Kings Seasons in Review – Restricted Free Agents

Insiders, we’ve reached the final of the group evaluations, with today’s recap of the players who spent last season, or at least the majority of, with the Kings, and are now restricted free agents this summer.

This group consists of four forwards – Andreas Athanasiou, Blake Lizotte, Matt Luff and Trevor Moore – all of whom will need new contracts this summer to continue with the organization, and all of whom are under team control.

Included here are audio evaluations of players featuring Jesse Cohen and Daryl Evans.

Following today’s reviews, we’ll take a look, individually, at the 17 remaining players who spent the majority of the season in the NHL with the Kings and are also under contract for next season.

Andreas Athanasiou
NHL Statline – 47 games played, 10 goals, 13 assists, -6 rating, 27 penalty minutes
Possession Metrics (Relative To Kings) – CF% – 47.2% (-1.4%), SCF – 44.9% (-1.2%), HDCF – 44.8% (-1.9%)

For better or for worse this season, things happened when Andreas Athanasiou was on the ice.

Among regular Kings forwards, Athanasiou ranked in the Top 3 in terms of scoring chances for and high-danger chances for per 60 minutes he was on the ice for. That’s a good thing. Athanasou also, however, ranked inside the Top 3 in terms of most scoring chances and high-danger chances against per 60 minutes. And that’s not as good.

Those numbers seem to fall right in line with what we saw from Athanasiou this season. His combination of speed and skill was a nice add for General Manager Rob Blake on the eve of training camp, with Athanasiou bringing some of the things that the Kings lacked. Adding in a guy who skates the way Athanasiou does, with the skill level and slippery play he brings, was a player the Kings were missing. Athanasiou helped there.

“We don’t talk a lot about that, but his ability to escape out of crowds, or dart to open ice and buy him or his teammates some time is significant,” Todd McLellan said of Athanasiou. “He used it the other day, and it just adds a different ingredient into the mix and we’re fortunate to have him right now.”

At the same time, we’re not talking about a player who was known for his defensive play when he signed with the Kings, though McLellan did talk about the growth in that area from Athanasiou throughout the season.

Production-wise, Athansaiou was one of seven Kings with double-digit goals this season, as he tied for fifth in terms of both goals and points amongst forwards. At just shy of a half-point-per-game, Athanasiou’s production level this season fell almost identically in line with where he was at least season, which he split between Detroit and Edmonton.

Though around that 0.5 points-per-game pace, it wasn’t broken down by a point every other game for Athanasiou. The 26-year-old winger collected a point in each of his first four games with the Kings and had five (3-2-5) from his first seven, before he was added to the NHL’s COVID-19 Protocol list in late January.

Once activated nearly a month later, Athanasiou had six points (3-3-6) from his first ten games back, before he finished the season with a few multi-point games, but also a few scoreless droughts. Athanasiou had multiple points three times in a span of ten games between March 31 and April 20, including a season-high three on 4/20 versus Anaheim. He also finished the season without a goal in his final 12 games and had just four over his final 30 games.

In many ways, an up-and-down campaign for Athanasiou, but on a one-year deal with a cap hit of $1.3 million, a good signing and addition for the Kings.

2021-22 Status – Athanasiou is a restricted free agent this summer and would need to agree on a new contract with the organization. He is one of those cases that doesn’t really make sense, as a non-tendered player last summer made him an unrestricted free agent, who is somehow now restricted again.

The forward said, in early-May, that talks had begun, something that was confirmed by General Manager Rob Blake. That’s not to say a deal is close, or even going to happen, but there have been conversations about extending Athanasiou’s stay with the organization.

“There’s always talks throughout the year,” Athanasiou said. “Obviously I’m on a one-year [contract], so I’ve got to re-sign this year, it’s pretty straight forward. There’s talks and they seem to be going pretty good. I’m looking forward to being an LA King hopefully next year and hopefully for a long time. It’s been all pretty positive and it’s just a part of the business the way it goes. If you play your hockey, the off-ice stuff will take care of itself.”

