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2016-17 in Review: Brodzinski, Kempe, and LaDue Give Us a Taste of the Future

They didn’t play long enough to get their own articles, but they showed some positive signs.

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For the next month or two, we’ll be taking a look at the players who made the Los Angeles Kings’ 2016-17 season what it was: a crushing disappointment that got people fired an up-and-down journey which managed to be both unusual and familiar. Rather than the good-bad-future-grade format we’ve used in past seasons, we’ll ask a crucial question and answer it using it what we saw this year.

What can Adrian Kempe, Jonny Brodzinski, and Paul LaDue do with a full season in the Kings’ lineup?

2016-17 in Review: “Hey, the Future!”

Player GP G A P Rel CF% Rel SCF% Rel GF% Bonus Stat
Player GP G A P Rel CF% Rel SCF% Rel GF% Bonus Stat
Adrian Kempe 25 2 4 6 2.7% 2.5% -3.1% 34.6 ft Average Shot Distance (largest among forwards)
Jonny Brodzinski 6 0 2 2 9.2% 7.6% 62.5% 12.5 Shots per 60 Minutes (team-best)
Paul LaDue 22 0 8 8 2.0% 6.1% 4.9% 15:24 TOI/Game (5th among current defensemen)

It’s not unusual for a few different Kings to make their NHL debut in the same season. 2015-16 saw five guys play their first NHL game for Los Angeles. This year, it was only three, but where last year’s debutantes were fill-ins who LA didn’t need much out of, this year’s class of first-timers were relied on to bring something new to the lineup. A spark of creativity, a shot mentality, and a dose of stability were expected from each the new guys, and they delivered... but can they follow up on it next year? After all, of last year’s five, one (Weal) got traded, one (Mersch) got stuck in the AHL, and one (Gravel) started in Ontario. Just getting a shot isn’t enough; if you want to be the Forbort of the group and play 82 games, you have to find some sort of consistency and satisfy the coaches.

Adrian Kempe couldn’t be more different than Forbort, of course; though both were highly touted first-round picks, Forbort waited five years after being drafted to make his debut, while Kempe got his first look in LA before being able to drink. (In America, that is; he’s fine in Sweden.) He also came in with higher expectations, and after going ten games without a goal, he ramped those expectations just a bit higher with his first one.

Kempe offered tantalizing glimpses of skill, such as the one above, in most of his appearances this season. Darryl Sutter wasn’t overly stingy with his ice time and gave him an opportunity to succeed with a variety of linemates in a mostly offensive role. And he looked like he belonged! But Kempe’s speed and hands, while impressive to watch, didn’t always help the Kings; he occasionally struggled to get in good shooting positions (no other forward took their shots from further away, on average) and to keep opponents out of their own good shooting positions. With a full season, Kempe can provide an offensive kick-start and fill third line minutes... if that third line isn’t a shutdown line.

Jonny Brodzinski only had six games to prove himself, and though they all came with the Kings’ fate already sealed, he only had one real job: get the puck on net. He did that, racking up five shot attempts per game despite getting 12 minutes a night to do it. Brodzinski didn’t let the coaches down in any other respect, as the Kings largely carried play and only gave up one goal with #76 on the ice, but he was unable to score his first career goal in his brief cameo despite some great chances. Brodzinski has work to do to win a job next season, but his AHL performance (27 goals, 49 points in 59 games) show he’s more than capable of finding the net next season in LA. With a full season, Brodzinski can post double-digit goals and triple-digit shots... though some healthy scratches might be in his future.

(Bonus points for chemistry with Kempe.)

Paul LaDue was, of these three, the most likely to make his debut this season. After earning rave reviews in training camp and half a season of “prove that wasn’t a fluke” in Ontario, LaDue only needed an opening, and though Kevin Gravel got dibs on a call-up, Tom Gilbert got waived to give LaDue a crack. And LaDue took advantage of it, playing in 22 of 29 games in the final two months of the season. (To compare, Gravel played 11.) LaDue lived up to the mild hype, not wowing anyone offensively but looking mostly solid on defense and slotting into the power play rotation. LaDue spent most of his time with Jake Muzzin and Brayden McNabb, and though he shared Muzzin’s goals-against issues at times, he performed slightly above-average relative to teammates during the Kings’ swoon. With the likelihood that McNabb or Forbort is left exposed for the expansion draft, LaDue should be penciled into the third pairing next season. With a full season, LaDue can play 16-18 minutes a night and succeed with a number of partners... if the Kings don’t go out and ask a veteran D-man to play big minutes.

Last 2016-17 in Review Entry: Who We Will Miss, Won’t Miss, and Might Miss

Next 2016-17 in Review Entry: A Cavalcade of Goaltenders

Catch up on our full 2016-17 in Review series here.