Are you ready? We’re back to the 82-game regular season format, which means more joy and also more pain. It’s a roller coaster of emotions every season because there are always surprises, and the good ones can make us feel like geniuses while the bad ones feel like belly flopping into an empty pool.
But we’re all gluttons for punishment, so we might as well stay as informed as we can to later rationalize why the fantasy hockey gods hate you. Yes, they specifically hate you.
2021-22 Fantasy Outlook: Los Angeles Kings
Last season: The pandemic allowed the Kings to play some of their top prospects in the AHL, so all eyes were on their prospect pipeline and not the parent team, which unsurprisingly struggled and missed the playoffs for the fifth time in seven seasons. But, overall, it was a step in the right direction; only one of their top 10 scorers in the AHL was older than 21 (Michael Eyssimont), and Rasmus Kupari, Arthur Kaliyev and Quinton Byfield managed to get their first taste of the NHL. Among the other positives: captain Anze Kopitar showed no signs of slowing at 33 years old, Drew Doughty’s play improved, Gabe Vilardi was healthy and Cal Petersen emerged as the starting goalie.
Best option: Anze Kopitar, C
Interesting tidbit: From his rookie season to his age-29 season, Kopitar scored 736 points in 840 games for a point per game average of 0.876. From 2017-18 onwards, Kopitar scored 264 points in 289 games for a point per game average of 0.913. Despite being older and surrounded by a lesser supporting cast, Kopitar managed to score at a higher rate in his 30’s. While I don’t expect Kopitar to score at the same point-per-game pace like he did last season, it wouldn’t at all be surprising to see him maintain or exceed it. He’s already just the fourth player to score 1,000 points in a Kings sweater and one of the league’s most consistent two-way players. No matter the situation, Kopitar should be easily be a top-25 center in fantasy.
Hidden gem: Viktor Arvidsson, LW/RW
Among the 77 forwards who have scored at least 100 goals since Arvidsson’s breakout 31-goal season in 2016-17, he ranks 35th in goals per game (0.37) and 20th in shots per game (2.99). His final two seasons with the Predators fizzled, but he also battled injuries and had to play with Ryan Johansen, who’s become a better two-way player but not the playmaker that everyone had envisioned. Arvidsson should at least help the Kings improve their 27th-ranked shots per game (28.3), and he gives them a much better scoring threat on the wings than Dustin Brown, Alex Iafallo, Adrian Kempe and Andreas Athanasiou. Arvidsson’s possession numbers have been consistently good, according to naturalstattrick.com, and his two most common linemates – Johansen and Filip Forsberg – saw their possession numbers dip dramatically without Arvidsson but not vice versa. There’s always some uncertainty when a long-tenured player joins a new team and a new system, but he should have plenty of motivation to prove his former team wrong and make a big impact for the Kings right away. He’s being picked at an ADP of 176 in Yahoo leagues, below the likes of Tyler Bertuzzi, Calle Jarnkrok and Phil Kessel, all of whom are expected to score fewer points, according to the Pool Guide.
Goalies: This is Petersen’s net now. Over the past three seasons, the only goalie worse than Jonathan Quick’s 5v5 GSAA according to naturalstattrick.com’s model is Martin Jones, and Quick ranks 74th out of 79 goalies (min. 1,000 TOI) with a -0.43 GSAA/60. At 35 years old, much of the quickness and athleticism that had made him so successful has been lost over time and injury, which puts the 26-year-old Petersen, who ranked 16th with a 0.23 GSAA/60, at the forefront in his first season as the undisputed starter. Petersen had won the starting job through merit, eventually ousting both Peter Budaj and Jack Campbell with a .923 Sv% in his first two seasons with the Kings to be Quick’s successor. Signing with the Kings ended up being an astute decision by Petersen, who was looking for opportunity to play right away following three outstanding seasons at Notre Dame; the Sabres, who had drafted him in the fifth round in 2013, had Robin Lehner, Linus Ullmark and Jonas Johansson – none of whom remain – ahead of him at the time. The Kings might challenge for a playoff spot in a very weak Pacific Division, and Petersen should be extra motivated as he prepares for unrestricted free agency entering the final year of three-year contract worth an AAV of $858,333. Petersen is on the lower end of starting goalies because he isn’t expected to win a lot of games, but he should provide excellent value in auction leagues where player values are tied to their real-life cap hit.
Outlook: Under GM Rob Blake’s watch, the Kings’ wins totals have dipped every season, but things are expected to trend up in his fifth season. Their young core of players, led by Byfield and Alex Turcotte, are expected to take another step this season, and though it’s unlikely they’ll be successful right away, the Kings are being hailed as one of the teams who have rebuilt the right way. The holes that remain – lack of elite scoring talent, experience on defense even after adding Alex Edler – are problems that are expected to resolve themselves over time.
THN’s Pool Guide has Kopitar leading the team in scoring yet again with 65 points, but they also have six other players projected to score at least 40: Arvidsson, Iafallo, Kempe, Brown, Doughty and Phillip Danault. There was a time when the Kings were the paupers of the California-based teams, but they’re now firmly in a position for ascension.