It wasn’t long ago that the Kings and Ducks were like prizefighters in the NHL, the Kings with their 2012 and 2014 Stanley Cup championships and the Ducks with their five straight 100-point campaigns between 2014-18.
For most of the last decade, the two league heavyweights annually battled for superiority in the Southland.
Last year, they scrapped at the bottom of the standings.
The Kings and Ducks, after finishing last and third-to-last in the Western Conference standings last season, respectively, both open their training camps Friday with more questions than answers. Here are three story lines to watch for each team:
Ilya Kovalchuk’s role: This time last year, when the Kings lured the Russian star back to the NHL on a three-year, $18.5-million deal, Kovalchuk was posing for promotional photo shoots and being paraded to the fan base as the missing piece for a team expected to contend again.
Instead, he scored only 34 points and saw his playing time get slashed under interim coach Willie Desjardins in a debut season that could have hardly gone worse.
New coach Todd McLellan said during the team’s state of the franchise event last month that he had a “great conversation” with Kovalchuk after this summer’s draft, but stopped short of offering specifics as to what the 36-year-old winger’s role might be this year.
Faces of the future: Of the 60 players on the Kings’ training camp roster, 31 were born after Wayne Gretzky’s final game with the franchise in February 1996. The wave of young faces is headlined by Adrian Kempe, Austin Wagner, Matt Luff and a host of rookie prospects hoping to supplement, if not supplant, the team’s veteran core.
“The youth have to provide that energy, that excitement,” McLellan said. “The veterans have to nurture the youth, so they can bring them along.”
Practicing with purpose: For the first time since Tyler Toffoli infamously described the Kings’ practices last season as “kind of pathetic,” the group will finally take the ice under McLellan’s direction this week.
What should they expect?
“You don’t win a Stanley Cup without high standards,” McLellan said. “And we’re going to establish that right off the bat, as quick as we can.”
Young guns: For a prospect tournament, the Ducks’ lineup in last week’s Rookie Faceoff included a lot of familiar faces, especially up front. Troy Terry, Sam Steel, Kiefer Sherwood and Max Jones led a quasi-rookie team that had more than 200 games of NHL experience.
Many of them will be expected to contribute on the NHL roster this season after the Ducks finished last in scoring in 2018-19.
“I want to make the team, I want to be an impact player,” Terry said over the summer after playing 32 NHL games in 2018-19. “I was lucky that I was able to find some success in the NHL last year at the end, but it’s hard to do it for 82 games.”
Dallas Eakins’ presence: The Ducks’ new coach begins his first NHL head coaching job since being fired by Edmonton midway through the 2014-15 season, a quick end to a disappointing 18-month tenure with the Oilers.
Eakins spent the last four seasons coaching the Ducks’ AHL affiliate in San Diego, where he went 154-95-23 and worked with many of the organization’s prospects now pushing for a roster spot.
Justin Faulk rumors: The Ducks’ defense might get a boost in the coming days, with the team reportedly in trade discussions with the Carolina Hurricanes over the 27-year-old veteran. The Ducks, whose defense corps already includes Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson, allowed the 13th-most goals in the NHL last season. Faulk is coming off a 35-point, plus-nine rating season in Carolina.
Exhibition opener: Tuesday vs. Arizona at Staples Center, 7:30 p.m., split squads; at Arizona, 7 p.m., split squads.
Season opener: Oct. 5 at Edmonton, 7 p.m. PDT, TV: FS West.
Exhibition opener: Tuesday at San Jose, 7 p.m.
Season opener: Oct 3 vs. Arizona at Honda Center. TV: Prime Ticket.