Press-Telegram (Long Beach)
Honorable mentions for Doughty, Vilardi, Kopitar
The Kings will visit Vegas at least twice this season, but, if the NHL Awards are held in person, some of their top performers might be planning a third trip in the offseason.
Since 2018, the Kings have been absent from both the playoffs and nominations for the league’s major awards, but that could change this year.
A look at Kings in the running for league awards:
Drew Doughty, Norris Trophy
Doughty won the Norris in 2016 and was a finalist for the award three additional times. He finished third in 2010 and was runner-up in 2015 and 2018.
However, the past two seasons saw significant dips in his productivity across the board — offense, possession, power play and overall profile.
This season, Doughty has had a resurgence in all areas while continuing to shoulder an array and volume of responsibilities that few defensemen do. He is second in the NHL in time on ice and, skating alongside rookie Mikey Anderson.
Doughty is tied for the league lead in power-play points among defenseman and is also tied for the fourthmost overall points by a blue liner. His possession and two-way numbers have improved dramatically as well.
Offensively, Doughty has reaped the benefits of much more dangerous power play and deeper mix of forwards, while also taking advantage of playing more on the flank during power plays. Perhaps more than anything, the enthusiasm, tirelessness and range have all returned to Doughty’s game.
To recapture the trophy, Doughty will face stiff competition from 2018 winner of the Norris and 2020 Conn Smythe Trophy (playoff MVP), Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman. Hedman remains the front-runner for this year’s award, but Doughty finds himself on a short list of potential finalists.
Gabe Vilardi, Calder Trophy
Vilardi appeared to be one of the steals of the 2017 draft. He fell out of the top 10 despite projections that had him just outside the top five.
A back condition robbed Vilardi of significant development time and cast some aspersions on his potential.
Vilardi battled hard to return to form and fitness. Between a brief stint last season and the early going this year, he has moved back to the fore of a scintillating group of players under 25 in the organization.
Vilardi is tied for fifth in rookie scoring and tied for second in goals by a rookie, with potential to climb both leaderboards. While he has had some tough nights in the faceoff circle, he has won about 46% of his draws and taken 304, nearly 200 more than the Kings’ next mostutilized right-handed shot.
Vilardi would be the second King to win the Calder (Luc Robitaille in 1987). The main impediment is some stiff competition, mostly from European players who arrived with pro experience.
Russian winger Kirill Kaprizov has been captivating in Minnesota. Kevin Lankinen, a Finn, salvaged Chicago’s threadbare goaltending situation and, in part, its season, along with Swiss rookie forward Pius Suter, who leads all newcomers in goals.
Anze Kopitar, multiple awards
The King with the greatest potential to bring home some hardware is their captain, Kopitar.
Coach Todd McLellan called Kopitar perhaps the most consistent player he’d seen in over two decades in pro hockey. McLellan, former Kings coach Darryl Sutter and no shortage of opposing coaches have praised the comprehensiveness and integrity of Kopitar’s game over the years. So it comes as little surprise that he has returned to the dialogue surrounding so many different awards.
Kopitar has racked up 28 points in 23 games, the best points-per-game average of his career. His previous best was in 2018, when he was a finalist for the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player. He also won the Selke Trophy (top defensive forward) that season, for the second time, and he has been a finalist for the award two other times in his career.
In 2016, he won the Lady Byng Trophy as the league’s most gentlemanly player — a feat he could repeat given his low penalty total and clean defensive play — as well as the Selke. Capturing the Selke and Lady Byng had been accomplished previously by only Pavel Datsyuk and Ron Francis.
Only Sergei Fedorov has won both the Hart and Selke trophies in the same season.
Traditionally, Hart winners also have a shot at the Ted Lindsay Award (league’s most outstanding player award voted on by its players) though Kopitar has never been a finalist previously.
If Kopitar were to win the Selke — his defense by traditional and advanced metrics alike has been superb this year — he would become just the sixth player to win the award three times.
Only two players have won it four times, including Boston center Patrice Bergeron, who was a finalist last year for the ninth time, an alltime record. Philadelphia center Sean Couturier, last year’s winner, as well as St. Louis center Ryan O’Reilly and Vegas winger Mark Stone are also elite defensive forwards.
The Hart and Lindsay finalists are always in rarefied air. Thus far the staggering production of Edmonton’s Connor McDavid and Toronto’s Auston Matthews might confine those conversations. Still, Kopitar’s well-roundedness and prolific scoring should put him in the mix.
Kopitar has also been lauded for his leadership as the Kings have accelerated their rebuild under McLellan. He could find himself in the midst of the captains and alternate captains vying for the Mark Messier Leadership Award. Kopitar’s teammate and close friend Dustin Brown won the award in 2014, the year the Kings to their second Stanley Cup.