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Season Preview

Season Preview: Los Angeles Kings

Core group led by Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty keeps Stanley Cup window open

by Curtis Zupke / NHL.com Correspondent
At a Glance

2015-16 record: 48-28-6, 102 points, 2nd in Pacific Division, 5th in Western Conference

2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Lost to San Jose Sharks in five games in Western Conference First Round

Additions: F: Michael Latta, Teddy Purcell; D: Tom Gilbert, Zach Trotman; G: Jeff Zatkoff

Subtractions: F: Vincent Lecavalier, Milan Lucic, Kris Versteeg; D: Jamie McBain, Luke Schenn; G: Jhonas Enroth

 

Projected opening night lineup

Forwards

Tanner Pearson -- Jeff Carter -- Tyler Toffoli

Teddy Purcell -- Anze Kopitar -- Dustin Brown

Dwight King -- Nick Shore -- Trevor Lewis

Michael Mersch -- Andy Andreoff -- Jordan Nolan

Nic Dowd

Defensemen

Jake Muzzin -- Drew Doughty

Alec Martinez -- Matt Greene

Rob Scuderi -- Tom Gilbert

Kevin Gravel

Goalies

Jonathan Quick

Jeff Zatkoff

Peter Budaj

 

Video: NYR@LAK: Kopitar tips OT winner past Lundqvist

The Los Angeles Kings are trying to keep their Stanley Cup championship window open. But at the start of this season, it seems like that window is being propped up by a twig.

Los Angeles lost one of its major offensive cogs when left wing Marian Gaborik sustained a foot injury Sept. 25 playing for Team Europe at the World Cup of Hockey 2016. Gaborik is expected to need eight weeks to recover, but coach Darryl Sutter said he would be re-evaluated after three.

It was a big blow to a team that did not replace significant pieces including left wing Milan Lucic (Edmonton Oilers), center Vincent Lecavalier (retired) and defenseman Luke Schenn (Arizona Coyotes).

After a three-season run that produced two Stanley Cup championships and an appearance in the Western Conference Final from 2011-12 and 2013-14, the Kings have won one Stanley Cup Playoff game.

The Kings were unable to sign any marquee free agents because of NHL salary-cap constraints, but they still have centers Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter, right wing Tyler Toffoli, defenseman Drew Doughty and goalie Jonathan Quick. Kopitar won the Selke Trophy and Doughty the Norris Trophy last season. Quick won a Kings-record 40 games, and Toffoli led them with 31 goals.

But how the secondary players perform could determine where the Kings finish in the Western Conference.

Unrestricted free agent forward Teddy Purcell, who started his NHL career with the Kings, signed a one-year contract on July 6 that's reportedly worth $1.6 million. The Kings also signed backup goaltender Jeff Zatkoff and defenseman Tom Gilbert.

Among the younger players the Kings hope can assume bigger roles are left wings Michael Mersch, a solid two-way forward, and Adrian Kempe, the No. 29 pick of the 2014 NHL Draft. Kempe isn't ready to be an NHL regular but might get a look this season.

Forwards Andy Andreoff, Nick Shore and Nic Dowd, and defensemen Kevin Gravel and Derek Forbort also could get extended opportunities. Nearly all of them have been in the organization for a long time and are well-trained in the Kings' defensive-minded system.

Los Angeles allowed 2.34 goals per game last season, third-best in the NHL, behind the Anaheim Ducks (2.29) and Washington Capitals (2.33). The Kings finished one point behind the Ducks for first place in the Pacific Division.

If their younger players can take some of the offensive pressure off the top players, it would go a long way toward keeping that playoff window open.

 

Why they should make the Stanley Cup Playoffs

The Kings will contend because of the nucleus of Quick, Doughty, Kopitar and Carter. They have enough veteran leadership, plus Sutter, to get them back to the postseason.

Video: SJS@LAK, Gm1: Doughty plays goalie to deny a score

 

Why they could miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs

The Kings lack depth offensively, and the younger players are more suited to a plodding game than the skating and creativity of today's NHL.

 

Breakout candidate

Kempe. The 20-yer-old left wing had 11 goals and 28 points in 55 games with Ontario of the American Hockey League last season, his first in North America. He drives hard to the net and has skill, and this could be the season he gets to display that with the Kings.

 

On the hot seat

Dustin Brown. The right wing, who lost his role as captain June 16, has had fewer than 30 points in three straight seasons. At times last season he was a shell of the bruising power forward from earlier in his career. Losing the captaincy to Kopitar will either fuel him or hinder his identity.

Video: LAK@SJS, Gm3: Brown gets physical with Dillon

 

Trophy candidates

Quick (Vezina, Jennings); Doughty (Norris); Kopitar (Selke)

 

Quotable

"I don't think it's crossed anyone's mind that the quote-unquote [Stanley Cup] window is shut. That's for people outside the locker room to say. I think the future's bright." -- defenseman Alec Martinez

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