Elliott: After ending the playoff drought, the Kings face the next challenge: improving

Now that the worst seems to be behind us – the tedious rebuilding of their talent base and philosophy, climbing from the depths of their division and their return to the playoffs – the Kings should enjoy smooth sailing when they gather for retreat on Thursday. in El Secondo.

Or maybe not.

“I don’t think the hardest part is behind us. I think the easy part is behind us, “said coach Todd McLellan.

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His reasoning is that while it was difficult to restructure an old slow team to compete in a league driven by youth and speed, that transformation has been accomplished. Creating a wage limit space by eliminating big contracts made the pain worse but became a payoff because it allowed them to sign profitable free agents and pay production winger Kevin Fiala, this summer’s grand commercial prize. They amassed young talent and positioned the top draft picks to become stars.

The next step is steep: build on the progress some of their boys made last season, pushing for more from them and other young players as they rely on Stanley Cup champions Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick to help them. bring them back to contention again.

The Kings had to make the playoffs last season to assure themselves and their fans that the humiliation of their post-Cup decline was a tolerable price to pay for a potentially bright future. Despite the injuries, the Kings gave the Edmonton Oilers a fight and led their first-round streak 3-2 before the Oilers wore them down.

The ceiling of the kings became higher. So are the expectations. They have to hug him.

“The hard work is closing the gap between the top 10 teams in the league because they are improving every day,” McLellan said on the phone Wednesday. “So I think we have the hard work ahead of us. The easy job is done ”.

Wednesday was devoted to medical tests. Thursday, “Let’s start settling down. Someone gets better and someone falls. That’s just the way it is, “said NHL’s McLellan.” And we have to make sure we’re one of those teams that gets better every day. ”

Doughty (wrist surgery) and winger Alex Iafallo (shoulder) should be fine to start the pitch, but other key players will lack or have less strength.

Defender Sean Walker, who suffered a serious knee injury six games last season, will participate but his workload will be monitored. Defender Sean Durzi, who underwent shoulder surgery after a breakout season, will also be physically limited at the start. Center Alex Turcotte, the fifth overall pick in the 2019 draft, has failed his physique and is recovering from a concussion.

The Kings celebrate a goal against the Edmonton Oilers.

Kings’ Phillip Danault (24), Sean Durzi (50), Trevor Moore (12), Alex Iafallo (19) and Mikey Anderson (44) celebrate a goal against the Edmonton Oilers during the third period in Game 1 of the first round of i Stanley Cup playoffs on May 2 in Edmonton, Canada.

(Codie McLachlan / Getty Images)

Winger Viktor Arvidsson is in rehab on his own after surgery for a herniated disc and will not join the squad until the start of the season. McLellan said the recovery timeline for Arvidsson, who scored 20 goals in his first season as king after being acquired by Nashville, remains on schedule.

Most questions about the Kings will be answered in the coming weeks before their October 10th. 11 openings. The goalkeeper question looks set to persist.

In what appeared to be a flashlight momentum, Cal Petersen started opening night last season but failed to maintain a high level. Quick, 36, won No. 1 job compiling a percentage of 2.59 goals against the average and 0.910 save, the best of him in a while. And that was behind a defense that was often put together due to injuries.

McLellan laughed when asked about the goalkeeping division. “I am asked almost every year and I don’t give a clear and concise answer,” he said. “For me to say we’re going to play this guy 45 and the other 35, I’d be lying because I have no idea how he’s going to turn out.” He will go based on performance, with advice from goalkeeper / manager Bill Ranford.

Some areas for the Kings to improve are obvious. They ranked 20th in NHL in goals for, at 2.87 per game. Their power play was a miserable 27th, with a success rate of 16.1%. Their rigor ranked 22nd at 76.7% efficiency. “We have to move to at least that average level of the league, if not higher, if we are to take a step forward, and the expectations for that group of players and coaches are high,” McLellan said.

Any conversation about the future of the Kings begins with the children they accumulated during those lean years.

The development of the top prospect Quinton Byfield, draft no. 2 in 2020, he was slowed down when he broke his ankle in a performance last season. A formidable 6 foot 5 and 220 pounds, he could be third center behind Kopitar and Phillip Danault if he were healthy.

“When you use the word expectation, there are some expectations of him to move the needle,” McLellan said. “It’s not about scoring 50 goals or anything like that, it’s about moving the needle and giving energy to the group and to himself. And I really believe he can do it ”.

They also need forwards Iafallo, Jarret Anderson-Dolan and Rasmus Kupari and defender Tobias Bjornfot to have more impact. They need Trevor Moore, a native of Thousand Oaks, to be the dynamo he was after the All-Star Game, when he scored 10 of his 17 goals. They need to know whether Danault’s best 27 career goals were a fluke or sustainable. Same for Adrian Kempe’s best 35-goal performance. None of this is guaranteed.

This, as McLellan said, could prove to be the hardest part of the Kings revival. It also brings the greatest reward. They have earned the privilege of facing the pressure to win. The next step is a leap of faith.