The LA Kings have taken steps to address the top six. The fourth-line center position is also going be to be one worth watching.
As we sit firmly in the dog-days of the NHL summer offseason, fans across the league are going through their favorite team’s recent transactions, trying to project the opening night starting lineup. Hey, I’m no different. I may be, however, a bit more crazy, seeing as I’m also doing this for the AHL’s Ontario Reign.
In going through this process, a position stood out to me that doesn’t seem to be drawing too much attention in Los Angeles.
No, it’s not the goaltender; Cal Petersen is primed to take the reins. I think we’re all fairly confident putting Anze Kopitar as the first-line center and Drew Doughty on the right side of the top defense pair. But for a team with a complete logjam at the bottom part of their roster, it seems a little strange to me that Jaret Anderson-Dolan appears to be the consensus for the fourth-line center. Well, here’s my attempt to shake that up.
For me, the fourth-line center to start the season in Los Angeles is Blake Lizotte.
Let’s start by taking a look at Anderson-Dolan’s 2020-21 season for the LA Kings.
His WAR being in the 71st percentile will jump off the page to some, but if we take a look under the hood, it is more than likely a bit flawed.
The 2017 second-round pick scored seven goals in 34 games last year for the Kings, ending the season with 11 points. It was solid production from a 21-year-old fourth-line player. However, in looking at some of the below 5-on-5 metrics (courtesy of Natural Stat Trick), some things give me pause:
- Corsi-For % (CF%): 41%
- Expected-Goals-For% (xGF%): 39.15%
Of Kings players that played at least 18 games, Anderson-Dolan’s CF% was dead last. His xGF% was 3rd worst.
That said, he led the team with a 20% shooting percentage in 5-on-5 situations.
For someone who has had a career 8.6% shooting percentage in the AHL, I don’t think it’s reasonable – nor do I think it’s fair to the player – to expect 20% to be sustainable. I mentioned his strong WAR last season; it’s clear that metric is propped up by his high shooting percentage and not supported by his underlying metrics. In addition, he didn’t face very difficult competition and wasn’t just poor at creating chances. He struggled in his own end as well.
He seems to be a bit of a fan favorite – goals will do that. But it’s important to look deeper.
We’ll go through the same exercise here with Lizotte’s 2020-21 season.
The undrafted Lizotte’s “bottom line,” if you will, may not be quite as good as Anderson-Dolan’s. But there is reason for optimism around the Lindstrom, MN native, and what he could potentially bring to an NHL fourth line. Lizotte scored three goals and 10 points in 41 games last season for the Kings.
It seems like a good time for a quick aside as you may be wondering why the fuss over a 4th line position with two guys who scored a whopping 21 points. Well, if you’re a team with playoff aspirations, as the Kings claim to be (the oddsmakers firmly disagree), then you’d better be prepared to nitpick every single position on the roster to make sure you’re maximizing that spot.
If we look at some of Lizotte’s 2020-21 5 on 5 numbers, it paints a little bit of a different picture than that of Anderson-Dolan:
- CF% 50.89
- xGF% 46.77
That CF% was fourth-best amongst Kings’ forwards (and second only to Kopitar at the center position). His xGF% was fifth-best amongst forwards.
I think it’s also worth noting that this is the second season in a row where Lizotte had decent possession numbers. In his 65 games during 2019-20, it was even better:
- CF% 55.2%
- xGF% 56%
There’s more of a track record here of a player who contributes to the flow of play. He’s also shown to be effective on the penalty kill and in his own zone. Something that Anderson-Dolan hasn’t shown, at least not yet. This isn’t to say Anderson-Dolan has no place or no future with the Kings, not at all. The Calgary native is still a good NHL prospect.
But it tells me that it probably wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world if he starts in Ontario this season. It’s also worth noting that Anderson-Dolan is waiver exempt, so sending him down wouldn’t be an issue (on paper).
It’s August. There are a number of other things the Kings can do if they wanted to keep Anderson-Dolan in the lineup – or at least on the NHL team. But I wouldn’t necessarily be prepared to ink him in as the 4th line center opening night. If I’m filling out the bottom of my roster, I’m taking the player who’s shown the ability to be a strong defensive forward and control possession. Right now, that’s Lizotte.