The Below the Ice crew brings you; NHL: 31 for 31
This year as the clock ticks down towards the NHL season, the writers here at BTI will be bringing you our preview of all 31 NHL teams, in 31 days.
Today on BTI’s continued 31 for 31, we have the Los Angeles Kings.
4th in the Pacific, 7th in the West, 45-29-8 (98 points) 1st round loss to Vegas (4 games)
“There’s no easy they’re going to be a better team than us at the end of the season.” – Drew Doughty
Lead by captain Anze Kopitar who finished 4th in Lady Byng voting, 3rd in Hart voting and 1st in Selke (his second) the Kings squeezed into the playoffs before being swept by the eventual Western Conference champion Vegas Golden Knights in the first round.
Injury hurt LA early into the season, losing Jeff Carter who was on fire before lacerating a tendon in his ankle. The usual suspects for LA helped pick up the load left by Carters absence, Drew Doughty had another Norris caliber season, setting a career high in points with 60 (10G, 50A) and Jonathan Quick had his highest SV% (.921%) since 2011-12. The Kings caught fire, the same time Calgary’s flame burnt out, LA would finish the season 12-5-3 in their last 20 games leap-frogging; St. Louis, Dallas and Calgary in the NHL west standings.
- June 5, Promoted Nelson Emerson to director of player personnel and Glen Murray to director of player development
- June 29, agreed to an extension with Drew Doughty, 8-years $11AAV
- July 2, Signed Free-agent Ilya Kovalchuk, 3-years $6.25AAV
- July 13, Singed 1st-round pick Rasmus Kupari to an entry level deal
OFFSEASON GRADE: B+
It may not look like much over the course of the summer but the Kings managed to sign the most coveted Free-agent behind John Tavares and extend a top 5 NHL defensemen to an 8 year deal. Good doesn’t always have to mean busy when it comes to the NHL offseason. The Kings have expectations for home grown players like Paul Ladue and Kale Clague to step into the line-up and made moves accordingly.
53GP: 31G, 32A (KHL) 2017-18
After 5 years away from the NHL, Kovalchuk is set to make his long awaited return to the North American game. A lot of questions marks surround Kovalchuk, his last NHL was the lock-out shortened 2012-13 where he would put up 31 points in 37 games before returning to the KHL the following season.
The good news for Kings fans is that I believe ‘Kovy’ can pick up exactly where he left off. With the chance to play alongside Anze Kopitar, all Kovalchuk has to do is stick to his game and continue to shoot the puck. Look for him to be the main weapon on LA’s top PP unit and for Ilya to surpass the 30 goal mark in his first season back in the NHL.
2018-19 Projection: 33G, 28A
27 GP: 13G, 9A -2017-18
A season immensely cut short by injury Carter was on pace for yet another 60+ point season, before lacerating a tendon in his ankle.
After a season to rehab and train expect Carter to come back just as on fire last year and with a reunited that 70’s line. Carter has scored 60 plus points (excluding last season) in each of his last three campaigns.
2018-19 Projection: 35G, 31A
DUE TO REGRESS:
81GP: 28G, 33A -2017-18
After setting career highs in both points in assists, Brown is due to take a turn for the worse on the production side.
Now with Ilya Kovalchuk in the mix, Brown will no longer be one of the top scoring options and will see less opportunities to shoot the puck. He scored 9 power play goals last season, after only scoring only 8 combined in the previous four campaigns, adding another area where his production should dip with the arrival of Kovalchuk. Browns career average is 43 points and I believe that is a fair expectation of him
2018-19 Projection: 20G, 28A
5th in the Pacific, 8th in the West, 97 points
Sliding into the 8th slot in the Western Conference, It’s the return of the Kings to the playoffs this season.
The Kings will be coming back into the playoffs and hopefully with a chip on their shoulder after only scoring 3 goals in 4 playoff contests against the Vegas Golden Knights last year, on their way to a 1st round sweep.
Scoring hurt the Kings last year and if not for Jonathan Quick shutting the door, night in and night out, LA may not have even made the playoffs last season. That is not to discount the monster season Anze Kopitar had but it is the exact reason why LA went out and signed sniper Ilya Kovalchuk.
Internal candidates are also (Paul) ‘Ladue’ to make an impact. Ladue looked good in limited situations for the Kings at the end of the year and into the playoffs, expect him to become a regular in the lineup this year. As well as Kale Clague who looked like a stud for Canada at last years World Juniors and should be vying for a roster spot in training camp.