Ahead of the Kings’ season opener on Thursday night against the Vegas Golden Knights, here are 10 things to know about their 2021-22 campaign.
1. Last year … the Kings didn’t start terribly, going 13-11-6 over their first 30 games in a difficult Pacific Division. They faded down the stretch, however, finishing the shortened season with a 8-17-1 skid to miss the postseason for a third consecutive year.
2. Player to watch … Anze Kopitar, who last year tallied a team-high 50 points in the 56-game season, eclipsing the 1,000 point mark for his career. Drew Doughty also continues to anchor the team’s blue line, after finishing second on the club last season with 34 points. The two veterans were key pieces on the Kings’ last contending teams a decade ago. To return to relevancy this year, they’ll likely need to lead the way again.
3. In the net … Cal Petersen and Jonathan Quick will form what the Kings hope can be one of the better goaltending tandems in the league. Petersen, 26, is coming off a breakthrough season in which he posted a .911 save percentage while starting the majority of the team’s games, starred for Team USA at the World Championships in the summer and signed a three-year, $15-million extension.
4. Behind the bench … Todd McLellan, who enters his third season in charge. While he remains one of the more respected coaches in the league, he will try to guide a club back to the playoffs for the first time since he did so in Edmonton in 2016-17.
5. Biggest addition … Phillip Danault. The former Montreal Canadiens center should help bolster a forward group that was in need of reinforcements this offseason. While Danault scored only 24 points in 53 games last year, he finished in the top-10 of Selke Award voting for top defensive forward for a third straight year.
The Kings made other veteran additions in defenseman Alex Edler and winger Viktor Arvidsson — moves that signaled the club’s ambition to begin emerging from its recent rebuild.
6. Biggest departure …There aren’t many. The only regular player from last year’s team to not be back is defenseman Kurtis MacDermid, who was selected by Seattle in the expansion draft. One notable absence from the opening night roster, however, is Quinton Byfield, the No. 2 overall pick from last year’s draft who suffered a left ankle fracture in the preseason and is out indefinitely.
7. Breakout star … Gabe Vilardi. Another former first-round draft pick, the center had an up-and-down campaign in his first full NHL season last year. Still only 22, he’s part of a future wave of young forwards that also includes Alex Turcotte, Arthur Kaliyev, Rasmus Kupari and others.
8. Key strength … Defending their own end. The Kings should have strong goaltending. They have two-way stalwarts at center. They have a penalty kill that ranked seventh in the NHL last year. And they have a potentially improved blue line that also includes young defensemen Mikey Anderson and Tobias Bjornfot.
With all those factors, much of the Kings’ success will seemingly depend on how much they improve defensively after giving up the 11th-most goals in the league last year.
9. Area of concern … Scoring, still. While the additions of Danault and Arvidsson, plus the emergence of more young talent, should help, the Kings still return much of the same roster that ranked fifth-to-last in scoring last season — the third straight season they finished near the bottom of the league in goals.
10. Expectations … are optimistic internally, at least that the Kings can make a push for the playoffs once again and that the darkest days of the rebuild are behind them. But they are no lock for that, and still seem a long way off from resembling a true title contender.