Column: Will Kings challenge for Stanley Cup? Here are five things to watch for this season

Photo illustration of Kings players Drew Doughty and Kevin Fiala.
(Photo of Drew Doughty by The Associated Press; Photo of Kevin Fiala by Getty Images; Photo illustration by Tim Hubbard / Los Angeles Times)

The Kings took a big leap forward by reaching the playoffs last season and taking Edmonton to seven games despite being depleted by injuries. The next step for them is to win a playoff round or two, and they’re capable of that if a few things go right. They open the season Tuesday against Vegas at Arena.

Here are five things to watch this season:


How many points will Kevin Fiala score?

Kings forward Kevin Fiala readies for a faceoff during a preseason game against the Ducks on Oct. 2.
(Juan Ocampo / NHLI via Getty Images)

General manager Rob Blake sent a message when he acquired left wing Kevin Fiala and signed him to a seven-year, $55.125-million contract. That told players their progress last season had earned them an upgrade in talent, and that Blake isn’t afraid to spend money for the right fit at the right time.


Fiala, center Anze Kopitar, and right wing Adrian Kempe could be the balanced, high-scoring first line the Kings have lacked for a long time. Fiala, 26, is coming off career-best totals in goals (33) and points (85), and his skills should mesh well with pass-first Kopitar.

Fiala also will get a lot of power-play time, which could pad his totals. If he stays in the range of 80 to 85 points and Kempe can prove his career-best 35 goals and 54 points last season weren’t a fluke, that trio could be dangerous.

If the Kings want to become serious Stanley Cup contenders, they will need someone to match or exceed Anze Kopitar’s scoring totals.

Oct. 3, 2022


Can a healthy Drew Doughty regain his Cup-era form?

Kings defenseman Drew Doughty follows the puck during a game against the Ducks on Feb. 25.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

A deep, mobile defense is a must to succeed in the playoffs. Drew Doughty, who recovered from wrist surgery that ended his season early, seems invigorated by the progress the Kings made last season. At 32, he should have a few elite-level seasons left.

Doughty and Mikey Anderson are a solid pair. Sean Walker’s return from knee surgery also will provide a lift. This could be a big season for Sean Durzi, who showed intriguing flashes of creativity last season.

Manon Rheaume, who played goalie in an exhibition for the Tampa Bay Lightning 30 years ago, is now a member of the Kings’ player development department.

Oct. 5, 2022


Which kids will step up?

Kings center Quinton Byfield, left, battles for the puck against San Jose Sharks defenseman Markus Nutivaara.
Kings center Quinton Byfield, left, battles for the puck against San Jose Sharks defenseman Markus Nutivaara during a preseason game Sept. 25.
(Tony Avelar / Associated Press)


All eyes will be on Quinton Byfield, who was expected to play a key role last season but broke his ankle before the season and later was placed on the COVID-19 protocol list while preparing to return.

The No. 2 overall pick in 2020 produced five goals and 10 points in 40 games, despite his obvious skills and size (6-foot-5, 220 pounds), and he was scratched after the first two games of the Kings’ playoff series against Edmonton. He must turn his occasional brilliance into consistent and responsible play as the third-line center behind Kopitar and Phillip Danault.

Gabe Vilardi, whose progress has been slowed by injuries since he was drafted No. 11 in 2017, was impressive during training camp. He filled in well while Viktor Arvidsson (20 goals in 66 games last season) recovered from back surgery. Arvidsson’s quicker-than-expected return puts Vilardi on the third line with Byfield and Alex Iafallo, a golden chance for all three to prove themselves.

Winger Arthur Kaliyev, 21, scored six of his 14 goals on the power play and can add punch to the second unit. Defenseman Tobias Bjornfot, 21, has struggled to keep a spot and that’s unlikely to change.

The Kings’ rebuild last season paid off with a postseason berth. Can they take the next step to become a true contender?

Sept. 21, 2022


Will goaltending be a problem?

Kings goaltender Jonathan Quick watches a shot fly past the goal during a playoff game against the Edmonton Oilers in May.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)


Coach Todd McLellan’s choice of Cal Petersen to start the opener last season seemed to signal an end to the Jonathan Quick-led Cup champions’ era and the rise of the next generation. That was the plan, but Petersen dropped the torch and Quick (.910 save percentage, 2.59 goals-against average) regained his old form.

Quick is as competitive as ever, but he’s approaching 37 and the Kings need to find a reliable partner to share the load. Petersen will get every chance at the job but can’t blow it again. If he falters, Blake might have to make a move.


Can they improve their power play?

Kings center Gabriel Vilardi celebrates with teammates after scoring during a preseason game against the Ducks on Oct. 4.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

Even a small improvement could generate a big boost after the Kings ranked 27th last season with a 16.1% success rate. A failing power play not only wastes chances but drags down the rest of the offense.

Newly hired assistant coach Jim Hiller, who played about half a season with the Kings during his brief NHL career, is in charge of the power play, which could include using Fiala at the point on the first unit.


The penalty-killing unit (76.7% efficiency, 22nd in the NHL) also needs major improvement.