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2021-22 Season Preview: Don’t count the Kings’ men out yet

The youth in LA just might surprise you.

Vladimir Tkachev #21 of the Los Angeles Kings celebrates his goal with teammates during the third period against the Anaheim Ducks at STAPLES Center on October 9, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. Photo by Andrew D. Bernstein/NHLI via Getty Images

The Los Angeles Kings are entering the 2021-22 season with high hopes and their fans are looking for something to celebrate. The Kings have made the playoffs just twice since their 2014 Stanley Cup win. Both times, their playoff runs ended with quick first-round exits.

Is the rebuild finally complete? Can the Kings find a way back into the postseason?

It’s going to be a season to watch in LA., and this season, you’ll be able to tune in on ESPN+ (blackout restrictions apply). Here’s what to look out for:

Youth Movement

If fans are going to get another taste of the playoffs this year, the youth will have to take a step forward and the veterans will have to take a step back in time.

When the Vegas Golden Knights swept the Kings out of the playoffs in the first round in 2018, LA’s management decided it was time to fully commit to the rebuild. They stopped acquiring players and started acquiring draft picks.

They drafted players like Akil Thomas, Alex Turcotte, Tobias Bjornfot, Quinton Byfield and Alex Laferriere, while trading away veteran players for more picks. What’s resulted since is one of the deepest prospect pools in the league. But it’s now time for those young draft picks to show that they’re ready to take the next step.

Up until a lower-body injury sidelined him in training camp, Byfield was the most likely young forward to impact the team this season. He was expected to center the Kings’ fourth line on opening night, but now he’s week-to-week. He’ll be in the Kings’ line up as soon as he’s cleared to play and could have a huge impact this season.

On the backend, Bjornfot has already made an impact. He played 33 games for the Kings last season and will be tested with tougher matchups this season.

Meanwhile, prospects Turcotte, Thomas, Laferriere, Arthur Kaliyev and Gabriel Vilardi are all expected to start the season with the Kings’ AHL team, the Ontario Reign. As the season progresses, many of the young guys will get a shot at taking a permanent step to the NHL.

Depth Additions

The Kings’ front office must think it’s time to come out of the rebuild because they added depth players in the off-season.

Phillip Danault was the big signing during free agency. The 28-year-old, two-way forward signed a six-year deal on the first day of free agency. Danault is expected to center the Kings’ second line, just behind Anze Kopitar. Kings fans have a lot to be excited about with this new addition. While Danault has yet to show the scoring prowess of Kopitar in his prime, he does have the defensive capabilities that will make the Kings difficult to play against.

Other additions include Viktor Arvidsson, who has two 30-plus goal seasons under his belt. The Kings hope he can find that scoring prowess once again with either Kopitar or Danault. The team also signed defenseman Alex Edler, to add some defensive depth to the line up.

Player to Watch

The player to watch this season won’t be any of the ones mentioned above. You want to keep an eye on goaltender Cal Peterson. This could be the year we see the 26-year-old officially take the net from 35-year-old Jonathan Quick.

Last season, Petersen started 32 games of the Kings, eight more than Quick in the COVID shortened season. Though Petersen finished with an underwhelming 9-18-5 record, he still finished with a somewhat respectable .911 save percentage (23rd in the league) and 2.89 goals against average (39th in the league).

Petersen signed a three-year, $15 million deal in the off-season. Quick has two years left on his contract worth $5.8 million each, according to CapFriendly. If Petersen is going to prove he’s ready for a starting goaltender role, the time is now.

Season Predictions

Home to a Selke Finalist

I’m going to hedge my bet on this one and not say who the Selke finalist will be, but I foresee either Kopitar or Danault making the top three. I think the two skaters will learn from one another and possibly even spur a little healthy competition. Danault finished sixth in last year’s Selke voting and Kopitar finished 12th, so it’s not a stretch to say both will improve in 2021-22.

Headed to the Playoffs

The Kings are a somewhat unknown quantity. They still have veterans from those Stanley Cup runs that can play at an elite level, if only in spurts. They’ve added strong depth around those veterans with the likes of Danault and Arvidsson. Plus, they have young up-and-coming players that could turn some heads around the league.

The question is, does it all come together this season? The Pacific Division is considered one of the weakest divisions in the league, which means the Kings have a chance to sneak into the playoffs and maybe even take that third spot in the Pacific Division.

Don’t count the Kings out of the postseason just yet.