LA Kings, Rob Blake

Photo Credit: LA Times

Each year, The Athletic performs a fan survey where fans can grade both the organization they are fans of as well as other teams in a variety of different areas.

Last summer, the LA Kings finished 7th in the survey. This time around, they finished 5th.

Table via The Athletic

Like most of the teams in the top ten, the public perception of the team’s front office is in line with the fan base. Often, a team’s own fans can be their harshest critics. Note here, the Boston Bruins:

Table via The Athletic

But for the LA Kings, the grading is pretty consistent. The public was a steady B+ down the board, while the fans gave anywhere from a B to an A-. Overall, the hockey community, in general, is pretty confident in the Kings.

The article includes three quotes from survey comments, and the theme is consistent: the team is trending in the right direction, but will the prospects be ready to take the lead in a couple of years?

“All in all I think they’re on the right track and doing a good job, but some of these young guys need to make the step up to the next level soon. We can’t have great potential forever. ‘Show me the money.’ Or at least some of it.”

It is a fair question, after all. Anze Kopitar (34 years old), Drew Doughty (32), and Jonathan Quick (36) will not be the impact players they have been in a couple of seasons (if not sooner). While the LA Kings prospect pool is indeed deep, the question of whether there are replacements for these three key players continues to go unanswered.

Gabriel Vilardi was an 11th overall pick in 2017. He, along with Alex Turcotte (5th overall in 2019) and Quinton Byfield (2nd overall in 2020), are among the group expected to take the reins as the number-one center in Los Angeles. While Kopitar is still capable of manning that role, it may not be long before this transition needs to happen. To date, things haven’t gone so well.

Vilardi, 23, and Turcotte, 21, have both either underperformed or simply haven’t been able to string together a healthy run of games to make any real impact. Byfield, 19, got a bigger taste of NHL action last season and will be expected to play a larger role in the upcoming campaign. While there is still plenty of optimism for Byfield, that optimism has clearly waned with Vilardi and Turcotte.

If neither of these three develops into that true number one center, it is a big problem for the future of the Kings. Phillip Danault has stabilized the second center position, but he does not bring the type of offensive production to be a number one center. And I don’t think that’s what the expectation should be.

Things are looking quite a bit brighter on the blueline. Doughty suffered an unfortunate injury last season in what was a very strong start to the season. The Kings saw impressive debuts from Sean Durzi and Jordan Spence while Helge Grans and Brandt Clarke continued along in their development. Like the center position, there are plenty of options. Unlike the center position, these options are showing early signs that they can be impactful players on an NHL blueline. Will any of them become Drew Doughty? We’ll see, but there is a lot of talent on the right side of the Kings’ defense corps.

The biggest question mark for the Kings is between the pipes. Jonathan Quick refuses to pass the baton to Cal Petersen, and it’s a good thing he isn’t because Petersen had his share of struggles last season. That said, this will be the first year of a three-year, $15 million contract for the 27-year-old Petersen and one where many eyeballs will be focused. Quick figures to start the season as the number one netminder, but the pressure will be on Petersen to provide much more stability in net this season.

To finish 5th in a survey like this is, of course, a positive. And I think the Kings and general manager Rob Blake should be commended for many of the moves they’ve made in recent years. Blake has made impact additions with Danault, Viktor Arvidsson, and this summer’s trade for Kevin Fiala. Not to mention the trades made to acquire the likes of Durzi, Carl Grundstrom, and Trevor Moore while stocking the cupboards with draft picks Arthur Kaliyev, Martin Chromiak, Samuel Fagemo, and Rasmus Kupari, in addition to the prospects mentioned above. It’s why they’re continuously among the top prospect pools in all of hockey.

The LA Kings were able to build a championship team a decade ago with a homegrown spine of an elite goaltender, defenseman, and center. If they are unable to fill these roles with the highly-rated prospects that are currently in the system, it’ll be hard to envision the Kings getting back to the top of the mountain.

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