Before the season started, I made a handful of predictions about how the Los Angeles Kings‘ season would go. From where they would finish in the standings, to how individual players would do. Most of them came from my season preview and predictions article, but there were a few others as well. Now just over halfway through the season, I wanted to take a look at how those predictions are coming along. Am I on pace to get most of them right, or was I way off the mark on most of them? It’s time to find out.
Where the Kings Finish
Heading into the season, I predicted that this team would make a postseason return, finishing third in the Pacific Division, or in the first wild card spot. Right now, that’s exactly where they’re heading, sitting third in the division on points percentage behind the Vegas Golden Knights and Calgary Flames. A slow start was concerning, as it appeared early on that the Kings would be looking at another top-15 pick in the upcoming draft, but they found their stride in December and have climbed into a playoff spot.
I predicted the Pacific Division to be wide open after the top two teams, at that is proving true. What I didn’t expect was a huge season from the Darryl Sutter-led Calgary Flames, and the complete collapse of the Edmonton Oilers. Still, the Kings are on track to finish third in the Division and make a postseason return.
Quick & Petersen
Starting with the goalies, I thought this would be the season Cal Petersen took sole possession of the Kings’ starting role. That was the team’s plan, with Petersen starting in the season opener against the Golden Knights, but his slow start and Jonathan Quick’s resurgence have completely flipped that plan. Not many people would have predicted this bounce back from Quick, as he’s returned to being one of the league’s best goalies, and he quickly reclaimed his net.
After a shaky start to the season, Petersen has re-found his game recently, winning four of his last five starts, playing extremely well in all four wins. Quick is in no danger of losing his starting position, but with Petersen playing well, the team has a one-two punch in net that will help them stay in the playoff hunt. My goalie predictions were incorrect, but not many people would have predicted Quick to make such a massive comeback, so I’m not too upset about missing the mark here.
Huge injuries on the back end have changed the complexion of the Kings’ blue line, but I’m still pretty happy with my predictions here. I probably overestimated the impacts of Tobias Bjornfot and Mikey Anderson, who both stepped up big time in Drew Doughty’s absence but have not had the breakout seasons I was expecting. Both still playing solid hockey, I thought Bjornfot especially would solidify himself in the top-four. Hindsight being 20-20, that was too high an expectation for a 20-year-old defenseman. He’s still a future top-four defenseman in my eyes, but we’ll have to wait a little longer to see him at that level. I predicted Alex Edler to be a nice addition to the team, but I probably underestimated how good he would be. The injury to Doughty elevated his role and he stepped up to the challenge, he was one of the team’s best blueliners before his ankle injury and was a great addition.
I predicted a huge bounce-back season from Doughty, after the improvements made in the offseason, and the Olympic implications at the time, I was expecting Doughty to be near his best again. His offensive numbers have been particularly impressive, posting 0.88 points per game (PPG), good enough for ninth in the league amongst defensemen. His defensive play has been a little inconsistent, and his partnership with Anderson tends to make some big mistakes, but his resurgence has been huge for the team this year. He still isn’t the Norris caliber defenseman he once was, but he isn’t that far off either.
One name I have to mention that didn’t make the preseason predictions list is Sean Durzi, the right side of defense looked pretty locked with Doughty, Matt Roy, and Walker being the obvious three, and Kale Clague being the first substitute but that changed quickly. After both Doughty and Walker were knocked out of the lineup, Durzi was called up and hasn’t looked back since. He’s been somewhat of a revelation on the back end and has possibly taken Walker’s position even when he returns from his knee injury. Durzi has been a pleasant surprise for the team.
I predicted this forward group to be a real highlight for the Kings this season, and while they have played very well, their lack of goals is concerning. Some of the goal-scoring issues extend past the forwards, with the team’s blue line not contributing nearly enough, 11 goals from the back end is a problem, and of course, the power play has been terrible. That doesn’t change the fact that this forward group also hasn’t scored enough, with Adrian Kempe being the only consistently prolific goal scorer on the roster. No team has underperformed their expected goals more than the Kings, scoring 26.89 goals below expected, and a lack of goals ultimately falls on the forwards more than anyone.
I still think this forward group has played well, but they need to finish their chances more and are probably lacking one more high-end winger. Phillip Danault has been great for the team, proving to be exactly what the team wanted him to be. He’s anchored the second line all season, taking a lot of tough minutes away from Anze Kopitar while still producing at a 0.5 PPG pace. Alex Iafallo has stepped his game up this season too, on pace for the best offensive season of his career, he still brings all the intangibles that coaches love, now with decent production to match it.
The fourth line has also been a highlight for this team, with Brendan Lemieux, Blake Lizotte, and Arthur Kaliyev finding great chemistry together. To the point that their time on ice reflects a third line more than a fourth line. Lemieux has produced more offense than he ever has at this level, and cut out some of his bone head plays, but not all. Lizotte has been the anchor for this line, proving to be a very effective bottom-six center, and Kaliyev is perhaps the most improved player in the organization, making huge strides in his 200-foot play this season. Other players like Kempe, Kopitar, and Arvidsson have also impressed but I’ll get to them later.
