NHL

Los Angeles Kings’ Forward Core Effectively Blends Skill & Grit

The Los Angeles Kings have started off the 2020-21 season with a bang, posting a 9-7-4 record, or a .550 points percentage. For perspective, last season, LA was one of just seven teams that did not qualify for either the Qualifying Round or the Round Robin to participate in the playoff bubble.

A number of reasons could explain the stark difference in the Kings’ play this season compared to last. The emergence of Cal Petersen and Drew Doughty’s return to form have played a pivotal role in the team’s success. However, a big part of LA’s hot start is thanks to their forward core’s ability to combine skill and grit efficiently well.

Grit

The Kings forward core boasts many hardworking, gritty players, who never give up on a play. Leading the charge is Dustin Brown, who has both skill and grit. He is the NHL’s all-time leader in hits (the stat started being tracked in 2005-06), and he shows no signs of slowing down in this regard, which makes him one of the Kings’ toughest players.

In 2020-21, Brown has thrown 39 hits in 20 games played, equivalent to 1.95 hits per game. Since scoring his 300th career goal in the first game of the season, he has been white-hot, tallying 10 more. His 11 goals are tied for fifth in the NHL, while his 17 points are tied with Doughty for second on the Kings.

Dustin Brown, Los Angeles Kings (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Not all of the Kings gritty players are offensive juggernauts like Brown. However, Austin Wagner and Carl Grundstrom have proven important as well. Wagner has crushed opponents this season, throwing a team-leading 40 hits and a team-leading 2.5 hits per game. He also has six points. Grundstrom has decked opponents with 37 hits in 18 games and has five points, including a few filthy goals.

Trevor Moore has also shown some toughness while playing for his hometown team. In 20 games this season, he’s thrown nine hits, but he often crashes the net and positions himself in high-danger areas, which have earned him seven points, tied for eighth on the team. Throughout his career, he’s dished out 84 hits in 87 games.

Rookie Jaret Anderson-Dolan, who sometimes plays on Moore’s line, has thrown 12 hits in six games (two per game). Additionally, he is also highly skilled offensively, posting five points or .83 points per game.

A wizard in the face-off dot, Blake Lizotte, despite only standing at 5-foot-7, has been a pesky, physical presence for LA, throwing a hit every other game (averaging 0.5 hits per game).

Blake Lizotte LA Kings
Blake Lizotte, Los Angeles Kings (Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NHLI via Getty Images)

Furthermore, the Kings have numerous skill-oriented players who are gritty, including: Jeff Carter (0.75 hits per game); Anze Kopitar (0.8 hits per game); and Adrian Kempe (0.8 hits per game).

Skill

The aforementioned three forwards are all skill players who work hard. Kopitar had an extremely hot start to the season, which has propelled him near the top of the league’s offensive leaderboard. He ranks fifth in assists with 19, and his 23 points are tied for 11th in the NHL. Despite his age, 33, the two-time Selke Trophy winner has shown no signs of slowing down.

Anze Kopitar Los Angeles Kings
Anze Kopitar, Los Angeles Kings (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Like Kopitar, Carter had a fantastic start to the season and is tied for fifth on the team in points with 12. Although he had a bit of a cold spell when his linemate Andreas Athanasiou was on the COVID protocol list, Carter has played well recently, providing the Kings with three points in his last five games.

Athanasiou has also played well, utilizing his lightning-quick skating to great effect, with four goals and three assists in 12 games.

Kempe has been dangerous on the power play, posting eight points, which ranks tied for 29th in the NHL. However, only eight players have more than 10 power-play points, meaning he has been one of the best power-play sparks in the league this season. Additionally, he has added four points at even strength as a key player for the Kings.

Adrian Kempe Los Angeles Kings
Adrian Kempe, Los Angeles Kings (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Rookie Gabriel Vilardi has also shown his skills. His five goals are tied for second on the Kings, while his nine points rank seventh. He has seen more ice time in each of the Kings’ past five games and has been moved up to the second line. Keep an eye on him because he’ll start producing as he did in his 10-game NHL stint in 2019-20.

Finally, first-liner, Alex Iafallo rounds out the Kings’ skill players. In 20 games, he has five goals and eight assists to rank fourth on the team in points. He becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season and given how well he’s played, he’s been mentioned as trade bait. However, his continued improvement each season should make the Kings think twice before moving him.

Keep At It

As the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The Kings’ offence has been fantastic this season and has helped bring the team into the playoff picture, which is what general manager Rob Blake said he hoped would happen during training camp. The Kings are clicking on all cylinders, posting a 6-2-2 record in their past 10 games, and their sandpaper and finesse have played a large role in the team’s success.

Stats per QuantHockey and Hockey Reference




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