Kings season preview: Face decisions on centers Byfield, Turcotte

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The 2020-21 NHL season is scheduled to begin Jan. 13. With training camps underway, NHL.com is taking a look at the three keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lines for each of the 31 teams. Today, the Los Angeles Kings, who will play in the West Division.

Coach: Todd McLellan (second season)

Last season: 29-35-6 (.457 points percentage); 14th place in Western Conference

3 KEYS

1. Decisions with Byfield, Turcotte

Centers Quinton Byfield (No. 2 pick in 2020 NHL Draft) and Alex Turcotte (No. 5 pick in 2019 NHL Draft) are a big part of the future for the Kings, but will either debut in the NHL this season? Byfield led Sudbury of the Ontario Hockey League in points (82) and assists (50) in 45 games last season and the 18-year-old is playing for Canada at the 2021 IIHF World Junior Championship. Turcotte scored 26 points (nine goals, 17 assists) in 29 games at the University of Wisconsin last season and the 19-year-old is playing for the United States at the 2021 WJC. Each has signed an entry-level contract and could begin the season with the Kings.

2. Quick’s workload

Entering his 14th NHL season, Jonathan Quick has been a workhorse, playing at least 60 games in six of the past 10 full seasons. After posting the worst numbers of his NHL career in 2018-19 (3.38 goals-against average, .888 save percentage), Quick came on strong late last season and finished with a 2.79 GAA and .904 save percentage. Though he has three seasons remaining on a 10-year-contract he signed July 1, 2012, the 34-year-old could see his playing time diminish in favor of Calvin Petersen. The 26-year-old was 5-3-0 with a 2.64 GAA and .922 save percentage in eight games last season and has played 19 games for Los Angeles over the past two seasons.

Video: Top 10 Jonathan Quick saves from 2019-20

3. Offense must step up

The Kings ranked 30th in goals per game last season (2.53) after ranking 30th in 2018-19 (2.43), and their shooting percentage of 7.6 percent was the second-lowest in the NHL last season (Detroit Red Wings, 7.4 percent). Center Anze Kopitar led them with 62 points (21 goals, 41 assists), but no one else scored at least 20 goals or 50 points. After trading their second-leading goal-scorer Tyler Toffoli (18) to the Vancouver Canucks prior to the NHL Trade Deadline last season, the Kings didn’t address their offense in free agency, so goals could be an issue.

ROSTER RUNDOWN

Making the cut

In addition to Byfield and Turcotte, the Kings have several other forwards competing for spots. Arthur Kaliyev scored 44 goals in 57 games with Hamilton of the OHL last season after scoring 102 points (51 goals, 51 assists) in 67 OHL games in 2018-19. Gabriel Vilardi should be a lock after impressing in 10 games with the Kings last season. Forwards Carl Grundstrom, Jaret Anderson-Dolan and Matt Luff are also in the mix.

With the addition of veteran Olli Maatta in a trade with the Chicago Blackhawks on Oct. 20, the Kings could let some of their defenseman prospects continue to develop. Maatta, Drew Doughty, Sean Walker and Matt Roy are near locks, leaving two spots for players including Kurtis MacDermid, Mikey Anderson and prospects Kale Clague and Tobias Bjornfot.

Most intriguing addition

Byfield likely will be an impact player in the NHL in the near future, but general manager Rob Blake said he would not be rushed this season if Los Angeles didn’t feel he was ready. Byfield will get a chance to prove himself but could miss part of training camp playing at the 2021 WJC. With no preseason games, he could start the season with the Kings so they can evaluate how he performs at the NHL level. 

Video: LA Kings first-round draft pick is discussed

Biggest potential surprise

Forward Andreas Athanasiou signed a one-year contract Dec. 29. He scored 26 points (11 goals, 15 assists) in 55 games with the Edmonton Oilers and Detroit Red Wings last season, including playing on the Oilers’ top line with Connor McDavid. Athanasiou can play up and down the lineup and scored 30 goals with the Red Wings in 2018-19. He could provide the Kings with an offensive boost they were lacking last season.

Ready to break through

On a team with centers like Kopitar, Byfield and Turcotte, it’s easy to forget about Vilardi, but he is expected to be the second-line center to begin the season. Vilardi scored seven points (three goals, four assists) in 10 games with the Kings last season and won 53.3 percent of his face-offs (49 of 92).

Fantasy sleeper

Petersen (average draft position: 167.3) burst onto the fantasy scene as a late-season waiver-wire pickup, going 4-0-0 with a .947 save percentage over his final four games. Petersen cut into Quick’s playing time and has the ceiling of emerging as their starter as early as this season with the Kings set to integrate multiple prospects during their promising rebuild. Petersen, who has a .923 save percentage in 19 NHL games, is worth stacking with Quick as a sneaky goalie tandem for this condensed season that should be attainable in late rounds. — Pete Jensen

Projected lineup

Alex Iafallo — Anze Kopitar — Dustin Brown

Adrian Kempe — Gabriel Vilardi — Martin Frk

Andreas Athanasiou — Quinton Byfield — Jeff Carter

Michael AmadioBlake LizotteAustin Wagner

Olli Maatta — Drew Doughty

Mikey Anderson — Matt Roy

Kurtis MacDermid — Sean Walker

Jonathan Quick

Calvin Petersen

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