Elliott: After ending playoff drought, Kings face subsequent problem — getting higher

Now that the worst appears to be behind them — the tedious rebuild of their expertise base and their philosophy, the climb from the depths of their division and their return to the playoffs — the Kings ought to get pleasure from easy crusing after they assemble for coaching camp Thursday in El Segundo.

Or perhaps not.

“I don’t think the hardest part’s behind us. I think the easiest part’s behind us,” coach Todd McLellan mentioned.

Say, what?

His reasoning is that whereas it was troublesome to restructure an previous, sluggish workforce to compete in a league pushed by youth and velocity, that transformation has been achieved. Creating wage cap house by shedding huge contracts worsened the ache however grew to become a acquire as a result of it allowed them to signal helpful free brokers and pay productive winger Kevin Fiala, this summer time’s huge commerce prize. They’ve collected younger expertise and have positioned prime draft picks to grow to be stars.

The subsequent step is steep: constructing on the progress a few of their youngsters made final season, pushing for extra from them and different younger gamers whereas counting on Stanley Cup champion holdovers Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty and Jonathan Fast to assist make them rivalry once more.

The Kings needed to make the playoffs final season to guarantee themselves and their followers the indignity of their post-Cup decline was a tolerable worth to pay for a probably vivid future. Regardless of accidents, the Kings gave the Edmonton Oilers a battle and led their first-round collection 3-2 earlier than the Oilers wore them down.

The Kings’ ceiling has grow to be increased. So are expectations. They have to embrace that.

“The hard work is to close the gap on the top 10 teams in the league because they’re getting better every day,” McLellan mentioned by telephone Wednesday. “So I think we have the hard work ahead of us. The easy work is done.”

Wednesday was dedicated to medical testing. On Thursday, “We begin to sort ourselves out. Somebody gets better and somebody falls off. That’s just the way it is,” McLellan mentioned of the NHL. “And we have to make sure that we’re one of those teams that’s getting better every day.”

Doughty (wrist surgical procedure) and winger Alex Iafallo (shoulder) are anticipated to be superb to begin camp however different key gamers might be lacking or at lower than full power.

Defenseman Sean Walker, who suffered a serious knee harm six video games into final season, will take part however his workload might be monitored. Defenseman Sean Durzi, who underwent shoulder surgical procedure after a breakout season, additionally might be restricted bodily on the outset. Heart Alex Turcotte, the fifth total decide within the 2019 draft, failed his bodily and is recovering from a concussion.

Kings’ Phillip Danault (24), Sean Durzi (50), Trevor Moore (12), Alex Iafallo (19) and Mikey Anderson (44) rejoice a objective in opposition to the Edmonton Oilers throughout the third interval in Sport 1 of the primary spherical of the Stanley Cup playoffs Could 2 in Edmonton, Canada.

(Codie McLachlan / Getty Pictures)

Winger Viktor Arvidsson is rehabbing on his personal following surgical procedure on a herniated disc and received’t be a part of the workforce till the season begins. McLellan mentioned the restoration timeline for Arvidsson, who scored 20 targets in his first season as a King after being acquired from Nashville, stays on schedule.

Most questions surrounding the Kings might be answered within the subsequent few weeks, earlier than their Oct. 11 opener. The goaltending query appears prone to linger.

In what gave the impression to be a torch-passing second, Cal Petersen began on opening night time final season however couldn’t maintain a excessive degree. Fast, 36, received the No. 1 job by compiling a 2.59 goals-against common and .910 save proportion, his greatest shortly. And that was behind a protection that usually was pieced collectively due to accidents.

McLellan laughed when requested concerning the goaltending break up. “I get asked that just about every year and I don’t give a clear, concise answer,” he mentioned. “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 it’s going to roll out.” He’ll go by efficiency, with recommendation from goalie-whisperer/coach Invoice Ranford.

Some must-improve areas for the Kings are apparent. They ranked 20th within the NHL in targets for, at 2.87 per sport. Their energy play was a depressing 27th, with a 16.1% success price. Their penalty killing ranked 22nd at 76.7% effectivity. “We have to move at least to that midrange mark of the league, if not higher, if we want to take a step forward, and expectations for those group of players and coaches are high,” McLellan mentioned.

Any dialog concerning the Kings’ future begins with the youngsters they stockpiled throughout these lean years.

The event of high prospect Quinton Byfield, drafted No. 2 in 2020, was slowed when he broke his ankle in an exhibition final season. A formidable 6 toes 5 and 220 kilos, he might be the third heart behind Kopitar and Phillip Danault if he’s wholesome.

“When you use the word expectation, there is some expectations put on him to move the needle,” McLellan mentioned. “It’s not about scoring 50 goals or anything like that, but move the needle and energize the group and himself. And I really believe he can do that.”

In addition they want forwards Iafallo, Jarret Anderson-Dolan and Rasmus Kupari and defenseman Tobias Bjornfot to have an even bigger influence. They want Thousand Oaks native Trevor Moore to be the dynamo he was after the All-Star Sport, when he scored 10 of his 17 targets. They have to be taught whether or not Danault’s career-best 27 targets have been a fluke or sustainable. The identical for Adrian Kempe’s career-best 35-goal efficiency. None of that’s assured.

This would possibly, as McLellan mentioned, become the toughest a part of the Kings’ revival. It additionally carries the best reward. They’ve earned the privilege of dealing with stress to win. The subsequent step is a leap of religion.