While he didn’t light up the boxscore, does Austin Wagner’s size and speed make him a must re-sign candidate for the Los Angeles Kings?
Entering the 2015 NHL Draft, Austin Wagner was ranked as the 35th best North American prospect by the NHL Central Scouting Bureau. Up until that point, the Calgary native had been playing for the Regina Pats of the WHL. After being drafted by the Los Angeles Kings, Wagner posted back-to-back breakout years with Regina, tallying a combined 58 goals with 70 assists in two seasons.
However, that production has yet to carry over with the Kings organization, as Wagner scored ten goals with seven assists for Ontario in the 2017-2018 season. In his first full season in Los Angeles, a 22-year-old Wagner posted 12 goals with nine assists in 62 games.
But despite more playing time this past season, Wagner failed to take the next step, scoring just six goals with five assists. He’s arguably the fastest skater on the Kings roster, and as one of the more physical forwards on the team, he tallied a team-high 145 hits, contributing to a 2.7 dGAR.
And while his playing time was primarily limited to the fourth line, Wagner finished ninth on the team with 124 shots. Perhaps the victim of being unlucky, Wagner finished with the worst expected goal differential. According to Charting Hockey, Wagner should have finished the shortened season with 14 goals, falling well short of that number.
Being unlucky resulted in the soon-to-be restricted free agent having one of the worst production rates on the club:
- Goals-per-60 minutes: 0.48
- Assists-per-60 minutes: 0.16
- Points-per-60 minutes: 0.89
As noted, Wagner will be a RFA at the end of the season, and he’s projected to receive a two-year bridge deal worth $1.6M. Despite regressing from a promising rookie year, Wagner at an $800K AAV makes a lot of sense to bring back.
The Wagner-Blake Lizotte-Adrian Kempe line was one of the best line combinations in terms of expected goal rates last season, so perhaps that’s a long-term solution for the Kings going forward.
It’ll be interesting to see what the second and third lines look like next season, especially with the potential of Jeff Carter moving down to the third line.
Wagner is likely to return, especially at a contract so affordable, but there’s no question that next year will be important for his development.