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Kings season preview: Kopitar, Kovalchuk counted on to jolt offense

Hope new coach McLellan's influence boosts production of veterans, locks down defense

by Brett Amadon / NHL.com Staff Writer

The 2019-20 NHL season begins Oct. 2. With training camps open, NHL.com is taking a look at the five keys, the inside scoop on roster questions, and the projected lines for each of the 31 teams. Today, the Los Angeles Kings.

Coach: Todd McLellan (first season)

Last season: 31-42-9; eighth place Pacific Division

 

5 KEYS

 

1. Offense needs to produce

The Kings scored the second-fewest goals (199) in the NHL last season behind the Anaheim Ducks (196), their power-play ranked 27th (15.8 percent), and they averaged 28.8 shots per game, tied with the New York Islanders for second-fewest in the NHL.

If Los Angeles is going to produce more this season, it will need its top players to step up, including forwards Tyler Toffoli (whose shooting percentage of 5.8 percent was the worst among NHL forwards with at least 175 shots on goal), Ilya Kovalchuk and center Anze Kopitar.

 

2. Bounce back from Kopitar, Kovalchuk

Kopitar had 60 points (22 goals, 38 assists) last season, his second fewest in 12 full NHL seasons, and although his 22 goals were tied with forward Dustin Brown for most on the Kings, they were second-fewest among NHL team leaders ahead of forwards Brad Richardson and Alex Galchenyuk of the Arizona Coyotes (19). Kopitar, who turned 32 on Aug. 24, has shown he can bounce back in the past. He had 52 points (12 goals, 40 assists) in 76 games in 2016-17 before being named a Hart Trophy finalist for NHL MVP the following season when he scored an NHL career-high 92 points (35 goals, 57 assists) in 82 games.

Kovalchuk's return to the NHL after more than five seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League was a disappointment, with 34 points (16 goals, 18 assists) in 64 games, his lowest point total in a full NHL season. Los Angeles needs improvement from the 36-year-old, who has scored more than 40 goals six times in his NHL career.

Video: VGK@LAK: Kopitar buries his first PPG of the season

 

3. Quick fix

Jonathan Quick is coming off his worst full NHL season (16-23-7, 3.38 goals-against average, .888 save percentage, two shutouts) and there are questions regarding whether the goalie can stay healthy. The 33-year-old was limited to 46 starts last season because of surgery for a torn meniscus, two season after playing 17 games because of a non-surgical procedure for a lower-body injury. In 2013-14, a strained groin sidelined him for almost two months.

Jack Campbell (10-14-1, 2.30 GAA, .928 save percentage, two shutouts in 31 games) proved he is more than capable as a backup; if Quick can stay healthy, with a lightened workload, he could return to his form from 2017-18, when he won the William M. Jennings Trophy for allowing the fewest goals among qualified goalies.

Video: Top 10 saves of 2018-19: Quick

 

4. No rest for defense

Usually their strength, the Kings uncharacteristically struggled in their end last season, finishing 22nd in the NHL at 3.16 goals-against per game, their worst ranking since finishing 28th 2007-08 (3.21). The Kings ranked 29th on the penalty kill (76.5 percent), their worst since 1989-90 (75.9 percent).

Los Angeles will lean heavily on veteran defenseman Drew Doughty, Derek Forbort and Alec Martinez, but after buying out Dion Phaneuf and trading Oscar Fantenberg (Calgary Flames) and Jake Muzzin (Toronto Maple Leafs) last season, its younger defensemen, including Sean Walker and Matt Roy, each 24, will have to take on bigger roles.

Video: CHI@LAK: Doughty's PPG gives Kings overtime win

 

5. McLellan's impact

The new coach is familiar with the Pacific Division after spending the past 11 seasons as coach of the San Jose Sharks (2008-15) and Edmonton Oilers (2015-18), which could help ease the transition. One of the main tasks for the 51-year-old will be turning around the offense, something he has shown an ability to do in the past. As an assistant with the Detroit Red Wings, his influence helped them lead the NHL on the power play in 2005-06 (22.1 percent) and finish third in 2007-08 (20.7 percent). In McLellan's 10 full NHL seasons as a coach, his teams have finished in the top eight in goals per game five times and on the power play seven times.

 

ROSTER RUNDOWN

 

Making the cut

The Kings' top six defensemen appear to be set with the signing of Joakim Ryan to a one-year, $725,000 contract on July 1. There is a chance for a rookie to stick in the bottom six forwards, with Jaret Anderson-Dolan, Rasmus Kupari and Gabriel Vilardi among the candidates. Kupari will move to North America this season after the 19-year-old had 33 points (12 goals, 21 assists) in 43 games for Karpat in Liiga, Finland's top professional league, but will most likely start the season with Ontario in the American Hockey League. Vilardi was limited to four AHL games last season before being shut down because of a back problem, but Kings assistant Marco Sturm said in August that if Vilardi is healthy, he'll be in the NHL.

 

Most intriguing addition

Alex Turcotte was selected by Los Angeles with the No. 5 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft after he had 62 points (27 goals, 35 assists) in 37 games for the USA Hockey National Team Development Program Under-18 team last season. The 18-year-old center will play at the University of Wisconsin this season, but it's possible he could sign with the Kings once his season ends.

 

Biggest potential surprise

Quick will turn 34 on Jan. 21 but will have every chance to become the goalie he once was -- he has won the Jennings Trophy twice (2014, 2018), the Conn Smythe Trophy (2012), and is a two-time Vezina Trophy finalist (2012, 2016) -- following a healthy offseason.

 

Ready to break through

Anderson-Dolan got a taste of the NHL last season, getting one assist in five games before being sent back to Spokane of the Western Hockey League, where he had 43 points (20 goals, 23 assists) in 32 games. But the 20-year-old center is strong on the inside, has a good shot, and could stick this time around.

 

Fantasy sleeper

Campbell (average draft position: N/A) could compete with Quick for playing time and is worth handcuffing as a fourth fantasy goalie if you draft Quick in late rounds. -- Pete Jensen

Video: LAK@ANA: Campbell makes series of saves

 

PROJECTED LINEUP

Alex Iafallo -- Anze Kopitar -- Tyler Toffoli

Ilya Kovalchuk -- Adrian Kempe -- Dustin Brown

Carl Grundstrom -- Jaret Anderson-Dolan -- Jeff Carter

Austin Wagner -- Michael Amadio -- Trevor Lewis

Derek Forbort -- Drew Doughty

Alec Martinez -- Matt Roy

Joakim Ryan -- Sean Walker

Jonathan Quick

Jack Campbell

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