Last year the Kings were one of the biggest surprises in the league, but with hindsight being 20/20, should we have been surprised?
With a ton of young talent, the Kings had been building to burst on to the scene for a few years now. Drew Doughty emerged as a candidate to be dubbed the "prototypical defenseman" of this generation. His mobility, high-end offensive ability, instincts, and physical play propelled him into Norris Trophy contention.
Anze Kopitar exploded onto the scene with his best season to date in his brief NHL career. While the explosiveness may have calmed a little bit as the season wore on (fewer multi-point games), the consistency never left Kopitar as he finished with career highs across the board.
The Kings were also able to draw upon a mix of youth, talent, and experience up front. The defense was well balanced, possessing enough daring undertones to go for it offensively but enough defensive reliability not to get burned, and in net Jonathan Quick was certainly solid when called upon.
With all of that considered, the Kings were still a surprise. No one saw what they did coming as all eyes were drawn to Vancouver, Chicago, and San Jose in the Western Conference.
L.A. will have a bunch of eyes on them this year, and they'll be out to make their mark in the post-season and crown new royalty for West Coast hockey. With that being said, here are 10 bold predictions for the Kings in 2010-'11:
1) Justin Williams plays 70 games and scores 20 goals
The scoring isn't the surprising part here; it's the staying healthy. Williams has failed to play more than 50 games in each of the past three seasons and has had to endure a fairly eclectic collection of injuries throughout his career (torn ACL, an achilles' injury, a broken hand and a broken leg). The thing to keep in mind here is that when he plays, he scores: He's had two 30-goal seasons and put up just 29 points in 49 games last year.
2) Wayne Simmonds outproduces Alex Ponikarovsky
A promising, young two-way stud with a developing offensive arsenal compared to a 30-year old winger who'll have to work to gain trust in a new system and has one 45+ point season to his credit. It may not sound like it from what I just said, but I liked Ponikarovsky when he was a Leaf. But...well...someone had to score goals in Toronto, right? I feel like it was more of a "right place, right time" scenario for him, while Simmonds continues to improve.
3) Erik Ersberg loses the triple-threat match in net
Jonathan Quick isn't a trade candidate (Terry Murray has said as much), although you'd think if a trade was coming, they could get the most for him. Then they could start Jonathan Bernier and have Ersberg back him up. And I would've probably made that prediction had the decision been a little less clear-cut: Quick has the number one job, and it's up to Ersberg to keep the backup role from Bernier. Even if he holds the spot out of camp though, Ersberg may just want to pack an emergency bag. You know, just in case. Poor guy.
4) Willie Mitchell sets a career-high in points
So far in camp he's been paired with Drew Doughty. That alone will get him some secondary assists. But with the creative and quick Kings forwards, Mitchell could have a good bounce-back season both offensively and defensively. Keep in mind though, that this new career-high will probably be about as fantasy hockey-worthy as Steve Ott is at peacekeeping.
5) Dustin Brown scores 30
Starting out the year on the top line (potentially) bodes well for the Captain. He's also got that hard-nosed style that can lead to hot and cold seasons. Back-to-back 24 goal seasons are plenty useful, but this year he hits 3-0 again.
6) Jack Johnson leads the team in shootout goals and repeats last year's offensive success
If Johnson is paired with a true defensive guy (Mitchell or Rob Scuderi) it gives him the freedom to open up his game like we saw last year with Randy Jones and Sean O'Donnell. But, even better, he also scored six goals in the shootout last year. That was TENTH in the NHL (Actually...he was tied with Adrian Aucoin so he could have been ninth...random). Only 17 defensemen scored a shootout goal last year and there were only 34 goals scored by blueliners total. Why can't he lead the team?
7) Thomas Hickey makes the team out of camp
The injury to Matt Greene leaves an opening on the roster for the team to get a look at a younger defenseman. There are plenty that could earn themselves a look (Jacob Muzzin or Alec Martinez), but Hickey has been highly-touted for a while, and with Doughty and Johnson supplying the offense, there will be less pressure on the youngster, allowing him to play his game without pushing it.
8) Ryan Smyth sees a dip in production
Smyth had a great year last year, nearly matching his totals from his last year in Colorado. The man with a U-Turn for a nose is also starting camp on the top line, which should help him out of the gates. He's a great, grinding presence to have, but he'll be 35 by mid-season and his style of play certainly takes a toll. Smyth will get banged up throughout the season and may finish in the 47-49 point neighborhood.
9) The Kings allow 215 goals or fewer
Seven teams did it last year, and the Kings came awfully close allowing 219. With the development of some of the younger players, good play from whoever wins the backup job, and Quick settling in to his second full-length NHL season, the Kings could be just as deadly defensively as offensively.
10) Andrei Loktionov, Brad Richardson, and Kyle Clifford make up the fourth line
This one is just for fun. The fourth line is going to be a source of discussion all through camp with plenty of players auditioning for the role. Richardson gets the nod because of his NHL experience (Brayden Schenn is a popular choice here but the Kings may want to save him for a higher minute role), Loktionov gives the line some firepower, and with Raitis Ivanans gone, Clifford's rough and tumble style, gives the line everything it needs (Rich Clune could also fill that role).
The Stretch (Remember, you're supposed to laugh): The Los Angeles Kings get tired of the Sacremento Kings' shenanigans in stealing their name and colors. They challenge them to a best of three competition: One hockey game, one basketball game, and one three-way challenge with Shaq on Shaq VS. Shaq wins.
Bryan Thiel is a senior writer and a columnist for Hockey54.com—The Face of the Game! If you want to get in contact with Bryan, you can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow him on Twitter at BryanThiel_88.