As we are in the off-season, looking at the 2023-2024 version of the Los Angeles Kings is never too early.
While a few moves have been made, the roster has not changed much from last season. A few much-needed upgrades to areas needed addressing, and that is all Kings general manager Rob Blake felt like doing to get this Kings team back into contention.
While the roster is far from set for opening night, we look at five players under the most pressure this season. Another down year or a lengthy slump could see some of these players with new addresses.
The roster, as it stands now, is stacked with talent, but there are a few players who need good seasons.
We look at five players who need breakout seasons or players who need to exceed expectations.
A former second-round pick a few years ago, Quinton Byfield has not lived up to the hype offensively so far. However, he has improved his overall game. In his 2021/2022 rookie season, he played 42 games, recording five goals and five assists for 10 points. Last season, Byfield played 53 games, registering three goals and 19 assists for 22 points. Byfield went from a -7 in his first year to a +13 last season.
Byfield played most of last season on the top line with sniper Adrian Kempe and captain Anze Kopitar, looking quite comfortable. His all-around game has improved, but he needs to start producing more offensively. He is entering his third NHL season, which is enough time to get adjusted to the pro-style game.
If he does not produce offensively as expected, there could be some trade rumors after the season.
Newly acquired center Pierre-Luc Dubois is entering his first season with the Los Angeles Kings. He was obtained through a blockbuster trade with the Winnipeg Jets. In his career, Dubois has been a top-two center who has produced offensively while showing a bit of grit. He has not been elite, but he is undoubtedly in the top half of the league for centers.
Dubois will likely grab the second-line center position, dropping Philip Danault to the third line. Dubois and the Kings have high expectations for each other, and Los Angeles believes he is the missing piece to the Stanley Cup puzzle.
He has speed, size, strength and is offensively gifted; anything but a second-round appearance with Dubois may be considered a disappointment.
Brandt Clarke, a young defenseman with a ton of upside, made his NHL debut last season for the Kings and looked good. After a few games, he was sent down and continued to shine. This season has to be the season that Clarke is with the Kings right out of training camp with a full-time role. He is everything the Los Angeles Kings are looking for in a defenseman, and he has done everything possible in the lower leagues.
If Clarke is with Los Angeles beginning this season, he has a good amount of pressure to produce in the big leagues, and he knows that. If he is in the AHL most of the season, Clarke has to wonder when his time will come. Clarke has to make the team out of training camp and go full steam into the NHL and produce like the eighth overall pick in 2021.
Los Angeles Kings goaltender Pheonix Copley had a tremendous 2022/2023 NHL season. For a good amount of the season, he was the number one in Los Angeles and looked like an all-star. His play got the Kings to the playoffs, where backup Joonas Korpisalo took over. Copley never got that chance to showcase his skills in the playoffs before the Kings were eliminated.
Copley returns to Los Angeles with a chip on his shoulder but enters as the number one goaltender. If he can return to the form that made him one of the best goaltenders mid-season, then the Kings have a great chance to better their chances of advancing in the playoffs.
The question is can he live up to the pressure of being the guy between the pipes for the Los Angeles Kings?
Los Angeles forward Arthur Kaliyev enters his third NHL season. He has produced more points every season so far, going from 27 points in 2021/2022 to 28 last season. As a big goal scorer in juniors for the Hamilton Bulldogs, He has not quite found that same goal-scoring touch in the NHL, as he has 28 goals in two NHL seasons. While some may say he has been buried in the bottom six, Kaliyev has to find a way to get into the top six and start producing like the Kings hoped he would when he was drafted.
A big right winger with tons of potential, Kaliyev needs to have a big season in the goal-scoring category. He is too talented to just have 28 goals so far in his NHL career. I would not be surprised if he hit 30 goals this season.
Photo: Zach Dooley/LA Kings Insider