To a man, the LA Kings organization would largely like to forget the past three seasons. Not much good has come, at least on the ice, since raising the organization’s second Stanley Cup in 2014. Now, with a plethora of new management in place, many of the same core players will be asked to provide different results over the next 82 games. As the 2017-18 regular season begins on Thursday, here are three key storylines to follow:
Anze Kopitar, Tyler Toffoli, and Jonathan Quick all look to rebound from disappointing campaigns last seasons. Kopitar, who inherited the captaincy under some difficult circumstances one year ago, did less than impress during his inaugural run with the C. After leading the team in scoring for nine straight seasons, Kopitar produced 52 points on the year and finished second in team scoring to Jeff Carter. Of far greater concern though, were his paltry 12 goals – nowhere close to what team officials expected last summer when signing him to the richest contract in Kings’ history.
In net, Jonathan Quick, where an injury plagued season limited his action to a mere 17 games played. Looking every bit like his old self last spring, he’s on track to show that Conn Smythe winning Quick is still around and he’s still one of the best goaltenders on the planet.
Toffoli had injury troubles of his own last season, missing nearly 25% of the season, which heavily worked against him on the stats sheets. In fact, he accumulated only 16 goals, down from his career-high of 31 the season prior. This, in part, also played into his contract negotiations a few months ago. Thus, the team’s top right winger is planning to rebound with a big campaign this time out.
Two additional forwards are looking to re-establish their place in Los Angeles. Former team captain, Dustin Brown, has been earning universal praise from new head coach John Stevens and is hopeful of showing some of his previous swagger. Motivated by the change in leadership and reunited with Kopitar on the team’s top line, Brown is intent on showing everybody – fans, teammates, and opponents – that he still deserves to be considered one of the top forwards on the Kings roster. If nothing else, think of the first 20 games as his audition to stay with Kopitar once Marian Gaborik eventually returns from injury. One thing always working in Brown’s favor is his versatility, having shown he is fully competent playing at right or left wing.
Also on a bit of a tryout at the moment is Mike Cammalleri. Originally drafted by the Kings in 2001, he’s now 35 years old and is back with the club after being gone for nine years. Just as Kopitar was coming into his own, Cammalleri was the one leading the team in points, having put up a 34 goal, 80-point season back in 2006-07. That was a long time ago, though, and he has had his share of injuries in recent years. Cammalleri is expected to be used on the first and third lines this year, while aiming to re-establish himself as somebody capable of playing a full season, contributing on the power play, and consistently bringing a competitive spirit to the locker room.
For those who like to gamble, the aforementioned duo have been given some intriguing odds in advance of Thursday night’s game against the visiting Philadelphia Flyers. Courtesy of Sports Betting Dime, Cammalleri has been set at 9-to-1 for scoring he team’s first goal of the season, while Brown comes in at 10-to-1. Only three other players were specified by name: Kopitar 9-to-1, Tanner Pearson 8-to-1, and Carter 6-to-1.
Although 21-year-old forward Adrian Kempe is not technically a rookie by NHL standards (due to playing 25 games last season), he should be included in any conversation centered around the youth movement on the LA roster. This year’s squad will have several actual rookies looking to prove they belong in the NHL – including forwards Jonny Brodzinski and Alex Iafallo; along with defensemen Kurtis MacDermid, Oscar Fantenberg, and Paul LaDue.
Up front, Brodzinski will most likely make the biggest impact, as he is expected to receive time as a top-six forward – something unheard of under previous management. GM Rob Blake has been consistent from the start, saying he is comfortable playing the kids, and judging by the opening night roster, he’s serious. Brodzinski was a sniper in college and will be trying to show off those skills early and often this season. We’ve often referred to Kempe as Jeff Carter-light. Here, think of Brodzinski as Tanner Pearson on the right side. He moved from No. 6 on the Kings Top 10 Prospects list up to No. 3 last season. Moving forward, he wants to earn a full-time NHL spot.
Iafallo and Fantenberg are the real wild cards in all of this. The former played college hockey the past four seasons and was not expected to make the team out of camp. Our sources raved about his speed and playmaking ability at the time the Kings signed him back in April. He’s certainly impressed Stevens and the coaching staff during camp, and there is even talk of him getting some top-six minutes early on. On the blueline, Fantenberg similarly brings speed and playmaking – something the Kings have lacked the past few seasons. Also originally thought to be AHL bound, he’ll at least start the year in Los Angeles, before perhaps eventually rotating in and out of the lineup (along with LaDue, Kevin Gravel, etc.) while he continues to acclimate to North America.
For the first part of the season, look for the Kings to be in heavy evaluation mode. They want to understand what they really have in the rookies, while simultaneously allowing their more veteran players to re-establish themselves and/or rebound from off years last season. The real question is, when all is said and done, can the collective team get over the 100-point mark this season?
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