The Los Angeles Kings head into the 2022/23 NHL season on the back of an unexpected Stanley Cup playoff appearance and with plenty of reason for optimism.
Los Angeles had missed the playoffs three straight times before last season, but the drought was ended with a commendable third place finish in the Pacific Division (44-27-11).
In the playoffs they also exceeded expectations, pushing the much-fancied Edmonton Oilers to a Game 7 in the first round.
|What||NHL Season 2022/23|
|Where||USA and Canada|
|When||October 7th 2022 - June 2023|
|How to watch||ESPN+, Star+, NHL.TV & bet365's Sports Live Streaming|
|Odds||COL Avalanche +425, TOR Maple Leafs +800, FLA Panthers +900, TB Lightning +1000, CAR Hurricanes +1100|
The Kings have acted with patience in their aim to bring back the glory years of 2012 and 2014, when they were twice crowned Stanley Cup Champions in quick succession.
And while they have yet to win a playoff series since their last championship, the Kings have refused to rush their light re-build and last season they began to be rewarded for it.
Twenty-six-year-old Adrian Kempe is a definite case in point. Drafted by the Kings in the first-round (29th overall) in 2014, the Swedish centre scored 35 goals last season, which was his fifth full in the NHL.
His previous best was 16 in his rookie season, and he followed that up with 12, 11 and 14 goal campaigns.
Kempe also had a career-high 54 points, which was second on the team behind Anze Kopitar (19 goals, 48 assists), and he led the Kings with six points (two goals, four assists) in seven games in the playoffs.
The breakthrough earned him a four-year, $22million contract with Kings director of player personnel Nelson Emerson saying: "I think now we are seeing a lot of our young players and young prospects starting to develop into pros. It's an exciting time and now that we saw that, we want to build on that type of play."
The players referenced by Emerson include Kempe, plus high drafted forwards Arthur Kaliyev, 21, and Rasmus Kupari, 22, who each made a good impression in their first full NHL season over 2021/22.
Twenty-year-old centre Quinton Byfield is also set for his first full campaign after scoring ten points (five goals, five assists) in 40 games last season. The highly rated Canadian was the second overall pick in the 2020 NHL draft.
Los Angeles' crop of developing youngsters are well supported by several consistently performing veterans which includes Captain Kopitar whose 67 points at 35-years-old were his most since a career-high of 92 in 2017/18.
Forwards Phillip Danault and Viktor Arvidsson were acquired last summer and each played a big part in making the Kings a playoff contender again.
Centre Danualt scored 51 points (27 goals, 24 assists) and Arvidsson bagged 49 points (20 goal29 assists). Both are evidence of the Kings' shrewd moves in the trade market, and again this off-season they have added another player who will significantly help in Kevin Fiala.
The Kings performed very well defensively last season conceding just 236 goals, the ninth lowest in the NHL but they struggled for offence and were the lowest scoring team of all playoff contenders (249; 20th in the NHL).
General Manager Rob Blake addressed the issue early in the off-season, acquiring 26-year-old Fiala from the Minnesota Wild and signing him to a seven-year, $55m contract.
Fiala had a career high in goals (33), assists (52), points (85) and average time on ice (17:39) in 82 games last season.
Kopitar, defenceman Drew Doughty, 32, and goalie Jonathan Quick, 36, are the only remaining members of the championship sides of 2012 and 14 and continue to lead by example.
Doughty scored 31 points (seven goals, 24 assists) in 39 games before picking up a season ending wrist injury - his absence was heavily felt in the playoffs where he has 51 points (16 goals, 35 assists) in 84 career appearances.
Quick enters the final season of a 10-year contract in 2022/23, on the back of a season in which he held off Cal Petersen with his best totals (23 wins, .910 save percentage, 2.59 goals-against average) since 2017/18.
In addition to Doughty, the Kings were without Arvidsson (herniated disk) and defenceman Sean Walker (torn ACL and MCL) against the Oilers in the playoffs. Each has had surgery and expect to return to full fitness ahead of the season.
At full strength, the Kings have a smartly assembled roster clearly capable of making the playoffs again.
The core of Quick, Kopitar and Doughty are sure to slow down at some point, but assuming health for each, that's unlikely to be a major concern over the course of the season.
The smart additions over several seasons, plus the ever-blossoming youngsters ensure competitiveness for the Kings again, and while a return to the glory years may be a little way off, no team will be able to take them lightly.