With the additions of Viktor Arvidsson and Phillip Danault, the LA Kings forward group is even more crowded. Here are five players potentially outside looking in.
If the LA Kings were to begin the 2021-22 season today, there’s no denying the front office was aggressive to improve the roster from the abbreviated 2021 campaign. Andreas Athanasiou was brought back on a one-year deal, Viktor Arvidsson was acquired earlier in the offseason, and Phillip Danault was inked to a lucrative contract.
And with the divisions returning to norms next year, the Pacific Division looks like the weakest in the league on paper. That said, divisions are not won on paper, and the Kings will need to prove they have taken the next step in their development.
Here’s how I loosely envision the 14 forwards on the NHL roster at this point. Obviously, a lot can change between now and then, including performances in training camp and any injuries sustained.
Brown – Kopitar – Arvidsson
Iafallo – Vilardi – Andersson
Moore – Danault – Kempe
Tkachev – JAD – Athanasiou
Extras: Lizotte, Wagner
A quick rundown on the forward groupings. Brown and Kopitar have played together forever – why break that up now? Add Arvidsson to Kopitar’s wing, and that top-line looks like a legitimate threat.
I’m not sure if Danault will end up playing at the 2C in Los Angeles or slotted in lower. Regardless, I kept the line of Alex Iafallo, Gabe Vilardi, and Lias Andersson together, one that yielded a 52.9 xGF% over the final six regular-season games, per MoneyPuck.
Moore and Kempe gelled in limited sample sizes last season. Centered by Blake Lizotte on some occasions and Rasmus Kupari for a short period, the trio accounted for 62.1 xGF% and 61.1 xGF%, respectively. Toss in an elite defensive forward, and it screams production. This line could also serve as a formidable second line for what it’s worth.
The fourth line is the biggest wildcard. The Kings added Vladimir Tkachev, who led SKA St. Petersburg of KHL with 38 points in 45 games, and he should get a long look, becoming an RFA at the end of the 2021-22 campaign.
Anderson-Dolan got off to a red-hot start after patiently awaiting his time to shine. He faded down the stretch, recording just one point in the final 16 games.
When training camp gets underway, these five players could find themselves on the NHL roster bubble.
1. Brendan Lemieux
Acquired for a fourth-round pick last season, Brendan Lemieux played in only 18 games for the Kings, racking up two goals, two assists, and 14 PIM. At the time, the 25-year-old brought a much-needed element of physicality to a team looking to prove they weren’t a pushover.
“Brendan has proven he brings a certain element, that grit, that nastiness, that toughness, with some other teams in the NHL,” Todd McLellan noted. “He’s still considered a very young player, age-wise and experience-wise. We think that he can help.”
Before the additions, I would have told you there was probably a spot for Lemieux on the fourth line until proven otherwise, but it looks like ‘otherwise’ has already arrived. The Kings have to ask themselves if they prefer Lemieux or Wagner as one of the extras. Only time will tell.
2. Quinton Byfield
I think everyone was – or perhaps still is – envisioning Quinton Byfield to be given every possible chance to earn a spot on the NHL roster out of the gate. The former second overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft played in just six games with the Kings last year, impressing his head coach.
“I thought he contributed to a lot of offensive chances,” McLellan noted after Byfield’s debut. “He was good in the circle, he had a pretty good idea and understanding of the structure and how we wanted to play. Overall, definitely a passing grade for him, he was probably one of our better players.”
However, with Byfield meeting the proposed CHL modifications for under-20 players in the AHL, the rule would allow the Kings to bring their top prospect along at their own pace. It would no longer be OHL or NHL. Perhaps it’s a situation where Byfield begins the year in Ontario – where he collected eight goals and 12 assists in 32 games last season – and eventually takes over a full-time role at the NHL level.
A few things would need to occur on the NHL roster – among those being the potential for Gabe Vilardi to move to the wing or the Kings parting with Anderson-Dolan at the trade deadline, or some combination of both. The addition of Danault certainly crowded the center room further.
3. Arthur Kaliyev
Another player who benefited from a lack of an OHL season, Arthur Kaliyev finished with the most points (31) on the Ontario Reign’s roster last year. He was called up for a one-game cup of coffee against the Ducks, scoring in his debut.
“He’s a young player, he was excited to play, and the guys were excited for him, and that gave us a little bit of life and a little bit of energy,” the Kings bench boss said after Kaliyev’s debut. “When a 19-year-old can come in and do that, he’s obviously dangerous when he’s got the puck in and around the net.”
Turning 20 years of age in June, the proposed CHL rule modification does not apply to Kaliyev. He can begin the year in Ontario. Unless he dominates in training camp, the Reign is probably a good starting point for the sharp-shooter. And if you look at the forward projections above, where does Kaliyev slot in?
Like Byfield, Kaliyev likely doesn’t crack the Opening Night roster unless someone is moved off the roster.
4. Carl Grundstrom
Left exposed to the Seattle expansion draft, Carl Grundstrom‘s days appear to be numbered in Los Angeles. After being acquired in the Jake Muzzin deal in January 2019, the former second-round pick had high expectations, but he has yet to live up to them.
And time is running out. Grundstrom is no longer waiver exempt, and his 11 points in 47 games last season were not overly impressive. To add insult to injury, the 23-year-old accounted for a 39.2 xGF% in over 530 minutes on ice. Not great, Bob.
5. Martin Frk
Remember this guy? Martin Frk was expected to be a complementary piece to Gabe Vilardi, as the duo clicked at both the AHL and NHL levels in the 2019-20 season. However, Frk was injured in the Kings vs. Kings game, made his one and only appearance in early February but left that game re-aggravating the injury.
The 27-year-old is in the final year of his contract with the Kings, and he needs to give the front office a reason to consider him for another one. Frk scored six goals and 12 points in 14 games with the Reign, but, like Grundstrom, he’s no longer waiver exempt.
If the Kings call him up, they cannot send him back down without exposing him to waivers first, which they successfully did last year. Still, there’s not a great spot to project Frk into the lineup these days.
Honorable Mention: Rasmus Kupari
Kupari played really well for the Ontario Reign last season, scoring eight goals with 15 assists. He was called up to the NHL level for seven games, recording one goal.
Kupari will be in the second year of his ELC – he’s no longer slide eligible – so it doesn’t matter where he plays. But like the aforementioned players, where does Kupari slot in?