LA Kings: Predicting which free agents will return next season

Mar 31, 2021; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Los Angeles Kings left wing Andreas Athanasiou (22) celebrates after scoring against the Vegas Golden Knights during the first period of an NHL hockey game at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: John Locher/POOL PHOTOS-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 31, 2021; Las Vegas, Nevada, USA; Los Angeles Kings left wing Andreas Athanasiou (22) celebrates after scoring against the Vegas Golden Knights during the first period of an NHL hockey game at T-Mobile Arena. Mandatory Credit: John Locher/POOL PHOTOS-USA TODAY Sports /

The LA Kings have a number of pending free agents this offseason. Which ones will return to the club next season?

This offseason is perhaps the most critical in the LA Kings rebuild. Last year was a season of evaluation, one that saw another piece of the Stanley Cup core traded in Jeff Carter. The Kings got a look at a few of their prized prospects, including six games from Quinton Byfield near the end of the year.

Before the free-agency period begins on July 28 and perhaps continuing right up until next season’s training camp, the Kings have a number of rostered free agents they need to address. I assume general manager Rob Blake will prioritize a few players and perhaps circle back on some if the club or player wants to test the free-agent market.

That said, we’ll do our best to predict which players return next year. Free-agent statuses via CapFriendly.

Andreas Athanasiou (RFA)

We recently wrapped up our year-end review of Athanasiou. If we discussed this mid-season, I’d tell you that the 26-year-old will absolutely be back for the 2021-2022 season. He really tailed off toward the end of the season, but the club did as a group. I think his speed is a trait the LA Kings offense sorely needs right now, so I think Athanasiou comes back next year.

Prediction: Returns

Blake Lizotte (RFA)

Lizotte had a challenging year. He missed two weeks on the NHL’s COVID protocol list and the last nine games with a sprained MCL. Obviously, his production took a hit this past season, tallying just three goals and seven assists in 41 games. Had he been 100 percent healthy and posted those numbers, he’d be an easy non-tender candidate. But given the aforementioned issues that held him back, I think Lizotte returns next season but on a short leash, perhaps transitioning into the Michael Amadio role.

Prediction: Returns

Trevor Moore (RFA)

A priority re-sign, Moore experienced a career-year in the shortened campaign. The 26-year-old looks like a great return in the Jack Campbell deal with Toronto two seasons ago, tallying ten goals and 23 points. He’s continued to play well at the World Championships, further justifying a well-deserved contract extension is in order.

Prediction: Returns

Matt Luff (RFA)

I like Matt Luff, but I feel like he’s out of time in Los Angeles. He made it into 12 games last season, including the season finale but scored just one goal. Perhaps the Kings can work out a sign and trade with a club to turn the undrafted free-agent signing into a conditional draft pick elsewhere. If not, Luff is probably non-tendered.

Prediction: Goes

Christian Wolanin (UFA)

Wolanin would have been an RFA if he had played in 13 games with the Kings. He only made it into three, so he’ll become a Group 6 UFA. That said, the coaching staff seems to like the 26-year-old, and he provided good depth on the roster last season. With Kurtis MacDermid’s future in question as the seventh defenseman going forward, Wolanin looks to have more upside.

Prediction: Returns

Lias Andersson (RFA)

Acquired for a second-round pick in last year’s draft, Andersson remained patient to get regular playing time in the lineup. Toward the end of the season, he really gelled with Gabe Vilardi and Alex Iafallo. The 22-year-old has a certain feistiness to his game that the coaching staff seems to love. He only tallied three goals and six points in 23 games, but Andersson still has tremendous upside as he continues to develop. I’d say he’s back next year and on the same line where he finished.

Prediction: Returns

Boko Imama (RFA)

The enforcer on the Ontario Reign over the last four seasons, Boko Imama tallied a career-high 14 points and 134 PIM in 50 games last season. He’s 24, and the acquisition of Brendan Lemieux puts any potential promotion to the NHL roster in question. I’d say he’s back, but if he wants to test the free-agent market for a potential NHL role elsewhere, I’d be more than happy to grant Imama that request.

Check out his guest appearance on the podcast.

Prediction: Returns

Drake Rymsha (RFA)

Oh boy. Flip a coin. Rymsha played just two games between the Reign and Kings this season, spending the majority of the year on the NHL club’s taxi squad. He made his NHL debut in the season finale, which was a moment that his father and Drake will never forget. However, two seasons ago, he made it into just 11 games for Ontario, with the bulk of his time coming in the ECHL. The 22-year-old may look for other opportunities, but I can also see him re-signing with the Reign.

Prediction: Flip a coin

Mikey Eyssimont (RFA)

Similar to Boko Imama, Eyssimont is now 24 years old. A former fifth-round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft, he’s paid his dues with three full seasons in the AHL, tallying nine goals and eight assists this past year. I’ll say he’s back next year with the Reign on a one-year deal, but he could be looking for NHL playing time elsewhere if he can’t latch on in the Kings organization.

Prediction: Returns

Kale Clague (RFA)

Clague was handled oddly toward the end of the season. The former second-round pick in 2016 made it into 18 NHL games and split time between Los Angeles and Ontario. But he went nearly two weeks sitting on the taxi squad while MacDermid continued to see playing time. Clague is a must-re-sign player this offseason. He took another step developmentally in the shortened 2021 season, but he will likely be left exposed in Seattle’s expansion draft.

Prediction: Returns

Austin Strand (RFA)

Strand was a surprise player on the Kings’ defensive corps this season. He stepped in admirably when both Matt Roy and Sean Walker were lost to injuries in the same game. Another undrafted free-agent gem for the LA Kings scouting department, Strand played 13 games in Los Angeles this past season and 19 in Ontario. He changed the dynamic of the third pairing when the Kings needed it most. I’m not sure where he fits in long-term. Maybe similar to Luff, if the Kings can get a draft pick out of an undrafted player if we’re going to look at it that way. Otherwise, he’s valuable depth in Ontario.

Prediction: Returns

Jacob Moverare (RFA)

Coach Wroblewski’s most impressive player this season. The 22-year-old’s first year in the AHL was a success, tallying a goal and 14 assists in just 26 games. The blueliner should transition into a full-time role with the Reign next season. Beyond that is anyone’s guess, but he’ll be back for the 2021-2022 campaign.

Prediction: Returns

Daniel Brickley (UFA)

Twenty-six years of age, Brickley is approaching a now-or-never time in his career. Because he’s an unrestricted free agent, he can speak freely with other clubs about a potential NHL role. He’s been with the Reign the last three seasons and posted just three goals and three assists in 23 games last year. I’ll go out on a limb and guess that he signs elsewhere for a more promising opportunity.

Prediction: Goes

Mark Alt (UFA)

Alt was signed before the season when the league announced the implementation of the taxi squad at the NHL level. He’s a veteran that will latch on elsewhere, but he was added just for the modified season in 2021.

Prediction: Goes

Three bounce back candidates for the LA Kings next season. dark. Next

Troy Grosenick (UFA)

The Goose! Grosenick earned his first win in nearly 6.5 years in his first start of the season against the Ducks. Similar to Alt, the taxi squad required a team to carry three goals at all times. I like what Grosenick provided for the organization when they needed it, but he’ll have a chance to get regular playing time elsewhere.

Prediction: Goes