a promising rookie season, scoring 12 goals with nine assists in 62 games, but he has yet to take the next step in his development. His 0.23 PPG is the lowest on the Kings roster for players who have played in at least 30 games since the 2018-19 season.

In addition to his speed, the Calgary, Alberta, native brings physicality to the Kings lineup, registering 140+ hits per season, including proration for last year.

He’s also signed to a team-friendly deal, with two years left on his contract at just a $1.13M cap hit each season.

By the same token, that also makes him moveable in a trade should another team value his services. Again, it will be difficult for him to play a meaningful role, especially since he projects to be an extra forward in my lineup.

Brown – Kopitar – Arvidsson

Iafallo – Danault – Kempe

Moore – Vilardi – Athanasiou

Tkachev – JAD – Andersson

Extras: Lizotte, Wagner

LA Kings: Milestone watch for several players in 2021-22 season

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