As the LA Kings weigh their multiple roster decisions, here are five prospects that could push for a roster spot.
Development Camp is underway for the LA Kings, and it’ll be the first look at some of the exciting prospects in the organization. At Hockey Royalty, we have covered the multitude of roster decisions General Manager Rob Blake has to make. On Episode 2 of Making It Reign, Randon McMahon and I took a stab at the Ontario Reign’s potential opening night lineup — as erroneous as that’s sure to end up being.
Here, I’ll take a look at five prospects that I think have a shot to make the NHL team out of camp. It should be noted that this is with the idea that the Kings view themselves as a playoff team, so my approach is to address the biggest needs, as I see them, on the NHL roster: 5-on-5 scoring and the second pair left defenseman. Here goes:
I have been steadfast that the LA Kings need help — in a not-so-small way — in their top-six winger group.
At the moment, it’s fair to suggest the first two lines will look something like this:
Iafallo – Kopitar – Brown
Kempe – Danault – Arvidsson
However, I still believe there are questions to be asked for the other three. And it’s one of these spots where Kaliyev will look to wedge his way in. The young winger is coming off of a strong rookie season in the AHL, netting 14 goals and 31 points in 40 games — not to mention, in his one game in LA, he scored a goal.
So, where would he fit? He has the good fortune of having two high-end playmaking options as centers. For me, Dustin Brown would fit perfectly on the third line at this point in his career. Yes, he is coming off a strong 2020-21 campaign. However, when widening the lens to the prior three years, we see a dip in production:
Similar to Brown is his linemate Alex Iafallo.
Iafallo has been a very good defensive forward. However, with Kopitar and Danault being so dominant at both ends of the ice, the Kings need (a lot) more goals at even strength to even think about the playoffs. They finished with the third-lowest goal total in the league at 5-on-5 last season.
The additions of Arvidsson and Danault will undoubtedly help that, but having a very defense-first winger on the top line isn’t what the Kings need at this point. This isn’t to say Iafallo doesn’t have a place on the roster. I think he is still a necessary player and, like Brown, one who has shown to be effective on the power-play. If the LA Kings opt to keep Quinton Byfield in Ontario, perhaps Iafallo and Brown could flank the young Gabe Vilardi, giving him a little more cushion on the third line.
Kaliyev’s elite shooting ability would be a necessary addition to the Kings’ top six. Iafallo and Brown both are still productive players in their own ways on the defensive side of the puck and on the power play, but for a team desperate for 5 on 5 scoring, they haven’t produced enough of that.
2. Kale Clague
Clague has had 22 career games in the NHL — including 18 last season — but this could be an opportunity for him to crack a top-four role with the Kings.
With Alex Edler’s addition this offseason, the left side of the L.A. blueline looks something like this:
I don’t see any reason why Anderson would not start the season with Drew Doughty, and Edler seems primed for a 3rd-pair, penalty-killing type defenseman. That leaves the middle pair. The most likely partner for one of these left-shot defensemen is Matt Roy.
Maatta is someone who should be in consideration of being an odd man out. With one year left on his deal with Los Angeles, and two young kids in Clague and Bjornfot (among others) knocking at the door, Maatta being waived isn’t out of the realm of possibility — not to mention, his first season with the Kings isn’t something I’d consider “top-four defenseman” worthy:
Clague’s main competition might actually be Bjornfot. However, I think there is a very real possibility the latter will start the season in Ontario.
The 20-year-old Swede is still a promising young blueliner in the Kings organization, but to date, the metrics have not looked good in his NHL tenure:
Let’s also remember that this 2nd-pair defenseman is going to be paired with Roy. Here’s a look at how the two performed when paired with Roy at 5-on-5, courtesy of Natural Stat Trick, last season (stress, small-sample size):
Bjornfot – Roy (392:26 TOI): 46.79%, 43.74%
Clague – Roy (53:10): 57.47%, 45.07%
Now, the sample, particularly with Clague-Roy, may not be enough to start doing cartwheels, but perhaps it could be argued that the sample of Bjornfot-Roy is enough to ask, “Maybe this isn’t working right now?” Something to chew on, at least.
3. Quinton Byfield
I have Byfield third on this list because I want to make sure expectations (mine included) are tempered. He is still only 19 years old and has only spent a brief time playing professional hockey. That said, again, the Kings are talking playoffs. As a result, Byfield will get an extended look in training camp.
