In the next part of this five-part series, we focus on the centers of the LA Kings roster.
An important position, the Kings do not lack center depth as they have four quality NHL centers. We look at how those four centers did this season and where they are headed.
Kopitar, the 6-foot-3 and 225-pound captain of the Kings was consistent again this season. Although he is a year older, Kopitar is still demonstrating the skills that made him a top center in the league. He still produced offensively yet took his defensive responsibilities just as seriously.
Kopitar is an NHL veteran who is still contributing in one way or another, whether on the ice or off. He centered the top line again this season and was partly responsible for winger Adrian Kempe‘s career-high in goals scored. Kopitar once again led the LA Kings in points, producing 19 goals and 48 assists for 67 points in 81 games. He continues to be a model of consistency, an honorable captain and has an all-around game.
If there are a couple of areas he could work on, it is finding better seams in the defense to get his passing to teammates a little smoother. Still a very good passer, Kopitar often found a teammate, but after a scoring chance had passed. Typically not his game, but there are times when he does not go into the corner and grind in board battles to free up a puck.
As the offseason continues for the Kings, look for Kopitar to come back next season a year older but once again leading this team in points. His two-way game will once again be his strong suit, leading by example on how to play the game.
Overall Grade: B
Danault came to the LA Kings from the Montreal Canadians this past offseason and did not disappoint. He went above and beyond, playing the best hockey of his career. He was well worth the contract, contributing offense, playing a solid defensive game, and taking the pressure off of Kopitar. His breakout season is something we all did not see coming but was greatly accepted.
Danault helped build the second line into a scoring line and one of the more dependable lines in hockey. His career-high 27 goals helped stabilize his position as the second center and also turned winger Trevor Moore into a scoring threat. He lived up to the billing, playing a solid two-way game while being offensively productive and helping the transition game as well.
Even though this first season in Los Angeles was a pleasure to watch, the one thing he could work on is his powerplay offense. The powerplay was generally unsuccessful this season, but Danault looked rushed when trying to set up plays and pass the puck.
As for next season, look for Danualt to continue his solid play on the second line, with some first-line potential. He looks to continually improve his offensive game and lead by example. If the powerplay gets sorted out, he could once again set career highs in goals and points.
Overall Grade: A
Speaking of career highs, Lizotte had career highs in goals (10), assists (14), and points (24). Lizotte also had career highs in penalty minutes (28) and plus/minus (+15). He is not a scorer by trade, but his hustle, speed, and determination contributed to his breakout season.
Playing with heart and soul, Lizotte is a speedy center who plays a complete 200-foot game. Last season, he got into scoring areas and made himself available to make a play or find an open teammate. He was available to open up his passing game and use that to his best abilities. His speed created opportunities, whether on a regular shift or the penalty kill.
Although he had a productive season, Lizotte could work on getting into the dirty areas a little bit more. His size does not always allow for that, but he could create more offense for himself and his teammates if he did.
Next season, Lizotte will again be a dependable bottom-six player who will contribute to all aspects of the game. For someone who does not get a lot of recognition, he is one of the more important players on the LA Kings roster. He could set career highs again if he gets more ice time.
Overall Grade: B
Coming into this season, Quinton Byfield was expected to develop and play his game to his fullest potential. The 6-foot-4 and 216-pound center has loads of potential, and we saw some of that on display this season. Byfield did not produce as he had hoped, but this was his first full NHL season, and he is still very young.
Byfield adjusted to the game well in his first season. He used his speed to create chances and help get his teammates involved. He was good on the board battles and competed for every inch of ice. The 19-year-old also uses his big frame to play a physical game and get in front of the net; a ways to go but a solid first season.
With that said, he could work on his offensive game, transition, and getting stronger. His size and skill set allow him to be creative, and once he adds experience, he will produce offensively. Byfield could also use his body a bit more to get space for him and his linemates to find open areas on the ice.
Next season should be an offensively more productive one for Byfield. He will have another NHL season to fully adjust and have a better understanding of the NHL game. Once he rounds out his game, he will be tough to handle for the opposition. He still might be a couple of years away from fully developing, but he will be fun to watch once he gets there.
With only five goals and five assists in his 40 games played, he has room to grow and find his game. He is still very young and adjusting to this style of play, but give him a couple of years, and he will be a top-six forward.
Overall Grade: C