The 2021-22 NHL season starts Oct. 12. With training camps open, NHL.com is taking a look at the three keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lineup for each of the 32 teams. Today, the Los Angeles Kings.
Coach: Todd McLellan (third season)
Last season: 21-28-7; sixth in Honda West Division, did not qualify for Stanley Cup Playoffs
1. Seizing the opportunity
They have a realistic chance to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2017-18 competing in the Pacific Division with the expansion Seattle Kraken and four teams (Calgary Flames, Vancouver Canucks, San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks) that did not qualify last season. Forwards Phillip Danault and Viktor Arvidsson were added to a veteran core of forwards Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown, defenseman Drew Doughty and goalie Jonathan Quick. There’s also a fertile base of young players (defensemen Mikey Anderson and Tobias Bjornfot, and forwards Gabriel Vilardi and Jaret Anderson-Dolan) getting their footing in the NHL and prospects (forwards Quinton Byfield, Alex Turcotte, Arthur Kaliyev) close to breaking through.
“We’re past the rebuilding part,” Kopitar said. “We’re here to win. We’ve been in a position the last few years where we’re more in a rehab mode. It’s time to make some noise and take the next step.”
2. Play of Petersen
This could be the season 26-year-old goalie Calvin Petersen receives the torch from Quick, a 35-year-old and two-time Stanley Cup champion (2012, 2014). Peterson started 32 games last season to Quick’s 22, marking the second time since 2009-10 that Quick didn’t lead Kings goalies in starts; the previous time was 2016-17, when Quick was limited to 17 games because of a lower-body injury. Petersen was 9-18-5 with a 2.89 goals-against average and .911 save percentage in an NHL career-high 35 games last season.
3. Next line of defense
Bjornfot, 20, and Anderson, 22, must find the next level with Doughty, 31, leading the Kings in ice time per game every season since joining the NHL in 2008-09, including 26:23 last season. Los Angeles signed 35-year-old defenseman Alexander Edler to a one-year contract July 28 to help guide the younger players at the position. In the pipeline is Brandt Clarke, an 18-year-old who was the No. 8 pick in the 2021 NHL Draft and is expected to play for Barrie of the Ontario Hockey League this season.
Prospects are likely to compete with Anderson-Dolan, Blake Lizotte, Carl Grundstrom, Andreas Athanasiou and Brendan Lemieux for ice time at forward. Byfield and Turcotte played at the 2021 Rookie Faceoff in Arizona from Sept. 17-20 after each was limited at development camp with a foot injury and acute appendicitis, respectively. Kaliyev also participated following his absence from camp because of personal reasons.
Most intriguing addition
The Kings hope Arvidsson can spark an offense that was 27th in the NHL last season with an average of 2.54 goals per game and finds the form that made him a two-time 30-goal scorer for the Nashville Predators. Arvidsson scored an NHL career-high 61 points in 2016-17 and 2017-18, and set a Predators record with 34 goals in 2018-19. But the past two seasons he’s scored 25 goals in 107 games, and his shooting percentage of 6.6 percent in 2020-21 was his lowest since his rookie season of 2015-16 (5.8 percent).
Biggest potential surprise
Sean Walker might play a larger role than expected during the transition to younger players at defenseman. The 26-year-old scored eight points (three goals, five assists) in his final 10 games last season to finish with 18 points (five goals, 13 assists) in 47 games while averaging 18:10 of ice time, one season removed from scoring 24 points (five goals, 19 assists) and playing 18:50 per game.
Ready to break through
Even if Byfield starts the season with Ontario in the American Hockey League, it may not take long for the 19-year-old center to find his way back with the Kings in an expanded role. The No. 2 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft had one assist in six NHL games and scored 20 points (eight goals, 12 assists) in 32 AHL games last season.
Petersen (fantasy average draft position: 171.8) is a potential beneficiary of the Kings’ offseason moves, most notably the additions of Danault, Arvidsson and Edler. Petersen, who has challenged Quick for playing time at different points during each of the past three seasons, has a .916 save percentage in 54 NHL games the past three seasons, compared to Quick’s .896 save percentage in 110 games during that span. Petersen is a deep fantasy sleeper for Los Angeles, a possible playoff team this season. — Rob Reese
Alex Iafallo — Anze Kopitar — Dustin Brown
Adrian Kempe — Phillip Danault — Viktor Arvidsson
Andreas Athanasiou — Jaret Anderson-Dolan — Gabriel Vilardi
Brendan Lemieux — Quinton Byfield — Trevor Moore
Mikey Anderson — Drew Doughty
Alexander Edler — Matt Roy
Olli Maatta — Sean Walker