Former LA Kings forward Jarret Stoll indicated Phillip Danault and Anze Kopitar will make a formidable first and second line center duo.
We’re in the dog days of the NHL offseason, but when the LA Kings make a proactive move to improve the roster and one that brings an elite defensive forward to the table, all items will be discussed. Phillip Danault was one of three significant additions the Kings made this offseason. And the former Montreal Canadien could arguably have the biggest impact, particularly when it comes to the team’s captain in Anze Kopitar, who was on pace to take more faceoffs in 2021 than in the 2019-20 season.
With a roster in transition as the Kings committed to the rebuild, Kopitar’s zone starts have trended more toward the defensive side of the puck than in previous seasons. Looking back at when the Kings were contending for Stanley Cups, the former 11th overall pick in 2005 was hovering around a 57/43 split, favoring offensive zone starts. As noted, the last few years have seen Kopitar trend toward an even 50/50 split. That said, the Kings captain won a career-high 57.3% of all draws in the abbreviated 2021 schedule, but he obviously needed some support.
The Victoriaville, Quebec, native has been a defensive-zone specialist since entering the league. Danault boasts a career 33/67 split, which was one of the primary reasons he was inked to a six-year contract in Los Angeles. With Kopitar under contract for another three seasons and still a productive player, the Kings wanted to alleviate some of his responsibilities.
“He’s [Kopitar] gonna take less faceoffs, he’s probably going to be on the penalty kill a little bit less, but he’s still going to have the important minutes, for sure,” Jarret Stoll said of Danault’s impact on Kopitar. “The matchup game is a big part of the game now, especially come playoff time. So, you’re going to have Kopitar and Danault — it’s a pretty tough one-two punch right there.”
Stoll makes another excellent point that, up until now, I was considering to be problematic in how the Kings would be able to sort out the roster. It’s no secret that the organization is loaded down the middle with centermen prospects. Danault in Los Angeles for six seasons, combined with Kopitar on the top line and potentially Quinton Byfield being inserted into a full-time role, was looking grim for other players in the system looking to crack the roster without switching positions.
However, for at least next year — or perhaps the next two seasons — several centers in the prospect pool will have some extra time to fine-tune their skills.
“It’s gonna take a lot of the pressure off on even the young players coming up through the system right now in the development system,” Stoll noted. “These guys are going to get pushed down a little bit, so to speak, but it’s going to give them more time to develop.
“You got some young centermen trying to make the team, and I’m not saying they’re all ready or not, but it takes a while,” Stoll added. “It’s a tough league to make, it’s a tough league to play in, so you got to make sure these guys are ready to go. You don’t want to hurt their development. When they get into the lineup, they’re ready to roll, and they have long, successful careers.”
Still, the harsh reality is that not everyone will play for the Kings when all is said and done. Some of these prospects will be part of packages to acquire help in other areas. That said, the Danault signing gives the Kings a formidable 1-2 punch down the middle while also allowing some of the prospects to take their time.