"It was tough to see him go"
Sheldon Keefe misses Trevor Moore. That fact became apparent as the Maple Leafs' bench boss fielded questions about his former winger back in November on the morning of Moore's first game back in Toronto.
And who could blame him?
Moore went from undrafted free agent, to AHL fourth-liner, to Calder Cup champion, to everyday NHLer in the four seasons he spent under Keefe. He also scored the opening goal that night in the Kings' 5-2 victory of the Maple Leafs that night, revealing to his former coach the next step in his rapid transformation.
Without a doubt, Moore has become a vital piece to the Kings' current resurgence. And he doesn't appear ready to just stop there.
In 40 games this season, Moore has already racked up an impressive 18 points -- the bulk of which have come at even-strength -- putting him right on course to demolish his career-high of 23 he set in 56 games during last year's pandemic-shortened campaign.
Moore is doing this all in just a little over 13 minutes of ice time per night. He's not a star. And, frankly, he never will be. That's simply not his game. What Moore has done instead is forge an NHL career solely on the back of sheer effort and hard work. This is an undersized winger who went undrafted and unsigned prior to earning a development camp invitation from the Leafs in 2017, one who had to claw for every second of ice time he's been given at every level he's ever played.
And, to this point, Moore has done nothing but make the most of it.
This has certainly helped the Kings since acquiring him in a midseason trade back in 2019. They are, statistically, a better team with Moore on the ice. And the numbers prove it.
In the nearly 468 minutes Moore has played at even-strength this season, the Kings have won 55.6 percent of the expected goals, generating 52.6 percent of the baseline scoring chances, and nearly 54 percent of those of the high-danger variety, too.
This impact is seen at the micro-level, as well.
Moore is actually driving the production of his own line this season. Moore's most common linemate, Kings center Rasmus Kupari, is someone with whom Moore has played over 200 minutes -- by far the most of any fellow forward. The two have seen decent results in their usage together thus far, but the discrepancies really start to show when looking at the time they've spent apart.
Without Kupari, Moore's possession numbers skyrocket to a dazzling 56.58 Corsi-for-per-60 at even-strength, showcasing a player that drives play with a purpose, even in a depth role. Kupari's fancy stats with Moore out of the equation, however, don't shine quite as bright, with his CF/60 dropping to a concerning 46.83 percent in 229 minutes away from his versatile teammate.
Moore's ability to elevate his linemates' play isn't solely reserved for Kupari, though. Fellow Marlies alum Carl Grundstrom, Moore's second most common partner, has also benefited from his presence, with Moore jumping to a 50.50 percent CF/60 without Grundstrom, while Grundstrom dips to a 48.13 percent without Moore.
And that's a large part of what has made the Kings so surprisingly formidable this season.
It's one thing to have needle-movers in Anze Kopitar, Viktor Arvidsson, and Adrian Kempe rounding out in the top-six. They undoubtedly drive the bus, with Kopitar, in particular, re-emerging as a formidable center in 2021-22.
But Moore gives the Kings an ace in the hole, a genuine play driver at the lower-end of their lineup -- someone who can take the bottom-six matchups his coach throws at him and not just stay afloat, but thrive.
Kopitar's team-leading 35 points notwithstanding, the Kings have a remarkably balanced offensive attack this season, with six other forwards having racked up at least 17 points to this point in the year. Moore is among that select group, albeit doing so while logging a minimum of four fewer minutes in average nightly workload.
Case in point; Moore is generating top-six production in a bottom-six role. Coupled with the fact that he also plays a key part in the Kings' penalty kill, and has even shifted over to center in a pinch, it's easy to see just how valuable Moore is to a Kings team that has finally begun to see its contention window open after a multi-year rebuild.
And when that window opens fully, Moore will almost certainly be there to help push the Kings through.