Los Angeles Kings: Jeff Carter better off on the third line?

(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
(Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

With a recent decline in play, is Jeff Carter destined for the third line on the Los Angeles Kings? Who moves onto the second line in his place?

When the Los Angeles Kings acquired Jeff Carter from the Blue Jackets in February 2012, it was a necessary move, and one that would set the Kings up for one of the most remarkable Stanley Cup runs ever. The Kings became the first eight seed to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup, backed by Carter’s eight postseason goals and five assists.

While he was a productive member for the franchise over the next five seasons, there has been a noticeable regression in Carter’s game over the last two years. We’ll omit the 2017-2018 season from consideration because he was limited to just 27 games after undergoing surgery to repair an injury in his leg.

The 35-year-old recorded career-lows in points in both the 2018-2019 (33) and 2019-2020 (27) seasons. He’s clearly lost a step, impacting his ability to be a consistent goal-scorer as demonstrated by his 0.17 and 0.28 goals-per-game in 2018-2019 and 2019-2020, respectively. Both numbers are career-worsts since Carter first entered the league.

His final game in 2020 came on February 18 after suffering a lower-body injury, which is right about the time that the LA Kings got hot to close out the shortened season. Carter has primarily led the charge on the Kings second line, but it may be time for him to shift down to the third line.

After posting strong numbers in Ontario, 20-year-old Gabriel Vilardi may be in line to take over second-line centerman duties. It’s a minimal sample size to go off, but in ten games with the Kings this year, Vilardi scored three goals with four assists. In those ten games, he accounted for nearly half of the offensive point shares (0.7) as Carter, who played in 60 games (1.6).

The biggest takeaway from Carter’s game lately is that the Kings have had less offensive zone starts when Carter is on the ice, hovering around the 50 percent mark, which is quite a reduction from the 55 to 60 percent range over the previous five seasons.

I suppose another alternative would be to move Carter to right-wing on the second line to replace Trevor Lewis, who is likely to depart in free agency. The move would still allow for Vilardi to transition onto the second line while putting a veteran alongside him for support.

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While not directly saying the production would be linear, but moving Carter from center to wing could have a Claude Giroux-like impact. The Flyers center made the switch to the wing in 2017 and experienced a career resurgence, scoring 34 goals with 68 assists, which was quite the bump from 14 goals and 44 assists the year prior.