The 2019 fifth overall draft pick of the LA Kings is ready for the NHL.
It’s hard to think about lineup changes when your team has won seven of its last eight games. Coach Todd McLellan‘s LA Kings have rebounded from a 1-5-1 start by playing solid defensive hockey, getting outstanding goaltending, and offensive contributions from all four lines. To suggest changes be made to a lineup that is doing this would certainly seem ludicrous at best.
Here’s the thing, as fun as this current run has been for Kings fans, changes will need to be made to this lineup – either sooner or later. Injuries will happen, slumps will occur, and frankly, the Kings have too much high-end talent in Ontario to keep them in the AHL for too much longer. This is not to suggest the Kings need to turn the lineup upside down tomorrow – far from it. This is to suggest; however, they need to figure a way to get these prospects to the NHL soon to see if these players are NHL ready. The player in Ontario that needs to be at the front of the line to come up is Alex Turcotte.
Granted, it will not be easy to get Turcotte into the Los Angeles lineup. Not only is the current group of forwards playing well, but the team also has injured players who will be returning soon too. Gabe Vilardi was just reassigned to Ontario to make room for a presumably returning Viktor Arvidsson, but what about Quinton Byfield? The best prospect in the LA Kings system is on track to return next month from a fractured ankle he suffered in the preseason. Sure, he will probably play a handful of rehab and conditioning games in Ontario, but he was projected to make the Kings out of camp, and you can bet that Los Angeles is where the team would like to see him stay.
Why the rush to bring Turcotte up, some will say. Others will argue he needs more time to develop in the American Hockey League. While arguments can be made for both opinions, the best thing for Alex Turcotte’s development now is to see time in the NHL.
Alex Turcotte left the University of Wisconsin after his freshman season in 2020 to turn professional. The pandemic put Turcotte’s hockey life on hold for nearly a year before he could finally play in the abbreviated 2020-21 AHL season for the Ontario Reign. He is back with the Reign this season and has been excellent for the most part, posting nine points in twelve games. Turcotte seems to be much more adjusted to the speed and physicality of the professional game than he did when he started with the Reign last season, giving credence to the theory that it is time to at least see what he can do at the NHL level.
The American Hockey League is excellent for prospects to learn the professional game. However, in Turcotte’s case, there could be a danger in stunting his development by leaving him there too long. Let me explain.
As great of a league as the AHL is, the game moves faster at the NHL level, and decisions have to be made much quicker. The NHL is also much more systems-oriented than the American Hockey League is as well. If a player like Turcotte plays too long at the lesser level, his decision-making will become habitual to that level, making a transition to the National Hockey League much more difficult. If Alex Turcotte were a part of the LA Kings’ long-term plans, it would behoove both the team and the player to get him into some NHL games to see where he is in his development. It will take some lineup juggling to get him in, but Alex Turcotte may be closer to being NHL ready than many people think.