The Kings were one of the bigger surprises last year as the team finally had some consistent goaltending, vaulting them to a third-place finish in the Pacific Division and the sixth seed in the Western Conference. An NHL-best 24 road wins backed their decent showing at home (22-13-6), as the Kings ranked sixth in the Western Conference in both goals scored, and goals allowed. As fate would have it, the season abruptly came to an end when the Kings were bounced by Vancouver in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, in a series largely decided by special teams. Much like the Coyotes, the Kings aren’t going to jump up and surprise anyone this season thanks to last year’s surprise showing, so they’ll hope for repeat performances from some of their big guns if they wish to build off last year’s success. The Kings were pretty quiet this offseason even though they’ve been rumored to be in the Ilya Kovalchuk sweepstakes. Consequently, last year’s cast of characters must prove that last season was no fluke.
THE BIG GUNS
Anze Kopitar (C): Kopitar was the only Kings player to rank in the top 50 in points last year, spearheading a balanced offensive attack with a career-high 81 points (34 G, 47 A). He hasn’t missed a game in three years, and has now eclipsed the 30-goal mark in two of the last three years - not too shabby for a 23-year old. He did most of his damage on the power play (14 PPG, 24 PPA) as only four teams scored more goals on the power play than the Kings did last season. He’ll need that trend to continue, plus some solid contributions from Ryan Smyth and Dustin Brown, as he continues to draw more focus from the other team’s top defensive lines.
Drew Doughty (D): So much for the sophomore slump. Doughty more than doubled his respectable totals from his rookie season (6 G, 21 A) and launched himself into the game’s elite with a 16-goal, 43-assist season as a 20-year old, earning himself a spot on Team Canada. He ranked third among defensemen in points, second in goals, fifth in assists, second in power play goals (nine) and fifth in power play assists (22), quarterbacking one of the league’s top power plays. Heck, he even managed to secure a plus-20 with half of his points coming on the power play. It’s hard to expect so much so soon from a defenseman, but he’ll look to build off of last year’s breakout campaign.
ON THE RISE
Jonathan Bernier (G): Bernier was brilliant in his second full season in the AHL. He sported a 30-21-6 record, 2.03 goals-against average, .936 save percentage, and nine shutouts. Also, he opened some eyes by going 3-0 with a 1.30 GAA in three starts for the Kings, filling in for the injured Erik Ersberg in March. Jonathan Quick had a fine regular season before stumbling a bit at the end and into the playoffs, and some early season struggles could give Bernier the break that he needs. Bernier could very easily find himself in one of three roles: backing up Quick, the starter in the AHL, or starting for the Kings when the regular season opens. He may not have a defined role just yet, but he’ll force the Kings’ hands soon enough.
Wayne Simmonds (RW): Simmonds played his way up the lineup last year and it resulted in a fine season (16G, 24A and 116 PIMs). There's no reason why he can't become one of the game's best power forwards, especially if your league counts PIMs. Look for him to build off of last year's success as he'll benefit from the scoring depth of the Kings, even if he doesn't wind up skating on one of the team's top two scoring lines.
TWO TO AVOID
Jonathan Quick (G): Quick posted a gaudy win total (39) last year, but both his goals-against average (2.54) and save percentage (.907) were worse than his outputs from the previous season. He struggled with consistency as the season wore on and that trend continued into the playoffs. But if he holds onto the starting job, there’s no reason why he can’t repeat last year’s effort as the Kings figure to be a playoff team once again. However, the presence of Jonathan Bernier should have Quick owners a little nervous at the first sign of struggles.
Justin Williams (RW): Williams was enjoying a fine season (24 points in 33 games) with the Kings, skating alongside Anze Kopitar and Ryan Smyth, before breaking his leg in late December. He registered just five points in 16 games after the injury and clearly wasn't the same player. It was the third straight season that Williams has missed a significant chunk of games, and it's getting harder and harder to ignore that fact. Watch his role closely this training camp. If he can regain the chemistry on the team's top line, then he could be in for a fine season, but there is also the chance that he could be pressed for ice time by Wayne Simmonds.
Brayden Schenn (C): Schenn made his NHL debut last year thanks to some short-term injuries, but didn't hit the scoresheet in his lone game for the Kings. Still, he had another nice season in the WHL, posting 99 points (34 G, 65 A) in just 59 games. He could press for ice time this training camp, but it's hard to imagine he'll make the jump from the WHL to the NHL without a little seasoning for the Monarchs in the AHL.
Thomas Hickey (D): Hickey's fast track path to the NHL was derailed by a shoulder injury last year, limiting him to just 19 games at the AHL. He's a future quarterback on the power play, though it'll be interesting to see how the Kings handle that with Drew Doughty also on board. The lack of playing time last year likely punches his ticket for the AHL to start the season, though a strong training camp could change those plans. He'll probably get in about a dozen games for the Kings this season while spending most of his time working on his game in the AHL. The future is bright for Hickey, but he'll probably have to wait another season before busting onto the NHL scene.