USATSI_8506743_154158418_lowresThe Los Angeles Kings proved to be human after all in 2014-2015, coming up short and missing the post-season for the first time in six years. They posted a 40-27-15 record and managed 95 points, but they were still out of the running despite being just two points back on the playoff-bound Calgary Flames. The Kings scored 218 goals and only allowed a meagre 197 goals.

Despite their defensive prowess and despite posting a stellar home record of 25-9-7, it wasn’t meant to be. There were reasons for the Kings’ misfire, but the team made no excuses. Injuries were a problem and fatigue was an issue. Los Angeles had played 64 playoff games over the course of the previous three seasons and they finally ran out of gas when it mattered most.

The Kings are far from having to rebuild or refashion themselves in order to make up for shortcomings and this team should still reach the 40-win mark in 2015-2016. Still, there were some changes and some losses. The biggest addition comes in the form of Milan Lucic, while Jarret Stoll wasn’t re-signed and Mike Richards was cast out of the kingdom.

Offence

Up front, this is a group that looks a little thin at the centre ice position. Anze Kopitar will certainly anchor that top unit and that’s a good thing. He’s a world class player with great hands and creativity. Kopitar scored 64 points last season, including 48 assists, and he makes his teammates better. The prospect of him playing with Lucic is awe-inspiring.

Having Lucic in the fold is another good thing. The 27-year-old can change the tempo of a game with a big hit or big play, plus he’ll stand up for his teammates at both ends of the ice. He scored 44 points last season in 81 games. Marian Gaborik is also a force for the Kings. The 33-year-old winger is still an elite player, coming up with 47 points in 69 games last season. He can roll with the punches.

Things start to thin out offensively after that, but the Kings still have a lot to work with. Jeff Carter is still an excellent option, thank goodness. He scored 62 points in 82 games and can be used on the wing as well. Nick Shore will see more ice time by default. He scored seven points in 34 games last season and he’s got an underrated shot, even if he’s a little on the small side.

Defence

Defensively, this is Drew Doughty’s team. The 25-year-old blueliner averaged nearly 29 minutes of ice time a game last season. He posted 46 points in 82 games, was a plus-three and had 219 shots on goal. Doughty drives the Kings and will do so for years to come, using his elite skills at both ends of the ice to making it happen. At times, he’s a fourth forward.

After Doughty, the picture is a little muddy. The Kings saw Andrej Sekera and Robyn Regehr depart for different reasons, while Slava Voynov is a gigantic question mark for obvious reasons. Luckily, the recent signing of Christian Ehrhoff opens things up a bit. Jake Muzzin and Alec Martinez can also slip in on a top pairing.

Brayden McNabb continues to be their best non-Doughty option in a lot of ways, though. The 24-year-old had 24 points last season and packs the size his position demands. He can join the rush offensively, plus he’s got a bit of a mean streak. McNabb does need more consistency in his game, but that will come as he starts to collect more ice time.

Goaltending

Jonathan Quick played in 72 games last season and he would’ve played more had the Kings allowed it. The 29-year-old netminder is the ace in the hole and he gives the team a chance to win every single game. He had a 2.24 goals against average last season and was the biggest reason Los Angeles was so stingy. He had six shutouts.

The Kings inked Jhonas Enroth as a free agency in 2015 and he’ll bring some stability to the backup role. He played 50 games last season between the Buffalo Sabres and Dallas Stars before Los Angeles snagged him this summer. Enroth had a 3.07 goals against average, but he’s a quick and agile goalie. He can handle the pressure if Quick goes down.

Prospects

The Kings are taking a hard look at Valentin Zykov, the 20-year-old Russian winger. They drafted him in the second round in 2013 and are looking at 2015-2016 to be his year. He has a strong lower base and is hard to knock off the puck. Zykov will likely begin his season with the Ontario Reign, but that may not last long.

Defenceman Derek Forbort has been in the Kings’ system for five years and is considered their most NHL-ready prospect. He’s played at the University of North Dakota for three seasons and finally arrived at the Manchester Monarchs last season. Forbort has a lot of upside. He’s got worthy size and he’ll play solid minutes, plus he can move the puck.

The Path Ahead

The Kings are rested and ready. They’ll make the playoffs and they may even challenge for another Cup. Maybe. They’re a little on the top-heavy side and could use more offensive depth, plus they’ll face some trouble at centre if Nick Shore doesn’t pan out yet. Doughty could also use help defensively, but at least Quick will shoulder the load and then some.

This is a good hockey team, no question about it. The Kings have the tenacity and drive to overcome their shortcomings. And barring injury troubles and more off-ice drama, this should be yet another respectable year for Los Angeles.

Advertisements