Good Evening, Insiders!
Beginning a look into the larger takeaways from player exit interviews here with Anze Kopitar, Jonathan Quick and Drew Doughty. The core four has become the core three, with Dustin Brown announcing his retirement from the NHL. Later in the week, we’ll close things out with a look into Brown’s exit interview and some lasting memories of #23.
Starting today though with the remaining three and their takeaways here this season.
Big Swings -> Next Step
Last season, the message from Kopitar and Doughty was clear. As expected, it was a bit more direct from the latter than the former, but united from both.
Kopitar spoke about the importance of the summer ahead and how he wanted to see improvements made, whether they came internally or externally. It turned out that they came from both directions, with three veterans added into the mix, along with growth and development from younger players.
Entering this offseason, the thought behind bigger swings has changed into taking the next step forward, in Kopitar’s mind.
“I don’t think we need big swings, but I think obviously still have to improve on some areas,” he said. “Just upgrade, really. I think this year was a pretty significant step for this team, obviously making the playoffs, some of these young guys stepping up and having career years, it’s great to see. Going forward, we’ve got to take the next step.”
Qualifying for the postseason was a great stride forward, but now it’s about taking that next stride beyond that, from a playoff team to a title contender. Which step is larger, from out of the playoffs to in, or from playoff team to contender, well that’s a good question. But the Kings are now in the process of the latter and Kopitar believes they need to make the necessary steps to do so.
“We made the playoffs and that was a great step, but now we need to upgrade,” Kopitar added. “We’ve got to look into that and we’ve got to take the next step, that’s what it is. It’s actually very simple. Nobody is going to be satisfied with playing seven games and getting bounced in the first round. We’ve got to see what we can do to get better and win more playoff games.”
Kopitar was also asked about his linemates and what he might like to see moving forward.
“I don’t know, probably today it’s a little bit too early to start thinking about that, at least for me,” he said. “We’ve got to find something. We have good forwards that need to be put together, and just find it really.”
It seems, at least, that Kopitar has found his long-term right wing in Adrian Kempe.
Kempe scored 35 goals, by far a career year, with player and team both aiming towards a long-term commitment this summer. Kopitar noticed a huge growth in comfort by Kempe, both on and off the ice, noting his importance to the team moving forward.
“If he scores 35 again next year, I think that’ll be pretty good again,” Kopitar said of Kempe. “He’s obviously matured a lot, I think he’s a lot more comfortable in being one of the guys, too. He took big steps in every single position that he played in, really. Whether that’s power play, PK, he is and will be a big part of this team.”
One usual member of that line over the last several seasons has been Alex Iafallo. Iafallo was the long-time left wing alongside Kopitar and Brown from 2017, when he entered the league, through the longest stretch in that spot this season.
That combination was the team’s most consistent and effective last year, but the duo of Kopitar and Iafallo didn’t click quite as well this season, with Kempe on the right.
“Alex was there for quite a bit, last year it was working really well, this year it wasn’t working that great, so it’s just a matter of finding it again and go from there.”
Then there’s Arthur Kaliyev, a younger player who saw short stints on the left wing alongside Kopitar and Kempe, but never stuck there for an extended period. Kopitar believes in Kaliyev and believes that he needs to take that next step forward in the offseason in order to hang around on that line, or in any top-six role, permanently. He’s hopeful that the young winger is able to do so.
“I think that’s a growth element on Arty’s part,” Kopitar added. “This was his first full season and with the busy schedule, the back-to-backs, I think he’s probably learned some stuff about what he needs to do in the offseason and throughout the season to get ready. Hopefully he does take that step, absolutely.”
Growth of Youth & Impressions
As the captain of the Kings, Kopitar has a good feel for the youth in the room and how they’ve grown and developed.
He highlighted two different types of younger players – Adrian Kempe and Sean Durzi – for their progress. Kempe went from a career-high 16 goals in the NHL to 35 this season, putting together the tools that everyone knew he had. Kopitar also complemented Durzi for his work in stepping in with several veterans injured on the backend, with the difficult assignment in many areas of filling some of Drew Doughty’s minutes. All-in-all, he did a pretty good job in doing so, with the team’s youth as a whole taking some big steps forward.
