LA Kings Rasmus Kupari

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T.J. Tynan could be the key to unlock production from LA Kings prospects Samuel Fagemo and Rasmus Kupari.

With August now upon us, it won’t be long before the LA Kings and the rest of the league are getting back on the ice together for their preseason schedules. This will be an opportunity to get a look at what is considered the best prospect pool in hockey.

There continues to be a lot of buzz this summer surrounding the Los Angeles Kings’ organizational depth. The rumors of a once-potential Jack Eichel trade and the subsequent signing of center Phillip Danault only made that talk even louder.

Much of these conversations, particularly with regards to the Eichel rumors, have centered around Quinton Byfield, Alex Turcotte, Arthur Kaliyev and Gabe Vilardi. It’s easy to see why these are the names most frequently talked about. These are, after all, the top prospects in the Kings’ organization. But, you don’t get the reputation of having a deep farm system if it’s only a few names.

In Samuel Fagemo and Rasmus Kupari, the Kings have two players that I believe are set to have big seasons for the Ontario Reign, making the already difficult decisions for the Kings’ brass that much tougher.

Drafted out of Sweden in the second round of the 2019 NHL Entry Draft, Fagemo is a shoot-first winger, one of the few things the Kings prospect cupboard has been low on. His hands are certainly not a negative, his skating has been average, but it’s his shot that’s been the winger’s carrying tool. Virtually every scouting report on Fagemo mentions how good his shot is.

In 32 games last season in Ontario, Fagemo finished with 10 goals and 18 points. While the overall stat line isn’t going to wow anyone, this was the Swede’s first taste of hockey in North America, scoring over half a point per game in his professional debut — which is something worth taking note of.

On a team that, along with Byfield and Turcotte, had sniper Arthur Kaliyev and the heavy shot of Martin Frk, it was Fagemo who led the Reign in power play goals (4). This speaks in part to his effectiveness, but more to the trust of the coaching staff to recognize how dangerous he can be with a extra space on the ice.

After being passed over in the 2018 NHL Entry Draft, Fagemo needed to improve his defensive side of the game. Reign coach John Wroblewski praised Fagemo’s “unbelievable attitude” and willingness to learn:

His head is nodding all the time, he’s listening and taking in information.”

En route to a bronze medal, the 5-foot-11 winger led the entire 2020 World Junior Championship in goals (8) and points (13) including nabbing player of the game honors with two goals against Switzerland.

When we take a high-level comparison of Turcotte and Fagemo, the likelihood of not just Turcotte, but Fagemo also becoming an NHLer are pretty similar. Turcotte’s skating and overall skill level have his upside higher, but Fagemo is absolutely a legitimate NHL prospect.

The Finnish Kupari does go about things differently than Fagemo. The 20th overall pick by the Kings in 2018, Kupari is a very smooth skater and will dazzle you with his hands. His playmaking ability and vision are among his top attributes, and it’s this high-end talent that will have him knocking on the door of the NHL roster, if not in training camp, certainly during the season.

His edge work and smooth skating really allow him to create space for himself and give him more opportunities to set up his linemates.

Originally drafted as a center, it’s in the cards for Kupari to be one of the many young centers to make the shift to the wing – ala Turcotte. While I think he has the skating, hands and vision to be a center, it’s hard to see the fit with those ahead of him on the depth chart. I also think the addition of T.J. Tynan could hint at an extended look on the wing this upcoming season for Kupari.

The 2020-21 season was his second in Ontario and he finished third on the team in assists (15) and points (23). The 23 points in 32 games was good for 0.72 points per game. Here’s how that ranked with the Reign last season:

Arthur Kaliyev: 0.78

Rasmus Kupari: 0.72

Alex Turcotte: 0.66

Quinton Byfield: 0.63

Kupari’s play didn’t go unnoticed by the Kings. He was called up in March for three games and again in May for four more. In those seven games, he scored one goal. His movement off the puck is subtle but put him in great position for his first career goal.

While in the NHL, Kupari’s most common linemate was Trevor Moore. But there was a big difference in Expected Goals depending on who the other winger was:

Moore – Kupari – Kempe: 61.1% xG% in 31 minutes together.

Moore – Kupari – Wagner: 27.3% xG% in 32 minutes together.

The sample size is small, but when played with skill players who can skate, Kupari has shown the ability to have some success at the NHL level.

Perhaps the most interesting part of the upcoming season for Fagemo and Kupari is the newly acquired Tynan, whose attributes and impressive AHL career has been covered here. Now, with so many roster decisions to be made in Los Angeles and Ontario, to try and guess what the opening night roster could be – let alone line combinations – will leave your head spinning.

Much could hinge on Byfield and whether or not he starts in Los Angeles, but I tend to think the Kings are going to want to slow-play his development and make sure he is as ready as can be before joining L.A. full-time. If that’s the case, the most likely scenario is the return of Turcotte – Byfield – Kaliyev (who also has his sights set on Los Angeles) as the top line.

I wouldn’t think one of the AHL’s top playmakers would sign on and not play a top-six role, so penciling Tynan into the second-line center slot seems more than plausible. Boy, wouldn’t it be fun to see a playmaker like Tynan flanked by Fagemo and Kupari? Between Fagemo’s shooter mentality and the high-end skill, skating and playmaking ability of Kupari, this could be one of the more productive lines in the AHL – or at least among the most exciting.

We will soon need to see more consistent production from a number of Kings’ prospects, but few have the opportunity to play with the reigning AHL MVP. IF the two young forwards get the opportunity to play together with Tynan, this could be a breakout year for them.

Vilardi is already in L.A.; Byfield is a star in waiting; Turcotte is going through a position change but has looked great in doing so; Kaliyev’s goal scoring has continued on in the AHL. All four of these players are deserving of the praise they receive. But, if you were sleeping on Fagemo and Kupari, it’s about time to wake up and enjoy the show.

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