In his first year in the AHL, Byfield had 20 points in 32 games and certainly didn’t look out of place.
Gabe Vilardi is an extremely skilled player who put up a modest 23 points in 54 games last season for the Kings. He had stretches where you could see a budding star, but there were also stretches where he found himself being bumped down the depth chart.
Overall, Vilardi didn’t necessarily drive play that way you’d hope at the center position:
That said, coming off multiple injuries, his first full stretch in the NHL was a big step. He’s also been putting in the work this offseason to make sure he’s ready to take his game to the next level and keep his spot in Los Angeles.
Given the addition of Danault and Byfield en route, Vilardi’s transition to the wing is perfectly timed. His skill and vision can still be useful on the wing without having to shoulder as much defensive burden and faceoffs.
So in this scenario where Byfield makes the team, it’d be at the expense of Vilardi as the third-line center. Vilardi would slide to the wing — either on the third line with Byfield (and, as I’d personally like to see, Brown), or even he could knock on the door of the top-six wingers.
If the Newmarket, Ont., native does make the team out of camp, it should send a clear message that L.A.’s playoff talk is serious — not to mention that he’s getting some love in the Calder Trophy conversation.
4. Jacob Moverare
This one could come as a bit of a surprise to people. But if you’ve listened to the first two episodes of Making It Reign, you won’t be surprised to see me excited about the Swedish defenseman.
After spending some time in Europe last season, the left-shot defenseman had a very productive 26 games with the Reign, picking up 14 assists and 15 points. He also received very positive reviews from Reign Head Coach John Wroblewski, dubbing him last season’s most impressive player.
The rationale for Moverare making the NHL roster is similar to that of Clague’s above: Maatta would be waived, Bjornfot would start in the AHL — in part due to performance, but also in part due to Bjornfot being waiver-exempt. Moverare and Clague are not.
While it seems unlikely that the Kings would keep both Clague and Moverare in the NHL, there are a couple of reasons why it could work.
The first of which is Edler. Now on the back nine of his career, finding games to rest his legs could be something that would benefit both the team and the player. The left-shot Moverare could slide in to fill those games where this becomes a reality.
The other is Clague himself. A young defenseman with just 22 games in the NHL, there could be games where he will either need a breather or perhaps, a coach recommending he get a better look from the press box for a game or two.
All in all, I’m not sure how likely this is that Moverare makes the team as he just may not get the ice time he needs at this stage of his development. But, considering he had other options overseas, the fact he’d have to clear waivers to be sent to the AHL and the left side of the second defense pair still being open (at least to me) could point to the 22-year-old making the team.
5. Samuel Fagemo
Another dark-horse candidate to round out this list is Swedish winger Samuel Fagemo. The 21-year-old scored 10 goals in 32 games last season in his first year in the AHL.
I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the potential for a big year out of Fagemo in Ontario, but it’s his style of play that could win him a spot out of camp.
Have I mentioned how I think the LA Kings need help in their top-six wingers if they really want to be serious about a playoff push?
I talked about Brown, Arvidsson, and Iafallo earlier. But with as full as the LA Kings roster has been, could they potentially move out someone like Kempe to free up a spot?
Let’s take a look at a three-year snapshot for Kempe:
We all love Adrian Kempe. Yet, at the same time, we are all begging for more. The speed is there, the production is there in flashes, but the consistency lacks. His possession metrics are also underwhelming.
If ever there were a potential trade candidate out of L.A., Kempe could be the guy. With a year left at just $2 million, the 24-year-old winger is still easy on the eyes as a skater — and there very well could be a breakout season in there from him. To be fair, his production is not nothing:
2019-20: 32 points in 69 games
2020-21: 29 points in 56 games
In Fagemo, the Kings would get a smart, shoot-first player to put with one of two excellent playmaking centers. The 21-year-old is also focused on his defensive-zone play and getting stronger during this week’s camp.
Given the roster gymnastics that would have to be done to fit a guy like Fagemo in, I can’t say I am expecting this one, but as noted above — the way the current top six is constructed is not playoff caliber, in my opinion.
Honorable Mentions: Alex Turcotte, Rasmus Kupari.
There are a number of things the LA Kings could do (one of which I wrote about here) between now and the start of the season that could make everything I just wrote completely moot. But if the organization is serious about being a playoff team, then surely every option is on the table.