“A lot of the young guys got put in pretty significant roles this year and took the next step,” Kopitar concluded. “They got a pretty good taste of what it takes and how it needs to be done throughout the season, and playing seven games in the playoffs was pretty good for the experience and getting to know the playoff atmosphere, the environment, how everything goes down. I think that was a big positive for our team.”
Importance of Team Growth
“It’s important every year to get there, that’s your goal every year and when you get there, you’re trying to win.”
The ultimate team guy, Jonathan Quick saw the importance of the steps the Kings took forward this season, even if they fell short of the ultimate goal. He’s rarely interested in talking about the saves he made, or the performances he put in. It’s always been about the 1 added to either the win column or the loss column.
His exit interview had similar tones, with most of his answers focused on the strides of the group forward, or the shortcomings of the group towards the end of the season. Overall, when asked he if personally has satisfaction from this season, he said that there is, because the team progressed and qualified for the playoffs. It’s not a happy ending, there’s disappointment there, but he did believe the team took a step forward.
“I think there is, because as a team we took a step,” Quick said. “At the same time, you get back into the playoffs, you play in games like that, whenever you’re not the last team standing at the end, you feel a little bit of disappointment. Like I said, we took a big step this year, but we want more. We’ll continue to work and be better next year.”
On the positive side, Quick was very happy with the way that this year’s team handled the adversity it faced. At times, that adversity was tremendous. Others, it was obviously lesser.
When faced with a potential slide in early-March, with countless regulars injured, the Kings prevailed and made the playoffs. That was Quick’s biggest takeaway from 2021-22.
“I just feel like the adversity that we dealt with throughout the year, how we handled it [was the biggest step forward],” he said. “Going through that injury spell, missing some important players throughout the year, the amount of players we were missing at one point and just dealing with that, having guys step up, play larger roles and play them well. Find ways to win games throughout the year, I think that was the biggest step we took this season.”
Playing Time & Petersen Growth
It’s hard to talk playing time in net without also mentioning the other guy too, so we’ll group them together here.
For the bulk of the 2021-22 season, Jonathan Quick and Cal Petersen split reps between the pipes. After a fairly even start to the season, Quick was the hotter of the two goalies in December, riding a lion’s share of the net at that time. From January through March, Petersen found his stride, playing more games than not, though Quick still got his time between the pipes.
When push came to shove, however, Quick was ridden hard down the stretch, solidifying a playoff berth and starting all seven games in the postseason. Did the distribution of the games matter to Quick?
“Playing time is playing time, whenever you get the opportunity to play, you’re excited for it,” he said. “Whatever it happens to be next year, you just look forward to whenever you get the chance to play.”
Quick was also asked about the growth of Petersen, with the answer indicating he’s seen that growth from his goalie partner really since Day 1.
Petersen was a part-time player, between the NHL and AHL, during the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons. He assumed a full-time NHL role alongside Quick last season and earned a contract extension in the offseason. Quick has seen growth in the Iowan, noting the importance of the games he played this season
“Yeah, he’s done it since he’s been here, it feels like every day he continues to work on his game and continues to get better,” he said. “He’s played some important games for us, especially down the stretch and he’s given us a chance to win every time he’s in there. Him, among a bunch of others, you see them every day getting better and better. That’s a good sign for the team.”
Dustin Brown entered this season with one year left on his contract, as Quick will do entering the 2022-23 season.
When asked, following the fanfare surrounding Brown’s retirement, how he avoids that one year left being any sort of a distraction, the answer was perfect.
“I only have one year left?” he asked, to laughs.
“It is what it is, right? Not going to really change anything, thought process doesn’t really change at all. You get ready for the season, try to come in in the best shape possible and try to help the team win next year. All you’re really thinking about.”
Missing Round 1
As much as it was killing Kings fans not to see Drew Doughty on the ice, it was killing the man himself even more.
“Yeah, it wasn’t fun,” Doughty said. “Watching the guys, I was honestly just so nervous, it was hard for me to even keep it together up there. It sucked not playing, I live for playing in the playoffs and it hurt not to play, but the boys did a great job.”
