NHL.com is providing in-depth roster, prospect and fantasy analysis for each of its 31 teams from Nov. 16-Dec. 16. Today, the Los Angeles Kings.
The Los Angeles Kings are hoping several prospects can make an immediate impact and help them return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs following a two-season absence.
Those prospects include centers Quinton Byfield, the No. 2 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, and Alex Turcotte, the No. 5 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, who will have every chance to make the team out of training camp. Byfield, the highest-drafted Black player in NHL history, signed a three-year, entry-level contract on Oct. 16 after leading Sudbury of the Ontario Hockey League with 82 points (32 goals, 50 assists) in 45 games. Turcotte signed a three-year, entry-level contract on March 11 after scoring 26 points (nine goals, 17 assists) in 29 games as a freshman at the University of Wisconsin.
“I definitely think I could step into the NHL next year, but I know it’s a really big jump from the [Ontario Hockey League] and really challenging,” Byfield told the Kings website in October. “It’s definitely going to be really challenging, but I’ve worked my whole offseason with the pros quite a bit to help me translate easier.”
Forward Gabriel Vilardi will look to stick in the NHL after he scored seven points (three goals, four assists) in 10 games at the end of last season.
“We’re not in a position where we’re forcing somebody into the lineup,” Los Angeles general manager Rob Blake said. “So when they’re ready, those opportunities will come. I don’t think we want to rush anyone when we don’t have to and we want to make sure when they do step into the NHL, they are fully prepared for it.”
Despite the possible influx of young talent, the Kings will still count on improvements from most of the returning forwards. Center Anze Kopitar scored 62 points (21 goals, 41 assists) to lead them in scoring for the 12th time in 13 seasons, but he is their only returning player who scored more than 17 goals and 43 points. Forwards Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter and Alex Iafallo (17 goals each) are the other players who scored at least 12 goals last season.
Los Angeles was not active in free agency, though. The only significant move it made came when it acquired defenseman Olli Maatta in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks on Oct. 4. Maatta could join Drew Doughty on the first pair and strengthen the defense, which was 14th in the NHL in goals-against per game (2.99) last season.
“I feel like I took a big step last year in my game and I felt like I kept getting better game by game,” Maatta told the Kings website. “When these breaks come in, especially in the spring and now in the fall, you have that six months where you really haven’t had, I can’t remember when the last time in my career (a break that long). Just have to take advantage of it and make sure you’re ready for that.”
By acquiring Maatta, who won the Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2016 and 2017, the Kings will be able to allow their defensemen prospects to develop at their own pace.
“We have the ability now to put Olli Maatta in this lineup so that the [young defensemen] can be brought around at the right time,” Blake said. “Our right side was pretty solid with Doughty, Sean [Walker] and [Matt] Roy. … I think Olli fills a much-needed left spot.”
With the additions, the Kings will look to pick up where they left off last season, when they won their final seven games before the pause and outscored their opponents 21-9.
“It was pointing in the right direction,” Kings coach Todd McLellan said in April. “The tank was as full as it’s been all year. Players were doing things the right way. We were coming together as a team. We were structurally much more efficient and less error-prone than we were in the past, which was everything we could ask of from a relatively new group.”