2019-20 Season Preview: The Forwards
2018-19 was a disaster for Kings forwards, but with a little luck and a better system, they could be just fine...
As we’ve harped on since game five last year (maybe, mostly me), the Los Angeles Kings’ 2018-19 season was a complete disaster. Most of us knew it from the start. For some, it didn’t sink in until Jake Muzzin was traded and Luc Robitaille sent the letter to season ticket holders. The final product resulted in a 30th place finish in the standings and 71 points. It was the club’s fewest full season point total since they had 2006-07 when they had 68.
But this year could be different with Rob Blake finally hiring a quality NHL level head coach in Todd McLellan to take over for Willie Desjardins. The players have responded to The Plan and looked more than competitive in the pre-season going 4-2-1. While many see the future, others see another disaster, and even worse according to the USA Today:
The key could lay in the offense where the Kings produced a paltry 202 goals good for 30th in the league. This could all change if the likes of Anze Kopitar, Tyler Toffoli, Jeff Carter, and Ilya Kovalchuk rebound from their individual disasters and return to form. With that in mind, let’s dive into the thirteen forwards who made the opening night roster:
Michael Amadio, Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter, Kyle Clifford, Carl Grundstrom, Alex Iafallo, Adrian Kempe, Ilya Kovalchuk, Anze Kopitar, Trevor Lewis, Blake Lizotte, Tyler Toffoli, Austin Wagner.
The four lines are shaping up to look something like this:
The Top Line
Alex Iafallo, Left Wing. Thirty-three points from a top line left winger isn’t exactly what you dream of, but Iafallo leads the league in “doing the things that you don’t see on the scorecard” and makes Anze Kopitar comfy out there so I guess we like him too. You can’t argue at his new contract ($2.425 million AAV), his forechecking, and disruption of the opposition’s passing game.
Anze Kopitar, Center. In the off-season I wrote in the JFTC Season in Review “Will Anze Kopitar Return to his Dr. Jekyll Selke Form?” The simple answer is yes. Look for him to respond to a better coach and be the beast in the middle for the Kings. It’s fair to say he will shoot more and be the best player on the ice, game after game. Look for 85 points and a Selke finalist from him.
Dustin Brown, Right Wing. Once upon a time, Brown’s contract ($5.85 million AAV) was bloated and everyone wanted the Vegas Golden Knights to pick him up in the expansion draft. Today, his 132 points over the last two seasons look like a bargain considering the salary escalation for players in the 50-point range. For a full list of the guys making $5 million or more and produce at equal or lesser value, check out Brownie’s JFTC Season in Review.
Second Line - “The Redemption Line”
Ilya Kovalchuk, Left Wing. Todd McLellan and the Kings really want Kovalchuk to play D. I am sure they will beg. After the 2-0 loss to Anaheim, TMac said, “Real good spurts and then some structure things that we have to work on, but we’ll continue to work with him. You can see the talent, the creativity at times, but then there are other times when we need to be really structured and doing things right because we’re relying on five pieces working together. So that’s where we’re at with Kovy right now.” Not much has changed from the Kings perspective currently and The Athletic just predicted that he will not be a member of the Kings at some point in 2020, so there’s that. JFTC Season in Review.
Adrian Kempe, Center. With he prettiest flow on the team (debatable, I suppose), his pure, raw speed is ready to make the leap this year in his new coach’s system. He’s projected as a 25-goal-a-year guy and could very well get there playing between Carter and Kovalchuk. He goes to the front of the net with authority and his physical game is starting to gain its footing. Top 25 under 25, #2.
Jeff Carter, Right Wing. The good news is Carter matched his goal production from the previous season. The bad news is that it took him 49 more games to do it. It was simply his the worst season of his career. Carter’s points-per-60 rate of 0.87 was ranked near the bottom amongst regular NHL forwards. JFTC Season in Review.
Third Line - “The Potential Line”
Austin Wagner / Carl Grundstrom, Left Wing. Wagner and Grundstrom should alternate in this spot until one of them seizes control. Wagner has speed to burn, but has trouble finishing. Grundstrom showed well after the Muzzin trade, but his pre-season was up and down with noted “consistency issues” and lack of experience that puts his ice positioning in tricky spots during games. JFTC Season in Review.
Blake Lizotte, Center. He’s the darling of the team right now. An undrafted college free agent that made everyone gush in the pre-season scoring four points (1G, 3A) and pushing the likes of Matt Luff and Nikolai Prokhorkin back to the AHL. The CBS Sports Fantasy team projects his 2019-20 stat line here: 33 points (13G, 19A) on 133 shots on goal as the third line center.
Tyler Toffoli, Right Wing. Once tabbed as the next great goal scorer in the mold of “Lucky” Luc Robitaille, Toffoli’s luck ran out last year. Like Jeff Carter, he had multiple stretches of 18-plus games without a goal and his shooting percentage finished at just 5.8 percent. He remains the only player in the NHL who had over 200 shots on goal and didn’t score 20 goals. He’s on the third line now in a contract season. The Kings need his 30 goal potential to return, but many are speculating he will be traded before hitting that mark. JFTC Season in Review.
Fourth Line - “Inspiration Line”
Kyle Clifford, Left Wing. The King of Intangibles is back, ready to drop the gloves when needed or spice things up with a big goal. Other than Dustin Brown, Cliffy is the heart and soul of this team and will contribute at all levels from his comfortable spot on this line and his 10.5 minutes a night. JFTC Season in Review.
Michael Amadio, Center. Four goals on 16 shots solidified his spot on the opening night roster. This has to be his year to shine and if he embraces the forecheck on the fourth line, we could see him as a fixture here for years to come. JFTC Season in Review.
Trevor Lewis, Right Wing. The injury bug has stricken the Kings unsung hero as of late. But as I wrote in the JFTC Season in Review, we can reasonably expect Lewis to move back to his 2017-18 form within Todd McLellan’s accountability system and the hope is that that the forward whisperer will cajole 30 points from Lewis. If the Kings can squeeze 75 games out of him, his status of Staples Center Cult Favorite will be preserved.