Once a powerhouse in the Western Conference and the National Hockey League, the Los Angeles Kings were forced to do what all great teams must do. Rebuild. After winning their second championship in three years in 2014, the Kings struggled to maintain relevancy in the league and found themselves missing the playoffs four times in the next six years. While they may have been towards the bottom of the standings the last few years, Los Angeles is entering into its new era of hockey.
Likely leading the charge of the new era of Los Angeles’ hockey is Quinton Byfield. Byfield, 17, was most recently drafted second overall by the Kings in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. An aging core on all fronts caused the Kings to restack the prospect pool up front, drafting a forward in the first round in four consecutive drafts. Los Angeles’ newest selection has the potential to have one of the highest developmental ceilings in the entirety of the 2020 draft and that possibility starts with his big frame of 6’4″ and 214lbs. Byfield is a combination of size and skill, using his body to put up incredible numbers while maintaining an excellent two way game. Last season Byfield tallied 32 goals and 82 points in 45 games, solid numbers for a seventeen year old. While it will take some time, Byfield has the potential to turn into a King’s cornerstone, Anze Kopitar, who Byfield will be learning under as he enters the league.
“When you look at his skill level, it’s very, very good, but it’s the completeness of the effort that competitiveness stands out with his size, his skating, his determination to impact the game everywhere on the ice. We use the term ‘200-foot player’, but that’s where Quinton Byfield really establishes himself. So, when you look at his projection into the NHL I see him clearly as a number one two-way center in the mold of the LA Kings’ Anze Kopitar.” – TSN Director of Scouting Craig Button
Slotting in as another key piece of the King’s future is Alex Turcotte. Turcotte, 19, was drafted with the 5th overall selection in the 2019 NHL Draft and spent last season playing for the University of Wisconsin. During his first season of collegiate hockey, Turcotte scored 9 goals and 26 points in 29 games. Amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic, Turcotte will be turning professional, but instead of forgoing college and heading to the American Hockey League, he’ll be loaned to Eisbaren Berlin of Germany’s DEL. Turcotte’s style of play relates heavily to Byfield, being an excellent two-way player while also being the kind of player to go to work in the dirty areas.
“He’s one of those kids who’s always working on the ice. You think about the Brendan Gallagher’s and the Jake Guentzel’s. Those players who never stop moving, never stop working. They’re obsessed with all the little details in the game. They’re angry when they lose a faceoff or lose a battle in the corner that leads to a goal against. You can tell that they care… Turcotte’s one of those kids where you can just see it when he’s on the ice and that’s rare in a player.”
Along with these two Los Angeles has a plethora of young talent waiting in the wings including the likes of Gabe Vilardi, Arthur Kaliyev, Rasmus Kupari and Akil Thomas. While some of these players have gotten a taste of the NHL with the Kings, as time goes on the organization would like to see them continue to make progress and become fixtures in the lineup. The Kings up front are certainly in a transitional phase bringing in a lot of youth, but still have the veteran presence of players such as Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Jeff Carter to mold them as they play and continue to develop.
The next era of Kings’ hockey may be stronger up front, but they still have a handful of great young players on the backend and between the pipes. Two defensemen to watch as the Kings continue their rebuild are Kale Clague and Tobias Bjornfot. Both first round picks drafted in 2016 and 2019 respectively, both of these young defensemen spent the majority of last season playing for the King’s AHL affiliate, the Ontario Reign. However, both players did see a handful of games in the NHL. While they will likely see time with the organization this upcoming season, Bjornfot is currently playing in Sweden for Djurgardens IF where he has scored 1 goal and 3 points in 13 games. Since entering into their rebuild Los Angeles has changed up most of the defensive core with the only remaining piece from their multiple Stanley Cup championships being 30 year old Drew Doughty. All other defenseman are 26 or younger and with a mentor like Doughty, should help them become a solid defensively minded team again.
Lastly, Los Angeles has a current goaltender tandem of Jonathan Quick and Cal Petersen. Quick, 34, is nowhere near where his numbers used to be when the Kings were a powerhouse. He is still one of the best American goalies of all-time and an excellent mentor to Petersen or any other goalie the Kings decide to bring in moving forward. Petersen, 26, might not be the future of the franchise in net, but he has certainly shown he’s capable of being in the NHL posting a 5-3 record last season with a 2.64 GAA and .924% save percentage. If he can continue to perform with a higher workload, Los Angeles could see a fast turnaround.
As all teams in the NHL face eventually, no matter how good you are at one point, there will always be periods of hardship and downturn. Despite winning their most recent Stanley Cup only six years ago, the Los Angeles Kings are doing an excellent job of rebuilding themselves to hopefully get back to the days of their former glory.