Phillip Danault was a free agent priority for the Los Angeles Kings, for the impact they feel he can make on the ice and for how his presence will benefit their young prospects, president Luc Robitaille said.
The 28-year-old center signed a six-year, $33 million contract ($5.5 million average annual value) on Wednesday after helping the Montreal Canadiens reach the Stanley Cup Final last season, when they lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning in five games.
Robitaille said that he believes Danault and captain Anze Kopitar, who won the Stanley Cup with the Kings in 2012 and 2014, will set a standard that forwards Gabriel Vilardi, 21, Alex Turcotte, 20, and Quinton Byfield, 18, can emulate.
“We’ve got kids like Turcotte, Vilardi and Byfield, for them to learn from Anze and Danault will be huge,” Robitaille said Friday. “We know Phillip is really good for young guys, he comes to work every day, does what needs to be done to be a good professional and we think for our locker room, that’s going to be really good.”
Vilardi, the No. 11 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, scored 23 points (10 goals, 13 assists) in 54 games with the Kings last season. Byfield, the No. 2 pick in the 2020 draft, had one assist in six NHL games and scored 20 points in (eight goals, 12 assists) in 32 games for Ontario of the American Hockey League. Turcotte, the No. 5 pick in the 2019 draft, scored 21 points (six goals, 15 assists) in 32 games for Ontario and helped the United States finish first at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship, when he scored eight points (three goals, five assists) in seven games.
Danault is not the only veteran acquired by the Kings this offseason who will help the young forwards. Viktor Arvidsson, a forward, was picked up in a trade with the Nashville Predators on July 1 and defenseman Alexander Edler signed a one year, $3.5 million contract Wednesday.
“Exactly, doing our homework, we know a guy like Phillip, and Viktor and Alex Edler, they’re players that will help and support the young players we have coming up in the next few years,” Robitaille said. “There’s been a few teams, not a lot, but a few teams that have gotten punished for rushing a young player in. But nobody really has gotten in trouble for taking their time and doing it right with a young player. Usually if you take your time, they end up having a great long career.”
Danault scored 24 points (five goals, 19 assists) in 53 regular-season games last season and four points (one goal, three assists) in 22 playoff games. He is exceptional defensively and should allow Kopitar to focus less on having to shut down the opponent’s top line.
“For us to add a top five center to play a 200-foot game like Phillip Danault, we really feel it makes our team stronger,” Robitaille said. “At the same time, having Phillip, we might be able to play Kopitar in more offensive minutes. He won’t have to take every face-off in our end and always play key penalty minutes so it’s going to give him a little bit of a break and help him get a few more points and help us that way.”
After missing the playoffs each of the past three seasons and five of the past seven after winning the Cup in 2014, Robitaille said he feels the Kings are back at a point where contending for a playoff berth should be expected.
“That’s our goal (to be in the playoffs),” he said. “Everything we’ve been doing for the past few years, being ultra patient and accumulating great young players, has been to build our team to give us a chance to win the Cup in the future.
“But the only way you really learn to play in the Stanley Cup Playoffs is to play in the playoffs so that’s our goal to get in there and let’s see what happens. As we saw this year, you never know how far you can get when the momentum is your way but that’s our goal next year is to be a playoff team. If you end up losing or playing a round or two, our young players would learn really what it takes to sacrifice to go further in the future too.”