Old dogs can learn new tricks if you watch the LA Kings right now.
All of the talk surrounding the LA Kings heading into the 2020-21 season was around their rebuild and their loaded and uber-talented farm system, headlined by power forward Quinton Byfield, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. However, it is the veterans who are stealing the headlines right now.
This was always going to be a development year for the Kings as they continue to build for the future, with little talk of making the Stanley Cup Playoffs doing the rounds. That could change though given that they currently sit third in the West Division with a 9-6-3 record.
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They have amazingly won six in a row and are 6-3-1 in their last 10 outings, playing some great hockey in the process and proving, as did the New York Rangers, that rebuilds don’t have to last years and years and success can still be had while developing prospects and putting building blocks in place.
After all, establishing a winning culture now is only going to help these young studs down the road, acting as the perfect development tool for these prospects while making the Playoffs, even if they lose in the First Round, could attract some Free Agents next offseason which is a crucial point given that LA is projected to have around $25 million in cap space, according to CapFriendly.
Anyway, while the Kings have certainly got contributions from some of their rising stars this season, it has been the veterans and the core of those Stanley Cup winning teams in 2012 and 2014 that have been getting the job done and leading the way for LA in 2020-21.
Revitalized veterans the driving force behind the resurgent LA Kings
Center Anze Kopitar leads his team in points with 21 (4 G, 17 A) in 18 games and is ranked 11th in scoring in the NHL, while Dustin Brown is having a bounce-back year like no other with 11 goals and six assists for 17 points, proving that he’s still got plenty left in the tank despite his advancing years.
Grizzled defenseman Drew Doughty, who seems to be playing with a real chip on his shoulder this season, has 15 points (4 G, 11 A) in 18 games and ranks 9th in scoring among all defensemen in the NHL, while veteran pivot Jeff Carter has also been productive with three goals and eight assists for 11 points.
Then there is Jonathan Quick who, while he may not be at the peak of his powers anymore, has been pretty damn good this season with a 5-2-2 record to go along with a 2.82 Goals Against Average and a .903 Save Percentage and two shutouts, already stockpiling a number of insane highlight-reel saves in the process.
While the likes of the Vegas Golden Knights and the Colorado Avalanche are still the favorites to win the West Division, as of right now the LA Kings are very much in the mix and they have a lot to thank their core of veterans for, who seem determined to prove that they have at least one more run in them.
A lot has been said and written about this core and whether their best days were already well behind them, and it seems that they have taken it personally, particularly Doughty who is on pace for an insane offensive year in a shortened 56-game schedule.
They are throwing it back to the glory days right now but the most important thing is that those five players appear to have bought into what this team is trying to achieve now, in addition to what they are attempting to build for the future, which is incredibly encouraging.
Because, even if this season fizzles out, this current hot streak will be an invaluable experience for those young players in the room and the likes of Quinton Byfield, who should make his NHL debut at some point this year, in that they are learning from the best and witnessing first hand what it takes to win at the NHL level and what it takes to play at the highest level for a sustained period of time.
The likes of Kopitar, Doughty, Carter, Brown and Quick, despite having achieved pretty much everything there is in the game, are still hungry for more and they have listened to the critics and the doubters and used that negativity as rocket fuel to find another level and help the LA Kings to accelerate this rebuild.
The core five are playing at an insane pace right now and they are showing the next generation what it takes to be successful in the National Hockey League and what it takes to win, and there is no doubt that this revenge tour and this new lease of life that is driving the veterans can only translate to good things for the LA Kings both in the short and long-term.