The Los Angeles King on face value to some hockey fans may seem like another rebuilding team in the Pacific Division like Anaheim. But with Rob Blake’s moves this summer, his agenda seems to be shifting from rebuilding to contending. One has to consider this by taking a glance at whom the Kings have down the middle of their forward group. Anze Kopitar, Phillip Danault, and Quinton Byfield are the three center-men projected for the Kings according to DailyFaceoff. With the Kings signing Danault this summer to a six-year, $33 million deal, they add even more center depth to their team with the hopes for a playoff run for the 2021-2022 campaign. The Kings also boast one of the best farm systems in the NHL, with 2020 second overall centerman Byfield being their top prospect. Along with this, the Kings still have their two-time Stanley Cup-winning captain in Kopitar. These three names should be synonymous with hockey fans as Kopitar, Danault and Byfield have the potential to form one of the best center cores in the entire NHL and help the team get into the playoffs.
For starters, Kopitar is a veteran center who has won and been in Selke conversation for the past decade as an extraordinary two-way centerman. There were many who doubted him coming into the season, seeing as the Kings did not have the strongest roster, but the 33-year-old proved once again why he has still got it. Kopitar in 56 games had 13 goals and 50 points during the 2020-2021 season. Kopitar was also fourth in TOI/GP(Time on-ice per games played), with 21:11 and face-off win percentage, winning 57.6% of his draws. Kopitar presents no surprises, and year-in and year-out he is able to score at an extremely high level while also being able to keep up defensively with some of the best players in the league on a nightly basis. Kopitar also this past season recorded 1000 NHL points, a feat accomplished not by many, especially not by Selke winners. We can expect Kopitar to gain some scoring help this season with the addition of Viktor Arvidsson to his line potentially, who was acquired from the Nashville Predators this summer. Kopitar performing at the pace he has the past few seasons, coupled with his immense playoff experience, should help put the Kings over the top for the Pacific Division playoff race.
Danault is an interesting pickup by the Kings, as he has also been seen as one of the best defensive centers in the league. He touts himself as a center reliable in his own end and somewhat effective offensively as well during his time with the Montreal Canadians. Many feel Danault does struggle on the offensive end, particularly with finishing and goal scoring. But one can believe that his role is to take some defensive pressure off of Kopitar, who is a proven scorer, by sending Danault out more often for defensive zone faceoffs. This allows for Kopitar to get more offensive starts in the Kings zone, as Lisa Dillman of The Athletic points out. In the past season for the Canadians, Danault had five goals and 24 points in the regular season, tacking on a goal and four points in the Canadiens Stanley Cup Run. His underlying stats are also incredible, as Danault is in the 97th percentile for primary assists per 60 mins. Along with this, he has a 99% EV Defence (even strength defensive wins above replacement), showing how impactful defensively he is on the ice compared to when he’s not. Danault hopes to play alongside young, speedy winger Adrian Kempe and veteran winger Dustin Brown.
Finally, Byfield is seen as a carbon copy of Kopitar, being a player with high hockey IQ, and a strong all-around player who seeks to be the future of the LA Kings. This past season, Byfield had the opportunity to play in the AHL with the Ontario Reign, where he posted eight goals and 20 points in 32 games. What stands out about his game is his size, standing at 6’4, 220lbs, and his ability to make plays, which gives him the potential to one day be the first-line center for the Kings. Byfield had also played in the World Juniors this past year, averaging a point a game in seven games en route to a finals loss to the US. Many people in the hockey community believe that Byfield will make the team out of camp, and will slot in at the third-line center position alongside Trevor Moore and Andreas Athanasiou.
With Kopitar, Danault, Byfield, and possibly Gabe Vilardi or Blake Lizotte down the middle, the Kings are poise for a playoff run in a weakened Pacific Division. The two teams that are considered locks for the top two spots are the Vegas Golden Knights and the Edmonton Oilers. Following this, we can expect the Calgary Flames, Vancouver Canucks, and Kings to compete for the last two playoff spots in the West. Finally, San Jose, Seattle, and Anaheim are expected to be at the bottom of the division, therefore allowing the Kings to really worry about the Canucks and Flames for a playoff spot. Nevertheless, the Kings have two top-tier centers in Kopitar and Danault. If things go as planned, Kopitar will be even more offensively dangerous while worrying less about defensive responsibilities. Danault will come in to be shutdown center for the Kings, hoping to also add a bit of scoring touch with skilled wingers Kempe and Brown. Byfield will need to break out and show his talents as a playmaker against the other team’s third lines, as he is looking NHL ready if he makes it out of camp. Combining these three factors for these three players, and barring any injuries or poor performances from the roster, the Kings have to tools to go on a nice little playoff run this upcoming season.