Five of the LA Kings’ top-six forwards seem set in stone as the regular season nears, but the sixth spot could be up for grabs.
It sounds like the LA Kings are going to have a new first line this season.
Anze Kopitar says he’ll likely start with Dustin Brown/Viktor Arvidsson on his line to start season but will have “luxury” of going back to Alex Iafallo at some point.
Stopped short of predicting playoffs but stressed the need to be in hunt for postseason down season stretch. pic.twitter.com/OyzL1z8nCS
— Dennis Bernstein (@DennisTFP) September 23, 2021
Presumably, Iafallo will then begin the season on LA’s second line with another newcomer in Phillip Danault. But who will be playing on Danault’s other wing when the Kings kick off the regular season against the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday?
Let’s take a look at a few of the candidates the Kings have.
His signing didn’t get the same amount of attention as the Arvidsson and Danault additions, but so far, Vladimir Tkachev is looking like a player who has a chance to make an impact for the Kings.
Nearly a point-per-game player in the KHL last season with 38 (11-27-38) in 45 for SKA St. Petersburg, the 26-year-old is now leading the Kings in scoring in the preseason with five points (1-4-5) in six games.
The crowd: "Shoooooooot!"
Vladimir Tkachev: "k" pic.twitter.com/aPWrIqUKhW
— LA Kings (@LAKings) October 10, 2021
Tkachev hasn’t played an NHL regular season game yet, and the Kings’ track record with KHL signings hasn’t been great in recent years. Still, it could make sense to give him an immediate opportunity in the team’s top six to really see what they have in him.
The argument against Tkachev here could be that this line may lack a finisher. All three players are more of playmakers than goal scorers. Iafallo’s career-high in goals is 17, while Danault’s is 13.
The fourth-highest scorer amongst LA forwards last year, Adrian Kempe certainly deserves to be mentioned for this spot.
Kempe scored 29 points (14-15-29) while playing all 56 games for the Kings last season. It was the most productive season of his career from a points per game perspective, a season the team is certainly hoping the 25-year-old can build off of.
How 'bout dem apples?
— LA Kings (@LAKings) March 7, 2021
The Kings had been waiting a long time for Kempe to take a step forward. Putting him in a good position for continued success would make sense. The problem is that putting Kempe here would mean the Kings would have three left-handed shots on one line. Either Iafallo or Kempe would have to play their off-wing, which neither has much experience doing.
Like Kempe, Andreas Athanasiou possesses many of the tools to be an effective top-six forward and will score a highlight-reel goal from time to time but hasn’t always had the consistency.
— LA Kings (@LAKings) January 20, 2021
Last year, he had a decent debut season with LA, scoring 23 (10-13-23) points in 47 games. The Kings re-signed the 27-year-old to a one-year, $2.7-million contract, so evidently, they think he can contribute to this year’s team. Are they still holding out hope of him returning to something resembling his 30-goal, 54-point form from 2018-19, though? Or do they see him as more of someone who can contribute some offense from their bottom six?
And also, like Kempe, Athanasiou being a left-handed shot would make him a somewhat awkward fit on this line. For now, it appears the Kings may begin the season without him as he’s been dealing with an injury.
The logjam the Kings are going to have up the middle soon is well-documented at this point. Despite that, it sounds like Gabriel Vilardi is likely to begin the year as a center.
At some point, though, the team may want to consider trying him on the wing. It could open up more scoring opportunities for Vilardi.
— Bally Sports West (@BallySportWest) October 6, 2021
After a nice start, Vilardi hit a wall in the middle of his rookie season last year. He finished with 23 points (10-13-23) in 54 games. He also struggled in the faceoff circle, winning just 45.9% of his draws.
LA isn’t ready to give up on Vilardi as a center yet, but if he’s struggling to win draws and struggling to produce offense from the third line, wouldn’t it make sense to see what he could do on the right side of Danault’s line?
It’s been a pretty smooth transition to pro hockey for Arthur Kaliyev.
As a 19-year-old rookie in the AHL last season, Kaliyev led the Ontario Reign in scoring with 31 points (14-17-31) in 40 games. He even scored a goal in the lone NHL game he played in.
Kaliyev’s been doing all he can this preseason to secure a spot on the Kings, scoring four goals and adding a pair of helpers in four preseason games. All the guy does is score, and while he’s a left-handed shot, he can actually play his off-wing.
— LA Kings (@LAKings) October 7, 2021
The Kings don’t need to wait until it’s late in the season, and they’re out of playoff contention to let the kids play. This is a kid who could help them right now.