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2021-22 Los Angeles Kings Preview: Weak division could open door to playoffs

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May 13, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; Los Angeles Kings right wing Adrian Kempe (9) takes a shot on net of the Colorado Avalanche during the third period at Ball Arena. Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

While the rivalry between the Bay Area and Los Angeles is long and storied, there’s been little dispute lately between the Los Angeles Kings and the San Jose Sharks. Both teams have missed the playoffs for the last few seasons, and that means there’s no seven-game series to stoke the fires of the California rivalry.

Perhaps that will change this year. The two teams don’t play their first game until January 21, 2022, and one or both of them may be in the playoff hunt at that time.

Here’s to hoping ...

Where they left off

For the last three seasons, the Kings have worked on a rebuild. Their core is aging, but their prospect pool is one of the strongest in the league. Despite their 21-28-7 record last season, the Kings had stretches where they looked good. Though they ultimately missed the playoffs, many prospects took a step forward in the shortened season.

At the trade deadline, Los Angeles made a few moves, sending Jeff Carter to the Pittsburgh Penguins for a 2022 conditional third-round pick and a 2023 conditional fourth-round pick.

They also announced a four-year extension for Alex Iaffalo, locking up the 27-year-old forward at $4 million per year.

2021 Entry Draft

The Kings lost defenseman and tough guy Kurtis MacDermid to the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft.

A few days later, they added more depth to their prospect pool. With the eighth overall pick of the draft, the Kings snagged 18-year-old Brandt Clarke, a 6-foot-2, 190-pound defenseman, who has great potential if he can hone his skills. They signed him to a three-year, entry-level contract at $925,000 per year.

On Day 2, the Kings traded up to snag Francesco Pinelli with the 42nd pick. Pinelli is a center with an upside of his own. In fact, Eyes on the Prize projected that he had the potential to go late in the first round, while Hockey Wilderness called Pinelli “one of the smartest centers in the draft.”

LA saw further opportunity later in the second round. The team traded up again to grab Samuel Helenius with the 59th pick. Last Word in Sports says Helenius is a good skater for his 6-foot-6 size, and he has an “outstanding” wrist shot.

The third round saw the Kings make another move. They traded up to take Kirill Kirsanov with the 84th pick. The 18-year-old spent the last season in the KHL, playing for SKA St. Petersburg. He may find his way to the NHL as soon as this coming season.

All that trading up had its consequences. Kirsanov was the team’s last pick of the 2021 draft. With just four prospects added in the 2021 draft, the Kings were going for quality over quantity.

Roster

Los Angeles seems to think a weak Pacific Division — due in large part to the current state of the San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks, and the unknown quantity in the Seattle Kraken — leaves the door open for a potential spot in the playoffs.

While the Kings are coming out of a rebuild, their core is still intact. Next season, Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick are all on board. The team added around their core this summer, trading for Viktor Arvidsson in early July, before making some big pickups during free agency.

LA landed one of the biggest names on the market when they signed two-way center Phillip Danault. Between Kopitar and Danault, the Kings will have a scary one-two punch down the middle that will be effective in both the offensive and defensive zones.

They also added some supporting pieces, signing defenseman Alex Edler to a one-year, $3.5 million contract and extending forwards Trevor Moore and Andreas Athanasiou.

When it comes to the Kings, don’t be surprised if one or more prospects make the opening night roster. Dynamic players like Quinton Byfield, Alex Turcotte or Akil Thomas may be ready to make the jump to the NHL for good. Of the three, Byfield is the most likely. He played in six NHL games last season.

As it stands now, Daily Faceoff projects the opening night lineup could look something like this:

Forwards
Alex Iafallo — Anze Kopitar — Viktor Arvidsson
Adrian Kempe — Phillip Danault — Dustin Brown
Trevor Moore — Quinton Byfield — Andreas Athanasiou
Jaret Anderson-Dolan — Blake Lizotte — Gabriel Vilardi

Defenders
Mikey Anderson — Drew Doughty
Alex Edler — Sean Walker
Tobias Bjornfort — Matt Roy

Goaltenders
Cal Petersen
Jonathan Quick

What can we expect in 2021-22?

One thing’s for certain, the Kings are not likely to be the basement dwellers they were in the past few seasons. In fact, they have a real shot at making the playoffs.

As mentioned before, the Sharks and the Ducks have not drastically improved. The Calgary Flames are coming off a tough season and may not bounce back. Of the rest — Edmonton Oilers, Seattle Kraken, Vancouver Canucks and Vegas Golden Knights — the only sure thing appears to be the Golden Knights.

Despite the downturn in points the last few seasons, the Sharks always seem to circle a few dates on their calendars, including the games against the Kings. No matter where the two teams are in the standings when they meet in January, expect the game to be heavy-hitting and filled with action.