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    Season preview: Kings look to take bigger strides
    • October 11, 2023

    EL SEGUNDO –– The glistening silver in the Kings’ uniform may be a perfect match for the gleaming chalice that every hockey player covets, but if they want to quaff the bubbly from Lord Stanley’s Cup, they’ll have to do more than just look the part this season.

    Todd McLellan returns to his position behind the bench along with lead assistants Trent Yawney and Jim Hiller. Together they led the Kings to a 104-point campaign in 2022-23, the second-highest total in franchise history, but also a second consecutive first-round exit in the playoffs. In the front office, former Kings defenseman Rob Blake remains at the helm as general manager, with each of his past three offseasons growing more ambitious and more audacious.

    Here are four keys to the Kings’ season, which gets underway against the Colorado Avalanche at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Arena:

    Age remaining a number

    Anze Kopitar is in the final year of his current contract but signed a two-year extension that’ll keep him with the only organization he’s ever known through 2026. Doughty’s contract, which will carry the seventh-highest cap hit in the NHL this season, runs a year longer.

    The two players, ages 36 and 33, respectively, have remained the Kings’ leaders not only in name but in on time on ice, with captain Kopitar centering their top line and alternate captain Doughty persisting as the club’s No. 1 defenseman. Last season, a late-season injury to newcomer Kevin Fiala gave Kopitar the team scoring lead for the 15th time in 17 opportunities and Doughty’s 52 points represented his strongest production since 2017-18, the last time the Kings had anything resembling a shot at a championship. Though both players might see a slight reduction in average ice time, their contributions should remain paramount to the Kings’ success.

    Previously, both men were integral pieces of both titles, the franchise’s first in 2012 and its follow-up in 2014, and now are rejoined by two-time champion Trevor Lewis, who returned to the Kings over the summer. When McLellan took control of the team, most of the rest of the cast might have been aptly summarized as “with special guests,” but now there are many more names rolling in the Kings’ credits.

    “When I look at Kopi, Drew and Trevor Lewis – those are the three players that are left from that era – they all have to take on a mentorship role,” McLellan said. “But we now have the ability to hand some of that off to others.”

    All about shot suppression

    Under McLellan, the Kings have made the playoffs in each of the past two seasons after missing them by wide margins in his first two seasons at the helm, yet shot suppression has been a consistent current beneath both high and low seas.

    McLellan’s Kings have finished in the top five in terms of fewest shots allowed in three of his four seasons, and, even including their brutal 2020-2021 campaign, the Kings have allowed the fourth-fewest shots of any team cumulatively across the past four seasons.

    That’ll remain vital as the Kings went from having a painfully overpriced and woefully underperforming goaltending tandem a year ago to relying on a closeout-bin trio of reclamation projects this season. Pheonix Copley and David Rittich (who was waived to be reassigned Tuesday) will compete behind Cam Talbot, 36, who hopes to assert himself after a season derailed by injuries for a team in transition, the Ottawa Senators, last season.

    “In practice, when you come down on him there’s not much net to shoot at,” said another newcomer, center Pierre-Luc Dubois. “He’s going to be a great goalie for us this year. As long as we play well in front of him and limit the chances, we’re going to be all set back there.”

    Higher dividends from big investments

    Often when a franchise accelerates its turnaround, a can’t-miss draft pick (or two) has his foot slamming on its gas pedal. But there is no Mario Lemieux or Connor McDavid-like figure for the Kings, who have reconstructed their roster using a pair of trusty old building blocks and a multitude of resourceful strategies.

    It isn’t that the Kings haven’t had premium draft capital as a result of their struggles between 2018 and 2021. In 2019, they owned three of the first 33 selections, taking Turcotte and Tobias Bjornfot in the first round before snagging Arthur Kaliyev early in the second. To varying degrees, they’re all at an impasse this season, and 2020’s No. 2 overall pick, Quinton Byfield, will be counted on to produce more consistently as he begins the year on the top line. Since 2018, the Kings have made five picks in the first round, and those prospects have compiled just 79 points in 366 total NHL appearances.

    “We’re not missing much to go further in the playoffs, and those guys could have a really big impact,” said center Phillip Danault, acknowledging that each fledgling player improved conditioning and gained experience. “I can’t wait to see the year they have.”

    Roster crunching

    While the Kings’ strategy of carrying 21 players instead of the typical 23 to accommodate some salary-cap exigencies posed a threat to disrupt long midseason road trips when the injuries had piled up and frequent flier miles had accumulated, the Kings are already facing an unwieldy situation before Game 1 at home.

    Poised to carry one extra player, the suspension of winger Arthur Kaliyev and a lower-body injury sustained in practice Monday by Viktor Arvidsson may leave the Kings short one player right out of the gate. Additionally, waiver eligibility concerns dictated that Brandt Clarke and Jordan Spence both began the season in the minors, with an unbalanced group of four left shots and two right shots on the blue line.

    “I don’t even think we’ll be able to start with 21 players, so, the answer’s no, it’s not sustainable for 82 games,” said Blake Tuesday, perhaps generously describing Arvidsson, who did not practice, as “questionable.”

    “We chose to put the money on the players that would have been the 12 and six playing and not so much in the three extra players you’re able to carry,” he added. “If you look at rosters, I think there’s a lot in similar situations. We’ll see how it goes.”

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    Quinton Byfield — Anze Kopitar — Adrian Kempe

    Kevin Fiala — Pierre-Luc Dubois — Alex Laferriere

    Trevor Moore — Phillip Danault — Viktor Arvidsson*

    Carl Grundstrom — Blake Lizotte —- Trevor Lewis

    Mikey Anderson — Drew Doughty

    Vladislav Gavrikov — Matt Roy

    Andreas Englund — Tobias Bjornfot

    Cam Talbot/Pheonix Copley



    When: 7 p.m. Wednesday

    Where: Arena

    How to watch: TNT, Max

    ​ Orange County Register