After some big additions — and subtractions — over the summer, one of the big questions for the Los Angeles Kings this season is how the forward lines shake out.
We’ll still have to wait and see how the lines look on opening night, but we have now seen what Todd McLellan is calling the “starting point.” And that starting point is exciting fans.
Before jumping into each line, remember that how they’re listed on paper doesn’t matter much. Being listed as the “third line” doesn’t mean they’ll receive less ice time than the top two lines.
Line 1: Quinton Byfield-Anze Kopitar-Adrian Kempe:
No surprises here, the top line is exactly what everyone expected. This line was fantastic in the second half of last season and saw both Anze Kopitar and Adrian Kempe put up fantastic numbers.
The play-driving of Kopitar, finishing of Kempe and puck-hounding of Quinton Byfield led to a lot of success last season. Not to mention their size, with all three players 6-foot3 or taller.
Even if this line is exactly what they were last season, the Kings will be happy. Yes, Byfield didn’t score enough, but Kopitar scored at a near 90-point pace with Kempe scoring at a 51-goal pace after Byfield’s inclusion.
On Byfield’s impact, Kopitar said:
“Q made our line better, that’s for sure and that’s ultimately what you’re looking for. His numbers didn’t show that, but if you know hockey, he brought a lot to our line and was very effective, even though the numbers didn’t show. Now, hopefully, we get to be a successful line and his numbers are better than they were, just for the sake of his confidence and his development.”
If you add in a big breakout season from Byfield, something around 50-60 points depending on power-play usage, the Kings will have a truly dominant top line.
It will also be interesting to see if their usage changes. Last season, they started more shifts in the defensive zone than any other line, maybe that changes with more depth up front.
Line 2: Trevor Moore-Phil Danault-Viktor Arvidsson:
The nice line returns in full and healthy. This is a line that, at their best, can take over shifts, but it’s been a while since we’ve seen them at their best.
Viktor Arvidsson started last season injured, and then Trevor Moore ran into concussion problems, meaning we never really saw this line 100% healthy.
There’s a nice blend of 200-foot responsibility and skill on this line and they can create matchup nightmares for the opposition. They can act as a pure shutdown line or flip matchups against the opposition’s third line. Either way, they’re set up for success.
There’s an extra layer of pressure on Moore this season. Heading into year one of a five-year extension, he has to be the player he was in the second half of the 2021-22 season, not the player he was for most of last season.
The injury issues he faced give him the benefit of the doubt, but now he has to show he is worth that contract.
Phil Danault will continue to provide solid play down the middle, but it will be interesting if he moves back into the defensive role he had in Montreal. Having him take the majority of defensive zone draws frees up the other two centers and could lead to a lot of team success.
This line’s versatility makes it a coach’s dream and it’s now just a waiting game to see how McLellan deploys them.
Line 3: Kevin Fiala-Pierre-Luc Dubois-Arthur Kaliyev:
Who played with newcomer Pierre-Luc Dubois was the question on everyone’s mind this summer and McLellan is going full run n’ gun with this setup.
I’ve talked about this line a bit in the past and am surprised McLellan’s gone with it. He’s generally more conservative with his choices and this line is anything but.
The problem with this line is the lack of defensive reliability. Despite McLellan and Rob Blake’s consistent comments that Dubois is a great two-way center, he isn’t. Or at least hasn’t been in to this point in his career. He’s been okay defensively, but not great.
Placing your two worst defensive wingers on his line feels very risky. I’m not sure there’s any center that can make up for Fiala and Kaliyev’s combined deficiencies on their own, but if that player does exist, it isn’t Dubois.
The other concern is Dubois’ career 45.4% in the faceoff circle. Even if they start almost every shift in the offensive zone, it won’t matter much if they start without the puck most of the time.
Of course, this is all assuming neither Fiala nor Kaliyev clean up that area of their game and Dubois doesn’t improve in the dot. If they do that, there are no problems.
Enough with the negative outlook, the positives are very clear with this line. It’s arguably the most offensively gifted line on the team and the best combination of skills.
Fiala can drive play on this line and has two players who can finish the high number of chances he creates. While Dubois’ size and ability to dominate down low and along the boards will open up space for Fiala and Kaliyev.
Kaliyev is the big beneficiary of this move. This will be the biggest chance of his NHL career and it’s set up perfectly for him. He has one of the league’s best playmakers feeding him and a center in Dubois who can open up space for him to operate.
He can really play his game on this line. He doesn’t have to worry as much about forechecking, Dubois has that covered, and can float around more looking for soft ice.
If they can make things work defensively, I fully expect Kaliyev to score a lot of goals in this setup.
A Good Starting Point:
We’ll see how the team lines up on opening night, but this is a great starting point. I like McLellan at least trying the Fiala-Dubois-Kaliyev line. I’m not confident it will work, but the upside there means it’s worth trying out.
If the defensive issues become too much, you can swap Kaliyev with Arvidsson and try that, or even swap Moore with Fiala.
Everyone wants to see Dubois and Fiala together and for good reason. But Fiala had success with Danault and Arvidsson last season and Moore would be a nice compliment for Dubois and Kaliyev.
However the lines shake out, the Kings have one of the best forward groups in the league now.