While the 2017-18 season ended with more of a whimper than Kings fans hoped for, we still learned a lot about the team, its players, and the direction for the future. Over the course of the next month, we’ll dive into the Kings’ roster and take a look at what worked, what didn’t work, and what things might look like in the coming season. Today, we’re taking a look at Jeff Carter, his injury-shortened season, and whether he’ll be able to bounce back.
During the 2016-17 season, we were practically ready to anoint Jeff Carter league MVP for the way that he carried the Kings. His 66 points were not only his highest since the 2010-11 season, but the first time someone other than Anze Kopitar led the Kings in scoring in 10 years. (The last non-Kopitar leader? Mike Cammalleri in 2006-07.) He earned a well-deserved nod to the All-Star Team, his first since 2008-09. At a time when others in his draft class were struggling to keep up with the pace of the league, or were out of the NHL all together, Carter showed that he could still hang with the kids.
At the close of 2016-17, we wondered if Carter would be able to repeat his performance. Even a slight regression would still have him putting up points in the high 50s, making him a strong option to help carry the Kings both down the center and on the scoresheet. Everyone seemed to agree that Anze Kopitar’s down year was an anomaly, and Kings fans were excited to see the kind of damage a one-two punch of a rejuvenated Kopitar and Carter could do.
Surely, we thought, they would continue to provide a primary scoring punch for a team that so often struggles to find goals.
Well, we were half right.
Anze Kopitar had a career high in points, retaking his spot at the top of the Kings’ score sheet.
Jeff Carter, well:
A hit along the boards, an errant skate, a freak play, and just six games in, Jeff Carter’s entire season was derailed due to a lacerated tendon.
The Kings got by without him, for the most part. Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown found magic together again. Adrian Kempe showed, after some growing pains, that he can be a viable option down the middle for the Kings. Rookie Mike Amadio won a more or less regular spot on the bottom line, thanks to the reshuffling of centers.
When Carter returned in February, he was touted as better than any deadline pickup the Kings could have made, which generally proved itself to be true. In 21 games after returning from injury, Carter put up 19 points, including his first regular season hat trick since 2013.
Of course, there were moments where Carter’s timing looked a little suspect, or when he missed shots that he usually would have capitalized on. At times over the Kings’ brief playoff run, he looked worn out. Some of that could have been the toll of being a 33-year old coming back from a major injury before he should have. Some of that could have been the Kings’ struggle to adapt to the play of the Vegas Golden Knights.
During the playoffs, Carter had the worst Corsi stats of any top six player (42.97% over the series), was on the ice for more scoring chances against than for (19 for, versus 37 against). He was underwater in terms of faceoff wins, an anomaly for Carter (only in game three did he break even; at no point in the series did he win more faceoffs than he lost). He went scoreless over the four games, but then again, so did almost everybody else on the Kings — only seven players recorded any points, and only Anze Kopitar recorded more than one point.
The limited sample of games that he played in, and the knowledge that he was coming back off of a severe injury, makes it hard to make any meaningful conjecture from his statistics. It’s almost as if we need to ignore 2017-18 as a blip, an error in the system, much in the same way as we look back at Anze Kopitar’s ‘16-17 season. Carter’s injury taught us more about the Kings and their continual struggles to find depth scoring than it did about Carter himself. This past season reminded us that even the fairly durable Carter — this was his first major injury since the 2011-12 season — is still fallible, and that the Kings still have few answers for primary scoring from people not named Anze Kopitar.
So we look back to our predictions at the close of the 2016-17 season. Is there any reason why Jeff Carter cannot replicate his scoring success of past seasons? Based on his play over the last 21 games of the season, games where he was admittedly not at 100% health and still produced at a rate of just under a point per game, it’s fair to say that he should rebound next season.
Carter is notorious for his dedication to fitness and there’s little doubt that he will show up for the start of the season in fine shape. And while a decline in play will happen someday — time comes for us all, even if your name is Jaromir Jagr — there’s no real reason to expect Carter’s play to drop off a cliff in the coming season. And as before, even if his play starts to decline, a season in which he puts up even 50 points is still a positive for the Kings.
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