Now that the worst is behind them – the boring rebuilding of their talent base and philosophy, the ascent from the depths of their league and their return to the playoffs – the Kings should enjoy smooth sailing as they gather for training camp Thursday in El Segundo.
Or maybe not.
“I don’t think the hardest part is behind us. I think the easiest part is behind us,” said coach Todd McClellan.
His reasoning is that while it was difficult to restructure an old, slow team to compete in a youth-driven, fast-paced league, the transformation has been made. Creating a salary cap space by getting rid of big contracts exacerbated the pain but became a win-win as it allowed them to sign helpful free agents and pay winger producer Kevin Fiala, this summer’s top business prize. They rounded up young talent and put together the initial draft picks to become stars.
The next step is pretty steep: building on the progress some of their kids made last season, striving to achieve more from them and other young players while counting on Anzi Kopetar, Drew Doughty and Stanley Cup champion Jonathan Quick, to help lead them into competition again.
The Kings had to go through the qualifiers last season to assure themselves and their fans that the humiliation of their decline after the Cup was a price to be paid for a bright future. Despite the injuries, the Kings gave the Edmonton Oilers a fight and led the first round series 3-2 before the Oilers put them down.
The roof of kings rose. As well as expectations. They must embrace it.
“The hard work is to bridge the gap between the top 10 teams in the league because they are getting better every day,” McClellan said by phone on Wednesday. “So I think we have hard work ahead. The easy work has been done.”
Wednesday was devoted to medical examinations. On Thursday, “We start to straighten out. Someone is getting better and one is down. And we have to make sure we’re one of those teams that gets better every day,” McClellan said of the NHL.
Doughty (wrist surgery) and winger Alex Iafallo (shoulder) are expected to be fine to start camp but the other key players will be missing or less than their full strength.
Defenseman Shawn Walker, who sustained a severe knee injury in six games last season, will be involved, but his workload will be monitored. Defenseman Shawn Dorsey, who had shoulder surgery after his breakout season, will also be physically limited at first. Center Alex Turcot, fifth overall pick in the 2019 draft, has failed physically and is recovering from a concussion.
Winger Viktor Arvidsson is rehabilitating on his own after disc surgery and will not join the team until the season begins. McClellan said the recovery schedule for Arvidson, who scored 20 goals in his first season after his acquisition from Nashville, remains on schedule.
Most questions surrounding Kings will be answered in the next few weeks, before opening on October 11. It seems likely that the question of the goal will remain.
In what appeared to be the moment the torch passed, Cal Petersen started last season’s opening night but couldn’t maintain a high level. Kwik, 36, won first by collecting 2.59 goals-to-average and 0.910 saves, his best in a while. And that was behind the defense that was often bunched together due to injuries.
McClellan laughed when asked about the split target. “I get asked about this every year and I never give a clear and concise answer,” he said. “For me to say we’re going to play this 45 guy and the other 35, I’d be lying because I have no idea how to bring it up.” He’ll go through the performance, with advice from goalkeeper/coach Bill Ranford.
Some areas to improve for kings are obvious. They ranked 20The tenth In the NHL in goals for 2.87 per game. Their play was miserable 27The tenthA success rate of 16.1%. Rank 22second abbreviation With an efficiency of 76.7%. “We have to move to at least this mid-level of the league, if not higher, if we want to take a step forward, and expectations for this group of players and coaches are high,” McClellan said.
Any conversation about the future of the Kings begins with the children who hoarded them during those lean years.
Development of prospect Quinton Byfield, who drafted No. 2 in 2020, was slowed when he broke his ankle in last season’s show. At 6 feet 5 and 220 pounds, he could be third behind Kopetar and Philip Danault if he’s healthy.
“When you use the word expectation, there are some expectations that are placed on him to move the needle,” McClellan said. “It’s not about scoring 50 goals or anything like that, but moving the needle, activating the group and himself. I really think he can do that.”
They also need strikers Yavalo, Garrett Anderson-Dolan, Rasmus Kupari and defender Tobias Björnfoot to make more of an impact. They need Thousand Oaks native Trevor Moore to be the dynamo he was after the All-Star Game, when he scored 10 of his 17 goals. They must learn whether Danault’s career best 27 goals are serendipitous or sustained. Same for Adrien Quimby – his career best with 35 goals. None of that is guaranteed.
This may be, McClellan said, the hardest part about reviving royalty. It also holds the biggest bonus. They had the privilege of facing pressure to win. The next step is a leap of faith.
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.