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2021 Division Preview: The Kings might be fun

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With all of their prospects blooming into reality, Los Angeles could be fairly entertaining.

Minnesota Wild v Los Angeles Kings Photo by Juan Ocampo/NHLI via Getty Images

It has been a long time since the Los Angeles Kings were competitive in any sense but for a lottery. The days of lifting trophies as the crowned corsi kings and being in conversation as the next dynasty are unfortunately over for them, but with all that failure came high draft picks.

Their amateur scouting staff had their work cut out for them but they absolutely nailed it with the options they had. The Kings are privy to the unquestionable top prospect pool across the NHL and might reap some of that reward in the upcoming season. It has been a miserable couple of years for Kings fans, bottoming out completely into the previously unknown territories of the league standings, but at least they were able to draft Quinton Byfield second overall a couple months ago.

No matter what, they will still be a terrible team in terms of points, standings, and everything that kind of matters, but they will have some more exciting players on this roster.

The Fresh Faces

Quinton Byfield, F

It’s still undetermined whether or not the teenager will make the final roster, but he has all the potential to do so, especially looking across the Kings’ current forward depth. Fresh off of a silver medal at the World Juniors, Byfield was one of Canada’s best players at the tournament and has been a force for the Sudbury Wolves in the OHL in the past. His 6-foot-4 frame can be a presence on the ice and he has the offensive skills to boot.

Byfield — along with Alex Turcotte, Tobias Bjornfot and Arthur Kaliyev — is going to appear at Kings training camp and will try to make the final cut. I’m confident at least one of the four will appear on the ice in the opening matchup against the Minnesota Wild on Jan. 14, but Byfield is the most exciting and new option.

Like, c’mon, whoever the hell Blake Lizotte is, is your second line center currently.

Andreas Athanasiou, F

Signed to a one-year, $1.2-million contract recently, Athanasiou provides something that the Kings haven’t had in a while and is getting more of recently: Speed. He sure can blast down the wing like no one else, but he still lacks the overall game to really make an impact. Once heralded as the next breakout star for the Detroit Red Wings, the 26-year-old has landed in Los Angeles to restart his career on a team with wide open opportunities.

Lias Andersson, F

The former New York Rangers prospect that is known for chucking silver medals into the stands was acquired by the Kings for a second-round pick this off-season. Another forward looking for a fresh start on a team with no real cemented positions aside from Anze Kopitar and a few others, Andersson is riding the wave of high draft pick status.

He performed fairly well in his loan at HV71 of the SHL the last couple of seasons, most recently scoring five goals and 11 points through 19 games, but the 22-year-old is getting dangerously close to the post-hype prospect level of performance. If he can breakout with the Kings, then it’s worth it, but it’s a fairly big chance to take.

Olli Maatta, D

Yet another skater that was deemed to become a stable NHL force, Maatta has slunk back into the depths of terrible teams with the Kings. He comes into the worst blue line in the entire league — that is not arguable — and will get ample ice-time to figure it out at the top level.

At least he doesn’t have to prove that he isn’t a minor-league defenseman. Maatta just has to be able to make Drew Doughty look better than he is and that might be the most difficult thing in the NHL to do.

The Departures

Trevor Lewis, F

A long-time Kings forward that was part of the Cups left as a free agent and recently signed a PTO with the Winnipeg Jets. The former Los Angeles first-round pick has been with the organization since 2006 and has been one of the premier examples when it comes to depth forwards around the league.

Part of the analytical darling Kings teams, Lewis is closing in on the end of his career at the age of 33 but he might still have something left to give. In the end, it didn’t make sense to keep him around and the Kings will hand his role to a player that is younger and has more potential.

Tim Schaller, F

I completely forgot Schaller was even on the Kings to be honest. He’s currently an unrestricted free agent, so he could come back, but due to his age and status with the team, it most likely won’t happen.

He only played two games for the Kings and then played five more for the Ontario Reign, so he’s not really a departure on the same level as Lewis, but he was still someone that is not with the team anymore after being acquired in the Tyler Toffoli deal last trade deadline.

Ben Hutton, D

Another player that is currently swimming in free agency with some destinations in mind, Hutton was a King for the entire season last year and didn’t really supply anything but being a body on the ice for opposing forwards to skate around.

Truth be told, the Kings didn’t depart with a ton of players last year, but is just in this weird phase of promoting prospects and young talent, all while recycling some of the older parts. The Adrian Kempe and Alex Iafallos of the roster will get more opportunities to prove that they are capable of being top-end offensive contributors when the other prospects come into town.

The Difference Makers

Anze Kopitar, F

Whether or not the Kings finish at the bottom of the division or somewhere else relatively respectable, all comes down on the shoulders of Kopitar. The established center has seen terrible years and very good years, but with some more offensive help coming, his burden shall be marginally lifted.

He scored 62 points in 70 games last season so he was certainly feeling it offensively and his defensive game still holds a high reputation as the Selke Trophy in his wardrobe can attest to. He can be brilliant so he just has to fight off that age curve a little bit longer until a younger stud center can take over the top role.

Gabriel Vilardi, F

This is a kind of dark horse pick. There is no way in hell that I’m calling Drew Doughty a difference maker unless it’s about the different amount of trash he ingests on a daily basis.

Vilardi has had immense injury trouble in the past and has had past seasons completely written off because of it. But last year he made his triumphant comeback and was able to really put up some points at the age of 20. Through 35 games with the Reign, the young center scored nine goals and 25 points, earning him a call-up to the Kings, where he kept that production going with three goals and seven points through 10.

We should be well aware of a player making a significant impression in the late season and then bursting on to the scene the following campaign. (I’m talking about Kevin Fiala.)

Predicting the Season

The Kings are still going to be a horrendous team next season. Even if everything breaks right, they will still be in the bottom half of this division and looking up at the playoff spots. I feel extremely confident of every matchup against the Minnesota Wild, to be frank.

Each time the two teams collide this upcoming season, it will be a perfect combination of skills that should tilt in the Wild’s favor. The Kings’ best attributes are their forwards and the Wild have one of the most capable shutdown blue lines in the league, it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to predict that a majority of the games will go Minnesota’s way.

As for a random record against the Californian club, I’ll say it will be 5-2-1, just to give some hope going into 2021. It’s not too heavy in the wins and I even threw in an overtime loss just to spice it up.

The matches can either be a boring affair or an all-out offensive competition if head coach Dean Evason decides to play into it. No matter what, Wild hockey is back and I cannot wait.