The Kings relied on defense last season and will look to fill the net at a higher rate this year. Getting Jeff Carter back automatically gives them a boost and adding Ilya Kovalchuk to the mix should give the Kings a more potent attack this season.
Despite finishing middle of the pack in offense, the Kings ranked bottom-10 in expected goals for. The defense and goaltending was the strength of this team finishing with ‘A’s’ across the board.
What went right:
Jonathan Quick won the William M. Jennings Trophy, Drew Doughty was a Norris finalist, Anze Kopitar won the Selke and was also a Hart finalist. Led by this trio, the Kings allowed the fewest goals against and boasted the league’s top penalty kill. Kopitar, in particular, had a very impressive season. He was top-15 among forwards in short-handed ice-time, 2nd in blocked passes and top-25 in blocked shots and still managed to score 92 points.
What Went Wrong:
Kopitar’s near MVP season was necessary for the Kings, as they lost their #2 center, Jeff Carter, for most of the season due to injury. The Kings were middle of the pack in goals for, 24th in scoring chances and their lack of offense was exposed in their first-round loss to the Golden Knights. The Kings elite defense gave up less than two goals-per-game to Vegas, but they could only muster three goals in four games, failing to score twice.
Key Additions: Ilya Kovalchuk, Peter Budaj
Key Departures: Tobias Rieder, Jarome Iginla
Other Key moves: Extended Drew Doughty, PTO for Emerson Etem
Ilya Kovalchuk is back! The Kings signed the Russian winger to a three-year deal after he spent the last five years in the KHL. For his NHL career, he ranks 18th all-time in goals-per-game at 0.51 and scored 816 points in as many career games. He looked good in the KHL and during the Olympics, where he was named MVP for the gold medal “Olympic Athletes from Russia” team, but it’s important to manage expectations. He is 35-years old and as well as he’s performed in Russia, the quality of hockey is a far cry from the NHL. With his days as a speed threat behind him, don’t be surprised to see a majority of Kovalchuk’s goals come on the powerplay. The Kings also locked up Drew Doughty with a massive 8-year, $88M extension, avoiding any risk of him getting wandering eyes and pulling a John Tavares next offseason. Doughty is in his prime at 28-years old and led all defensemen in ice-time last season.
Next season preview
What could go right?
The Kings bring back the same core that made them the best defensive team in the league, they’ll add a healthy Jeff Carter for more than 27 games (knock on wood) and scoring help in Ilya Kovalchuk, which should improve their output at even-strength and their 17th ranked powerplay. They could get even more help if Gabriel Vilardi, their 2017 1st round pick, shows he’s healthy and ready to make the jump after scoring 58 points in 32 games in the OHL. Over a full season, that equates to 123 points, which would have been good enough for the OHL scoring title.
What could go wrong?
The Kings lack team speed, ranking 23rd in rush scoring chances, 21st in controlled entries and 19th in odd-man rushes generated. A 35-year old Kovalchuk won’t be much help in that department for a core that’s also getting up there in age. Dustin Brown had a career renaissance, scoring 61 points after his highest total in the five previous seasons was 36, the only time over that span he surpassed 30. An encore performance seems unlikely with the downwards trend he showed before last year and his role on the power play, where he scored nine goals and 15 points, likely to diminish in favor of Carter and Kovalchuk.