Atop the goalscoring charts for the LA Kings on their current roadtrip sit two names.
One you’d probably expect to see – captain Anze Kopitar. One you might not have expected to see – forward Jaret Anderson-Dolan.
Anderson-Dolan scored twice in a 2-1 win over Chicago earlier in the trip, providing the margin of victory on that night, and he added another in the first period against Tampa Bay last time out. Against the Lightning, it wasn’t necessarily the prettiest goal of the season, but it was one at the time that gave the Kings the belief that the team could get back into the game. It also came from a mentality of shooting the puck, something that McLellan was quick to note after the game on Saturday.
“He shot the puck tonight and I think considering who the goaltender is on the other team, probably lucky to sneak one through,” McLellan said after the Tampa Bay game. “That was the moment where we thought hey, we’re back in this, because he normally doesn’t give those up, but if you don’t shoot it, you have no chance of scoring, and JAD’s been shooting the puck.”
The output has been noticeable, even though in Anderson-Dolan’s mind, he hasn’t placed any added emphasis on shooting the puck more as of late.
He’s felt that first and foremost, he’s done a better job of getting open for teammates and whe playing on his current line, alongside Kevin Fiala and Blake Lizotte, he’s getting opportunities to use his shot when he gets open. He’s playing more on a per-game basis and he’s also being used on the power play in a net-front role. It’s all amounted to more opportunities with the puck on his stick.
“I don’t think it’s really the mentality, I think I just have the puck more offensively, just finding ways to get open a bit better now than I was before,” he said this morning. “I’ve always tried to think about shooting, I’m just getting more chances now.”
Though he’s attributed it more to opportunity than mentality, he has been shooting the puck more no matter how you shake it.
Over his last six games, since he’s joined his current line, Anderson-Dolan has 15 shots on goal, an average of 2.5 per game. Over his previous 31 games, the Calgary native had 34 total shots on goal, averaging right around 1.1 per game. His ice time has certainly increased in that span, over 13 minutes in all six games, a feat he reached just three times in the 34 that preceded it. Regardless though, he’s taking advantage of the opportunities he’s been given and he’s giving the Kings some of what they’re missing in the usual member of that line, Gabe Vilardi.
Shooting the puck is one thing, but scoring is another. Not every goal is the same, but take a look above at Anderson-Dolan’s second goal against the Blackhawks. The puck is on his stick for a mere matter of moments before it’s into the back of the net.
First and foremost, it came from a dangerous area on the ice. Over the last six games, Anderson-Dolan is averaging more than 2.5 scoring chances per game, and just shy of two high-danger chances. He was well under one per game in both categories in the 31 games coming in. Not only is he shooting the puck more, but he’s shooting it from more dangerous areas.
He shared this morning that one of his biggest focal points when getting additional repititions in before practice has been a quick release. Certainly displayed in the clip above. Earlier this season, when he wasn’t playing much, Anderson-Dolan was regularly the first player on the ice before a practice, getting reps in various areas that he could control, typically working with Skills Coach Derik Johnston on various aspects of his game. Though he’s now not only playing every night, but playing a larger role, that hasn’t left his approach. This morning, he was the first player out, taking passes and firing shots as rapidly as possible to work on that release.
“You don’t change just because you’re in the lineup,” he said. “Obviously you’re trying to manage your energy a little bit better, at the beginning of the year I wasn’t playing, so I had more energy for that, but still, I think it’s important to get your touches in. With how many games we play, we don’t get a lot opportunities, so getting out there is important.”
That’s the kind of stuff that makes a coach take notice.
Praised for his attitude when he was regularly scratched, Anderson-Dolan has maintained that standing now that he’s in every night. Now, it’s not fair to the rest of the group to say it’s just him. You frequently see lots of guys out there working on certain areas of their early. Then you’ve got players like Anderson-Dolan’s linemate, Kevin Fiala, who is typically someone who stays on late for his extra work and we frequently see him working on certain aspects of his game, including power-play specific movments, that we see show up the next day.
Focusing on Anderson-Dolan though, it’s been the early approach he’s taken and it shows his commitment to his own game and to the team.
“It tells me he doesn’t take anything for granted,” McLellan said. “He wants to get better as a player and he’s willing to work on his craft, we should be able to say that about everybody, the minute you can’t, that individual is probably in trouble. Now, everybody’s at a different stage and situation in their career, Kopi and Drew probably aren’t going to be out there as much, they’ve got a lot of miles on them. Generally talking about a young player that’s trying to cut his teeth, it’s nice to see him doing what he thinks he needs to do, asking for it actually, so that his game can continue to grow.”
As the Kings wind down their roadtrip, with just one game remaining tomorrow in Carolina, they’ll want to see the same caliber of play from Anderson-Dolan.
Upon the team’s return from the All-Star break, his role could potentially be different. The Kings are currently without four regulars in their lineup and should players like Vilardi, Trevor Moore or Arthur Kailyev become available, it could reshuffle the lineup. Though not feasible at this point to forecast any timetables, Kaliyev and Moore have resumed skating back in Southern California on their own.
Regardless of lineup placement though, Anderson-Dolan will be expected to continue to bring the same parts of his game as he has been. With versatility and trust, he can find a way to contribute in most roles. The Kings will be counting on him to continue to do that.
“He’s skating, he’s checking, he’s shooting the puck, he’s responsible, he’s a good teammate, all of those things are really important right now, let’s let those grow and expand,” McLellan added. “Then, later on we’ll add a little bit more. He gets a little bit of penalty killed time, injuries have allowed him to go on the power play. We can’t overload him right now, or he doesn’t meet our expectations, we’d be disappointed.”
The Kings arrived in Raleigh a couple of hours ago after their practice in Tampa Bay, with sights now set on tomorrow’s trip finale, taking them into the All-Star break. Morning skate is scheduled for 11:30 AM local time and we’ll take a look at what makes one of the NHL’s best teams tick in Carolina, as well a hope that a weird one in Tampa Bay can get the second line going offensively, as well as a few others notes from the skate itself. One more on the radar, Insiders.