I remember back in December, when the Kings played in Edmonton for the first time in the season, they won 5-1. Speaking with Doughty after the game, it was evident the amount of pride he takes in playing against and shutting down the NHL’s best players. As we know in Edmonton, the Oilers have two of those players. Doughty’s presence was missed on the ice.
His presence was there off the ice, however. Doughty accompanied the team on the road and was there for every game at home. It wasn’t in a number-one defenseman role, but it was still in an important locker room role. He embraced it and believed it was able to help the team in some ways.
“I just tried to keep it loose for the guys, a lot of them had never played in playoffs and they were young, so you could tell a few of them were nervous,” he said. “I just tried to have fun with it. I can keep the room light, make them laugh and at the same time, give them some insight on what was happening throughout the series. They would ask me, what are you seeing here, what are you seeing there and I would help them out with that. I was just there for encouragement and I was very happy I got to go. It was a lot of fun and I enjoyed watching those games, being a part of them in some sort of way. I think it was useful for me going.”
Would he have pushed for a comeback had the Kings progressed, though?
“I think we were going to rush it back, maybe Conference Finals I was going to try,” he said. “I told them, if we made the Final, I was going to play, I [don’t care], I’ll have surgery again.”
Satisfactory Moves Made, What’s To Come?
As noted in Kopitar’s section, the veterans made clear last year they wanted to see offseason improvements made to the personnel.
Doughty was the most vocal in that category, saying he would not be happy if the team stood pat in the offseason and they did not. What a turnaround it’s been, now 12 months later. Doughty was extremely happy with the moves that Rob Blake and his team made last summer, with the three veterans he added all making a difference in the Kings’ turnaround in the playoff team.
“I think that they’ve done a great job,” Doughty said of management. “The signings that we made, the trades, with Arvidsson and Danault, those couldn’t have worked out any better. We’re going in the right direction. I’m very pleased with the way we progressed this year and I’m looking forward to next year, I think we’re going to be a really good team. I know the season just ended and I wasn’t playing, so I’m already excited for next season, I can’t wait to get going, because I think we’re going to be really good and I still believe they might even do a little bit more, we’ll see what happens. I think we’re going to be a team that can win some playoff series next year.”
That’s not to say he believes the Kings are a finished product.
He knows it’s not his job to make offseason changes or additions, but highlighted two areas that he thinks maybe one more piece is needed, whether that be through internal growth or external improvement. They go along pretty well with the narratives you usually see, and really aren’t all that surprising.
“I don’t want to say we’re missing things, but I think we can add some toughness, I think that would be good,” he said. “Maybe a bigger guy on D, besides Eddy, we’re all kind of little guys, but I think we can always add a scorer, that’s still our downfall I think, is not scoring. Power play was not even close to good enough, so I think we could still add another top-six guy that puts the puck in the net, I think that would be great, but I don’t know what we have to do, that’s just my opinion, it’s up to them to decide.”
10,000 Foot Overview
Lastly, Doughty had the 10,000-foot perspective of the Kings over the last two months of their season.
He saw the Kings play from the press box, as opposed to on the ice and had this to say about the younger players on the backend.
“You get to see more of it,” he said, of sitting out. “When you’re in the game, you’re not really paying attention to other people’s shifts like you are when you’re just watching. I paid more attention to the D than I did to the forwards and they did a great job, I’m very impressed. We’re going to have some problems on the right side there, because we’ve got a lot of guys and a lot of good players, I think they’re all NHL players. That’s not for me to deal with, but I’m very impressed by them, I thought they had a great season, they stepped up. The good thing is, you can see where the room to improve is, and it’s not things that they can’t do, it’s things they just don’t know yet. We’re going to be able to help them with that and they’re just going to get better.”
That’s the Core Three! Still to come this week will be a look at what offseason acquisition Phillip Danault had to say, as well as Thousand Oaks native Trevor Moore, the internally developing Alex Iafallo, Adrian Kempe and Matt Roy, as well as, of course, our final Exit Interview with Dustin Brown.
Thanks for reading, as always!