Blake Lizotte
NHL Statline – 41 games played, 3 goals, 7 assists, +2 rating, 16 penalty minutes
Possession Metrics (Relative To Kings) – CF% – 50.9% (+1.4%), SCF – 46.3% (-0.5%), HDCF – 47.3% (-0.8%)

Outside of the Kings top line, which for the bulk of the season consisted of Anze Kopitar between Alex Iafallo and Dustin Brown, just one regular forward was on the plus side of the 50% Corsi mark this season. That player was Blake Lizotte, who came in just shy of that trio at 50.9%.

While a step down from last season’s total of more than 55 percent, Lizotte has been among the team leaders in that area in both of his two full NHL seasons. Last season, Lizotte was a bit of a surprise in making the team out of training camp, as he provided a positive storyline on a team that struggled as a unit. As he settled in during his sophomore season, we saw many of the same traits as a season ago – effort, energy, responsible play – though the raw production did not quite match his numbers from the season prior.

Lizotte began the season on a line with Jeff Carter and Andreas Athanasiou, with his wingers combining to produce 11 points over the first seven games of the season, prior to both Lizotte and Athanasiou entering the NHL’s COVID-19 Protocol, which kept both forwards out for an extended stretch.

Once back in the lineup, Lizotte rovered between the three center positions in the bottom nine, behind top-line stalwart Anze Kopitar. On most nights, the Kings did not designate a defined second line, Lizotte seemed to draw the ire of fans when listed as the 2C on a particular night. When listed lower in the lineup, what he brings to the team seemed to be more appreciated.

After a long scoreless drought, that saw Lizotte go without a goal for nearly three months, he posted six points from his final ten games played, before an AC sprain cost him the month of May, and an opportunity to represent Team USA at the recently completed World Championships.

“You kind of go through stretches in this league, it’s the toughest league in the world, there’s good players and your confidence, your comfortability level definitely varies throughout a season, the ups and downs of playing in this league. It’s something that every player goes through and I think it’s a part of maturing in this league. I’m just happy to be on this side of it where I’m playing confidently right now.”

It’s rarely a mystery what you’re going to get from Lizotte on a night-to-night basis. He’s a 110% type of player, who maximizes his effort and provides value on the penalty kill. How you value Lizotte likely comes down to your expectations of the player. Expecting second-line production will leave you disappointed. Expecting a hard-working bottom six center, likely less so.

2021-22 Status – Lizotte recently completed the third year of his entry-level contract, making him a restricted free agent for the first time as a professional. Due to just two years of professional experience, Lizotte does not have arbitration rights this summer and next steps regarding his future will likely come with the tendering of qualifying offers in July, if the two sides do not strike a deal before then.

If Lizotte does re-sign with the Kings, expect him to compete for a spot in the bottom six with the Kings this coming season.

Matt Luff
NHL Statline – 13 games played, 1 goal, 0 assists, -4 rating, 5 penalty minutes
AHL Statline – 4 games played, 3 goal, 1 assist, even rating, 2 penalty minutes
Possession Metrics (Relative To Kings) – CF% – 44.6% (-2.4%), SCF – 43.0% (-0.1%), HDCF – 32.6% (-17.1%)

For the first time in his professional career, Matt Luff broke camp on the NHL roster. For the first time, he was in an opening night lineup with the Kings, as he skated on the team’s fourth line in both games of the opening series against Minnesota. Unfortunately for Luff, he exited the lineup with an injury following the game on January 16, and was never able to consistently re-take his place, appearing in 11 additional games throughout the remainder of the season.

On a team that had so many players vying for ice time in the bottom six, Luff found himself a victim of a numbers game at times. Coming off his injury, Luff worked his way back into the lineup for three straight games in February and six in March over a span of seven games, but his status was never permanent. He scored his only goal of the season, an important one, on March 6 in a comeback victory over St. Louis.

As the season progressed, however, Luff was assigned to the AHL’s Ontario Reign in early-April, after clearing waivers, where he scored three times in four games, eventually returning to the Kings where he finished the season with a pair of additional games played.

