EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) — Todd McLellan’s Los Angeles Kings gained valuable experience after making it to the playoffs for the first time since 2018.
That will mean nothing if the Kings are unable to make more progress next season.
“Experience is only good if you do something with it,” the third-year coach said after the Kings were eliminated Saturday night by Edmonton with a 2-0 loss in Game 7 of their Western Conference first-round series. “If you’re just going to go throw it in the closet when you go home, whether you’re old or young, it’s useless.
“So our younger players, in particular, whether you played in the series or not, you gained experience. It’s what are you going to do with it now? That’s why next year is going to be one tough year based on experience that I have. There’s a lot of growing up that some of them need to do and they can do it. And they will do it.”
The Kings had 11 players see their first action in a postseason series. They also gained valuable experience during a regular season in which 23 players missed time due to injury or COVID-19 protocols. Despite that, Los Angeles finished with 98 points during the regular season and finished third in the Pacific Division.
Los Angeles was also missing a couple of significant pieces during the Edmonton series. Forward Viktor Arvidsson suffered a herniated disc before the playoffs, while defenseman Drew Doughty had been out since March and underwent season-ending wrist surgery in April. General manager Rob Blake said during Monday’s season-ending interviews that Arvidsson will have surgery on Tuesday.
The Kings had a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series before dropping the final two games. Los Angeles couldn’t stop Edmonton superstar Connor McDavid, who had four goals and 14 points in the series. His six multipoint games marked the first time since Boston’s Rick Middleton in 1983 that someone had done that.
The postseason exit means the Kings haven’t won a playoff series since beating the New York Rangers in five games in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final to hoist their second championship in three years.
“We didn’t play bad but they played a little better,” center Phillip Danault said. “They had a little more power and they were a little more ready.”
Offseason acquisitions Arvidsson and Danault were major reasons the Kings finished with their highest points total since 102 in 2015-16. Danault, a free-agent signing, had 27 goals and 51 points centering the second line while Arvidsson, who was acquired from Nashville, had 20 goals and 49 points during the regular season.
“I think they’ve done a great job. I mean, those couldn’t have worked out any better,” Doughty said about the front office. “We’re going in the right direction. I think we’re going to be a really good team and have a chance to win some playoff series next year.”
KEMPE’S NEXT STEPS
Adrian Kempe had his breakthrough in his sixth NHL season. The Swedish forward became only the third Kings player since 2004-05 to score 35 goals and was second on the team in scoring with 54 points.
Blake said both sides put off discussing an extension during the season, but that will be a priority over the next couple months.
Anze Kopitar was also pleased with the progress his linemate made during the year.
“I think he’s obviously matured a lot. He’s a lot more comfortable being one of the guys,” Kopitar said. “He took big steps in every single position, whether it was on power play or penalty killing.”
Wholesale changes aren’t needed, but Blake does need to add depth on defense, along with a consistent left wing to pair on the first line with Kopitar and Kempe.
“I don’t think we have to make many big swings. We still have to improve on some areas. I mean just upgrade really,” Kopitar said.
TURN THE PAGE
Dustin Brown’s retirement leaves three players on the roster from the Stanley Cup championship teams of 2012 and ’14 — Doughty, Kopitar and goaltender Jonathan Quick.
Brown played 18 seasons for the Kings and holds the franchise record for games played.
“We’ve all won together, and that’s you have a different bond with those guys,” Brown said about his relationship with Doughty, Kopitar and Quick. “Just leaving I know how bittersweet it is because I know how it felt for me every time anyone from those Stanley Cup teams left. Now, there’s three and eventually there’s gonna be just one guy.”
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