Saturday’s 5-2 win against the Montreal Canadiens was a showcase for what the young talent on the LA Kings can do. Now the team needs to let that talent keep doing it.
Going into Saturday’s game against the Montreal Canadiens, the LA Kings were mired in a six-game losing streak. After unexpectedly dominating the Vegas Golden Knights by a score of 6-2 on Opening Night, the team seemingly reverted to its old habits and took a nosedive. Suddenly, they could no longer put the puck in the net, found themselves chasing the play instead of driving it, and overall looked discombobulated. A sense of “here we go again” was setting in throughout the fanbase.
Things went from bad to worse when defensemen Drew Doughty and Sean Walker went down with long-term injuries. Doughty could be back in eight weeks, but Walker is lost for the season, leaving a gaping hole on the right side of the Kings’ defense.
Adding to the tension, the LA Kings were expected to contend for a playoff spot this season. A 1-5-1 start to the season had certainly put a damper on those expectations, and continued losing could extinguish those hopes before they even got started. Something needs to be done before the season goes completely off the rails.
Fortunately, the Kings were able to get off the slide with back-to-back wins at home against Montreal and Buffalo. The team looked different from the one that had been blown out by St. Louis and blew a third-period lead against Winnipeg; a lot of it had to do with the additions of Rasmus Kupari, Kale Clague, and Arthur Kaliyev.
In the wake of the Doughty and Walker injuries, general manager Rob Blake stated that the Kings were not actively pursuing a trade to help bolster the team. While surprising to some, perhaps Blake knows that it is time for the Kings to turn to a set of weapons they have yet to unleash.
It is time to play the kids.
— LA Kings (@LAKings) October 30, 2021
The Kings have one of, if not the best prospect pools in all of the NHL. It is also a fact that Blake and the rest of Los Angeles management have taken an extremely conservative approach to the development of those prospects. In an ideal world for Kings management, they would continue that trajectory, but every plan needs to be flexible. Simply put, it is time for the next step and put the kids in the NHL now.
Look around the NHL, and the trend is towards younger players getting extended looks in the league. As much as it might grind Kings fans gears to hear this, but a great example is their bitter crosstown rival, the Anaheim Ducks. It actually started last season for them, when they elected to play a then 19-year-old Trevor Zegras and 18-year-old Jamie Drysdale in the NHL more than the AHL.
This season, they are full-time members of the Ducks, and playing more than nine NHL games at such young ages has not hurt their development. In fact, it can be argued that it helped them to get sooner acclimated to the speed and pace of the league they will be playing in for a long time. The LA Kings can learn something from this.
Not every 18 or 19-year-old prospect is ready to play in the NHL; that’s a given. Every player develops at a different pace, this is also true. Right now, the Kings only have two prospects under the age of 20 years of age, Quinton Byfield and Helge Grans, that would be able to play in the NHL – and Byfield appeared to be heading to the Kings before breaking his ankle in the preseason. Grans is not yet ready for the NHL, but what of the others waiting for their chance in Ontario?
The good news is they already have Kupari and Kaliyev called up (they just have to keep them there), but the strength of the LA Kings organization lies in the young talent the team has stockpiled. It is now time to “take the training wheels off,” so to speak, and see what some of them can do in the big leagues.
Last season, Alex Turcotte, Samuel Fagemo, and Tyler Madden all played in the AHL and will need to be brought up soon to avoid stagnating their development. Give them an honest 10 to 15-game look, the worst that will happen is the organization will be able to actually see what they are capable of at the NHL level.
At best, these “kids” will be as good as advertised, and in the process, give the Kings the flexibility needed to make the moves that could further improve the team. At a minimum, having hungry young players directly pushing for jobs should provide a boost to a team that will need it to get through an unfortunate rash of injuries to start the season.