Welcome to the Five-Year Plan. In this summer exercise, we forecast the rosters for all 31 current NHL teams for the 2023-24 season. Are we bound for folly? Sure, but the point of the exercise is to give some sense of where an organization is heading based on current long-term contracts and the prospects they have in the system.
Some ground rules: No trades will be made and no future draft picks will be included – so you won’t see the likes of Alexis Lafreniere or Quinton Byfield on any roster, even though they will certainly be NHL stars in 2023-24. All current contracts are honored and most restricted free agents are projected to stay with their teams, unless it is determined the player will lose his spot or move on in the future. Some future unrestricted free agents will be kept on if the players are deemed integral and likely to re-sign. The Seattle expansion draft is not considered. With all that established, let’s take a look at Los Angeles.
The Kings are set for plenty of turnover in the next few years, but the veteran holdovers will include Kopitar and Toffoli. The former will be 37 in 2023-24 and heading into the final season of his deal, but he’ll remain an important veteran presence and a 40-point contributor. Toffoli, meanwhile, will be 31, and though he has seen his production dip over the past few years, a revamped lineup could bring a boost.
As of now, Turcotte will be the man tasked with leading the charge once he leaves the University of Wisconsin – and let’s face it, he’s not playing four years of college hockey. The Kings’ first pick in 2019 (fifth overall) is a high-end, two-way center who makes everyone around him significantly better. He’ll be Los Angeles’ Brayden Point. Vilardi and Thomas are natural centers, but will have to move to the wing due to the depth down the middle. Kupari and Anderson-Dolan can provide secondary offense, while Luff and Fagemo can chip in.
It’s hard to imagine a scenario in which the Kings don’t draft a high-end winger in the next few years. Kaliyev was the best goal-scorer in the 2019 draft, but Los Angeles won’t be getting strong defensive play out of him, and Prokhorkin is similar. The Kings can squeeze a lot of offense out of both, but they’re missing a true top-line winger who can contribute in more ways than one.
Doughty, whose deal runs until he’s 37 in 2026-27, is the only defender signed past 2020-21. He’s not going anywhere and will be in charge of mentoring the team’s next crop of young defenders. Bjornfot, the Kings’ second pick in 2019 (22nd overall) will have a few seasons of pro experience in Sweden before moving to North America. He should be ready to make an impact by then.
Clague had a slow start to his pro career but showed progress last season. He’ll be NHL-ready by 2020-21, as will Durzi, a stout offensive defenseman and power-play mastermind who will be a good all-around defenseman. Anderson and Phillips are a few years away.
This is simply the toughest position to predict due to the lack of top-end goaltending depth. Management hasn’t had to worry about stocking the pipeline with Jonathan Quick in the blue paint over the past decade. That said, Petersen is the top guy in the system and the leading protection candidate come the 2021 Seattle expansion draft. He only has a few NHL games to his credit but he has shown he deserves to be in the NHL. Is he a long-term starter? It’s tough to say at this point. Parik is just 18 now, but he’s a big, athletic keeper. This could be a situation where the duo alternate in the crease, but the Kings will likely need to address their goaltending situation in the coming years.
The Kings are a few years away from ridding themselves of dead weight and fully indulging the rebuild. GM Rob Blake has drafted well in his short time in office and he can snag a couple of home-run prospects over the next few years to ease the transition. The Kings still lack a top goalie prospect, but the free agent market can be explored after Quick departs. Once they smooth out a few of the rough patches in the lineup, Los Angeles will be a contender again.
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