It was a challenging season in a lot of ways for Luff, who is a well-liked teammate throughout the locker room, with many supporters outside of it. At now 24-year-old, he’d likely have wanted a bit larger of an opportunity to prove his place at the NHL level, though he was in a situation with several other players, in a similar age range, with similar expectations.

2021-22 Status – As is the theme of this list, Luff is a restricted free agent this summer. In originally signing Luff, the Kings got their money worth and then some, with an undrafted free agent skating in 64 NHL games over his age 21, 22 and 23 seasons. Pretty impressive, honestly. Whether with the Kings or elsewhere remains to be seen, but Luff will continue on his quest to lock down a full-time NHL role this summer.

Trevor Moore
NHL Statline – 56 games played, 10 goals, 13 assists, -5 rating, 18 penalty minutes
Possession Metrics (Relative To Kings) – CF% – 46.8% (-1.6%), SCF – 45.2% (+0.4%), HDCF – 48.1% (+3.4%)

If you were looking for a player to say “this guy exceeded expectations more than anyone else”, Trevor Moore would likely be your guy.

Sure, there were a few other cases to be made, but it’d be hard to argue with answering who is Trevor Moore to that Jeopardy clue.

Moore began the 2020-21 season on the Kings fourth line, where he was solid enough through the opening slate of games. Enter a lineup change in early-February, which slotted Moore alongside Jaret Anderson-Dolan and Carl Grundstrom and Moore’s role began to increase.

That trio provided energetic and effective play in their short time together, moving their way from being slotted as the fourth line up all the way to the second line. That unit controlled more than 55 percent of high-danger chances when on the ice, and proved to be a line where all three members had one goal in mind. Hunt the puck. They did so effectively, combining for ten points over their first five games as a unit.

When Anderson-Dolan was injured in mid-February in Arizona, the line went their separate ways, though Moore’s progression continued. Moore was a sparkplug throughout the lineup, playing with a variety of different linemates and seemingly finding some form of success with more of them. Looking specifically at high-danger chances, Moore had the best percentage in his favor beyond the Iafallo – Kopitar – Brown trio.

When you look at the players coming up the pipeline, although many have Top 6 potential, it’s not rational to project each of them as Top 6 players with the Kings or anywhere in the league. Some might fulfill that potential, but others might need to make an NHL living as a third or fourth line player, while others might not reach their NHL potential at all. Such is life with projecting prospects. As McLellan put it, Moore path is an excellent example for a younger player coming up, in finding other ways to be successful.

“For some of our midrange younger players coming up and into the organization, maybe not being Top 6 players, there may be some in Ontario that are going to be middle six, or bottom six, this guy’s path to where he is right now is one that they should take a look at,” McLellan said. “Little later in development, finding a role. He was an offensive guy in college, he still has that in his game, but he’s been able to add to it and take on defensive responsibility. He’s worked his way into a permanent position in the NHL in my opinion.”

Permanent position, indeed.

What exactly Moore’s ceiling is, at this point, remains to be seen. Can he take that next step offensively, and provide more offensive production to match his energy and responsible play? Based on raw production, he matched Athanaisiou to a T this season at 10 goals and 23 points apiece. Can he be a consistent and effective middle-six forward? Is he more of an energy guy who can play in multiple places throughout the lineup, kill penalties and provide the Kings a spark?

At this stage, it’ll be Moore’s progression into next season which will answer that question, but if this season’s progress is to be believed, it’ll be an exciting progression to watch heading into next season.

2021-22 Status – Moore indicated during his final interview of the season that there had been some discussions surrounding a new contract and that he wants to remain with the Kings moving forward.

“A little bit,” Moore said of potential discussions. “From my end, I want to be here. Big Kings fan, I love this organization, I think that everything is trending in the right direction and I would love to be a part of it.”

Moore’s commitment to the area was recognized through his nomination for the Kings Clancy Award, awarded to the player who “best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community.”

Moore’s progression this season certainly earned him a pay increase, and his hope is that it will come here in Southern California.

We’ll take a look at the goaltenders later this week, with reviews for Jonathan Quick and Cal Petersen coming next.

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