Kings Stats Leader
My prediction for who would lead the team in points was an obvious one, as Kopitar has led this team in points for 13 of the last 14 seasons. It was the easy pick and is proving to be the right one, as he’s leading the team by 10 points halfway through the season. I did overestimate how much he would bounce back this season, predicting he’d grab 80 points. He’s on pace for 70 points right now and will almost certainly lead the team.
One thing to keep an eye on with Kopitar is his defensive play. A consistent Selke nominee for the last decade, his defensive impact has fallen off a bit this season. He hasn’t been bad defensively, but it’s far from the elite play we’re used to seeing. Part of that is due to a change in role, taking on a more offensive one this season and it shouldn’t worry fans, but something to keep an eye on.
This one was a pretty big swing and miss admittedly. I really thought Arvidsson would thrive on Kopitar’s wing and we’d see him return to his 30-goal days. For one reason or another, he and Kopitar never found chemistry and he was eventually moved down to Danault’s line. Fortunately, he has thrived with Danault, grabbing seven points in his last 10 games. His mediocre 8.1% shooting percentage has stopped him from returning to 30-goal form, but he’s still been a solid addition to the team and is scoring at a 56-point pace.
Kempe has done exactly what I thought Arvidsson would do this season. He found great chemistry with Kopitar and is now on pace for 30-plus goals. The question has never been about talent with Kempe, his inconsistency and discipline have held him back up to this point, but that is now changing. His discipline still needs work, but he’s been far more consistent, and you just have to look at the team’s 0-3 record with him out of the lineup to see his impact. My bold prediction before the season was that Kempe would have a good season and the Kings would trade him while his value was high, but it’s very unlikely that happens.
Kempe & Vilardi Set For Career Seasons
Before the season, I released an article predicting that both Kempe and Gabe Vilardi would have career seasons in 2021-22. Kempe is certainly doing that, already surpassing his career-high in goals, while Vilardi has had the complete opposite, being sent down to the American Hockey League (AHL), early on.
After just one point in seven games, and a terrible 200-foot play, the Kings decided to send Vilardi down to switch him to the wing. This had to be a tough pill for him to swallow, returning to the AHL after playing the entire 2020-21 season with the Kings, but he’s made the most of it so far. He’s re-discovered his offense in the AHL, currently posting 19 points in 19 games, as he learns a new position. His future is still up in the air, as many people think he could be included in a package for the coveted, dynamic left-shot defensemen. General manager Rob Blake mentioned they want to see Vilardi return to a PPG pace in the AHL before recalling him, so we might see him back in the lineup before too long. I would expect him to return sometime around, or after the trade deadline. I went one for two on this prediction, as I was spot on with Kempe, but couldn’t have been more wrong on Vilardi.
Productive Third Line
During preseason, the team looked to have struck gold with a third line consisting of Lias Andersson, Vilardi, and Vladimir Tkachev. They had great chemistry and were dominating games. I predicted them to be a big producer of offense for this team and couldn’t have been more wrong. In my defense, we never actually saw them together in a regular-season game, but I don’t think the outcome would have been any different.
Andersson suffered an injury before the season started, while Tkachev and Vilardi had a terrible start to the season and were sent down before Andersson returned. Tkachev struggled to transition from the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) to the NHL, and Vilardi faced the struggles I mentioned above. Andersson hasn’t had the best time either, struggling with injuries and a lack of offense which has seen him play just 13 games this season, only grabbing one point. This has to be the biggest miss of my preseason predictions and will teach me to never read much into preseason success.
Second Half of the Season
The Kings have one of the easiest schedules in the second half of this season, and a 52% chance to make the playoffs according to MoneyPuck.com. Therefore, I’m confident they will make a postseason return. I also think the team leaders in points and goals are fairly locked on as Kopitar and Kempe respectively. The most interesting things to watch in this second half will be if Petersen can build on his recent play, if the team makes any moves at the deadline, and how the rookies do in the second half. I’m specifically interested to see how much game time Alex Turcotte gets, if Kaliyev can move up the lineup, if Rasmus Kupari can improve his play, and most importantly, how Quinton Byfield does.
He’s been very sheltered in his three games, so it will be interesting to see how his season gets on from here. Hopefully, he can earn the trust of the coaching staff, and we can see his immense talent on full display. I’ll make one bold prediction for the second half, the Kings will not make a big move at, or before, the trade deadline. I think the high asking price on Jakob Chychrun will deter Blake, and there won’t be another big name available that fits the team’s need. At most the team will grab a rental left-shot defenseman to help their playoff push.
My name is Austin Stanovich, as a lifelong player and fan I’m hoping to bring my own unique perspective on the hockey world, specifically covering the Los Angeles Kings. As a SoCal native I grew up a Kings fan, and after graduating from Long Beach State in 2020 I’ve joined The Hockey Writers crew as a columnist for the Kings.