With a revamped roster, these five questions still linger for the LA Kings heading into the 2021-22 regular season.
1. Do the Kings have enough bottom-six scoring?
With the offseason acquisitions in Viktor Arvidsson and Phillip Danault, the LA Kings’ top-six forwards appear to be loosely set on paper. However, like the last couple of seasons, the primary concerns exist within the bottom-six [forwards]. The Kings have lately relied on their top line to do the majority of the scoring for them. When they aren’t, the team struggles to score goals. In 2021, Los Angeles finished with two or fewer goals in 31 of 56 games. If they want to take the next step this season, they’ll need contributions from all four lines.
Gabe Vilardi, who was generally inconsistent last year, got hot at the end of the year, scoring five points over the final seven games playing alongside Alex Iafallo and Lias Andersson. Is that a line the Kings are willing to try to start the 2021-22 season?
At any rate, the Kings appear to have too many players for just six spots, so some will be on the outside looking in. But players like Carl Grundstrom (6 G), Andreas Athanasiou (10 G), Vilardi (10 G), Jaret Anderson-Dolan (7 G), Andersson (3 G), and Brendan Lemieux (2 G) accounted for approximately 27% of the team’s total goal output (142) last year.
They’ll need several players to increase their point productions in the 2021-22 season.
2. Can the powerplay be consistent all year?
For a large majority of the season, the Kings’ powerplay was actually a strength. The team was consistently within the top ten in the league on the man advantage, which was a positive from the previous two seasons. In 2018-19 and 2019-20, the Kings finished with the fifth-worst (15.8%) and sixth-worst (17.1%) powerplay conversation rates, respectively.
Once the calendar flipped to April 1st, the Kings tallied just five powerplay goals the rest of the year, plummeting their overall PP conversion rate to 18.9%. Los Angeles is hopeful that Viktor Arvidsson helps make the team’s first PP unit more formidable. The 28-year-old accumulated three points in a down year last year but had eight points on the man advantage the year before.
“I feel good,” Arvidsson said when he was introduced to the LA media. “I feel like I’m taking care of my body to the highest level I can. Of course, as a hockey player, I think I speak for a lot of them, that you would never feel 100 percent. But, I feel great and I feel like I’m on the right track. Of course, I had some bad luck and some injuries that I couldn’t do anything about, but I’m on the right track. I feel like I still had a good season. If you look at how many scoring chances I created, how much I was involved in scoring, scoring chances for the team, so I’m looking forward to [coming] to L.A. and show what I can do.”
3. How will integrating the prospects shuffle the roster?
One of the more intriguing aspects of the upcoming season will be the integration of the prospects. But with that comes the ripple effect of who sees less playing time or is moved off the roster entirely. For a player like Quinton Byfield, who could conceivably play all year at the NHL level, if he occupies the third-line center position behind Kopitar and Danault, where does that move Gabe Vilardi?
With JAD presumably taking the 4C spot to begin the year, I think most expected Vilardi to eventually move to the wing, where he’ll have less defensive responsibilities and can focus more on shooting the puck — one of his most exceptional traits. But if Vilardi transitions to the wing, then everyone else moves down a notch as well.
Same for Arthur Kaliyev. The sniper could break camp with the Kings, but they’ll have the same dilemma with the roster shuffle. Don’t get me wrong – it’s a great problem to have and one that everyone saw coming. But it’s going to be a moving target this year, sorting out the forward lines.
With other players like Rasmus Kupari, who recently said he would welcome a transition to the wing if it meant playing in the NHL, along with the eventual promotion of Alex Turcotte and Samuel Fagemo, among others, the Kings are going to have to get creative while also be ready to trade some expiring contracts to #playthekids.
4. Will Cal Petersen get the bulk of the starts in net?
Last year, Cal Petersen made the most of the shortened schedule, playing in 35 of the 56 games in what was projected to be a 50/50 split at the start of the season with future Hall-of-Famer, Jonathan Quick. With the latter still having two years left on his deal, Quick figures to still see some time in net. But there’s no denying that Petersen was the better of the two last year, recording a .911 SV% and 2.89 GAA.
He also shined for Team USA at the World Championships, recording two shutouts en route to a bronze medal while playing with an experienced defense in front of him. Added, he was named Best Goaltender of the tournament.
I’m not saying the Kings’ defense is bad — there’s just a lot of inexperience that left a lot of point-blank chances for the opposition last year.
Getting back on track, Petersen should be the number one goalie going forward. He’s due for a contract extension at the end of this season. And in an 82-game schedule, does he play in 55 games? More? Less?
5. Can the Kings get more scoring from the blueline?
An area where the Kings could use a big boost this season is getting more scoring from their D corps. Drew Doughty was the only blueliner to score a goal on the man advantage, and he had six of them.
Sean Walker came on strong over the final month of the season once he had finally recovered from taking a puck to the face, rehabbing back, playing with a cage for a bit, and frankly, getting back to playing without fear of it happening again. Over the final 13 games, Walker accumulated four goals and six assists, which should be a confidence booster heading into this season.
He’d also make a great pairing partner with newcomer Alex Edler. The 35-year-old isn’t the playing he used to be, recording just eight assists in a down year last season. However, he’s only two years removed from a 33-point campaign. Pair him with a puck-moving defenseman like Walker, and let’s see what he can do.
“I can be used in all kinds of situations, and I think it’s going to be from game to game,” Edler said. “I just want to be used in whatever situation that will help the team the most. That’s the player I am. I want to win the game, and whatever the coach needs from me, I’ll be ready to do, so that’s kind of the mindset.
The other wrinkle here is with Kale Clague not being waiver exempt. I would expect him to make the Kings roster out of camp and be given every opportunity to succeed. Historically, he’s proven to produce offensively at every level.
If the Kings can have Doughty and Walker be the primary catalysts on offense in terms of moving the puck and scoring while also getting more offense in what should be a bounceback year for Edler, some offensive production from both Clague and Mikey Anderson, I think Todd McLellan‘s group will find themselves in a favorable spot at the end of the year.