In celebration of the holiday, let us take this time to reflect on the “Festivus Miracles” for the 2021-22 LA Kings thus far.
We’ve been over the club’s “Feats of Strength” and “Airing of Grievances”, but now, let us wrap up by reviewing the LA Kings‘ “Festivus Miracles” so far in 2021-22.
5) Kaliyev and Kupari Fitting In
Quality over quantity.
Like it or not, that is the reality of the future of any team. The LA Kings are no exception to this. In fact, they had proven this in the early- to mid-2010s when their years of building for the future came to fruition in the form of two Stanley Cup victories in three years. Of course, while the current version of the Kings may not be primed to contend for hockey’s Holiest prize this season, they have been, in a way, a blueprint for success in terms of building for the future.
On paper, the Kings have plenty of assets who are ready to elevate the silver-and-black, but until those assets play at the NHL level, it’s hard to decipher which talent will excel at said level and which won’t. The good news is that the Kings do have a few prospects who are doing well at the NHL level.
Two of those prospects are Arthur Kaliyev and Rasmus Kupari.
While he played in seven games last season, Kupari is enjoying his first full experience with the Kings this season.
In 28 games so far in 2021-22, the 21-year-old has three goals and three assists while proving to be a valuable physical presence.
In spite of his modest 6-foot-1, 185-pound frame, Kupari has dished out 23 hits, while also playing well defensively, committing 10 takeaways.
While his 45.4% in the faceoff circle could be better, Kupari, overall, is making the best of his freshman campaign in Los Angeles while averaging 11:35 of ice time.
As for Arthur Kaliyev, scoring in his only Kings game last season, as impressive as that was, only increased the Uzbekistan-born winger’s expectations for this season.
So far, Kaliyev has not disappointed.
In 29 games so far this season, Kaliyev has six goals and three assists, while playing particularly well on the Kings’ fourth line with Brendan Lemieux and Blake Lizotte.
In addition to his offensive numbers, Kaliyev has proven so far that is a solid asset even when he doesn’t score.
The 20-year-old’s season has been filled with an elevated level of hard work, gritty play, and a decent amount of scoring opportunities created.
Overall, 2021-22 has proven to be a promising starting point for Kaliyev, and it’s been great seeing him and Kupari fit in as well as they have thus far.
4) The Early Emergence of Sean Durzi
Speaking of quality over quantity, let’s keep going with another LA Kings prospect.
When he was one of the players traded to the Kings in January 2019, there was a fair bit of excitement surrounding Sean Durzi.
Included in the trade from Toronto that sent Jake Muzzin to the Maple Leafs, Durzi was just finishing up a successful major-junior career – mainly with the OHL’s Owen Sound Attack and briefly with the Guelph Storm.
In 2019-20, Durzi made an immediate impact in the AHL with the Ontario Reign, notching 14 points in 39 games before the season was cut short due to the emergence of COVID-19. Still, the Mississsauga native proved to be just as effective when the AHL did resume, scoring 20 points in 39 games in 2020-21 before adding five goals and 11 assists in 13 games this season.
Overall, Durzi’s contributions – not to mention his progression in development – warranted a shot with the big club. So, when the Kings found themselves depleted on the blueline as a result of injuries to Drew Doughty and Sean Walker, Durzi got the call.
The 23-year-old took advantage of his opportunity, registering points in his first three games. That included a goal and an assist in his NHL debut – versus, no less, the team who drafted him, the aforementioned Maple Leafs. Overall, he registered points in four of his first five games.
Yet, while he only has one assist in his last seven games, there is plenty to feel excited about when it comes to Sean Durzi’s long-term stock.
The former OHLer is a great puck-moving defenseman who has fit in nicely on the powerplay. So, while the Kings are more used to having defensive-minded players man their blueline, Durzi has proven that he’s a proverbial breath of fresh air. While he can stand to add some strength to his game, Durzi has been a solid addition to the Kings’ defensive corps overall – and that’s not something to take lightly as we enter the holiday break.
3) The Benevolent Benefit of Mr. Edler
While he is, unfortunately, sidelined long-term, veteran defenseman Alex Edler nonetheless deserves a good deal of recognition for what he contributed to the LA Kings this season.
While the offseason acquisitions of Viktor Arvidsson and Phillip Danault each brought a plethora of excitement and eagerness – and rightfully so – nothing can be taken away from this summer’s signing of defenseman Alex Edler.
The 35-year-old blueliner, who had spent his entire 14-year NHL career with the Vancouver Canucks, was ready to make a change of scenery. All Edler did with the silver-and-black was exceed expectations – assuming, of course, there were slim expectations, to begin with.
In 26 games for the Kings this season, Edler scored one goal – his 100th-career tally – and 10 assists. But, it was the leadership qualities and defensive prowess that helped the Ostersund, Sweden, native stand out.
With his fearlessness on full display, Edler has registered 42 blocked shots this season and added 43 hits, using his 6-foot-3, 212-pound frame to his full advantage.
With the addition of Olli Maatta last season, fans may have been more skeptical when Edler was signed this past summer. After all, if Maatta’s impact was minimal, why would Edler’s be any better?
Regardless of how fair that query is, Edler went above and beyond for the Kings this season, earning an average of 18:26 of ice time. It is, however, unfortunate that we are not glowing about the veteran blueliner while he is healthy. Still, regardless of when, and if, he will be back in the Kings lineup this season, Alex Edler has nonetheless been a refreshing bright spot for the silver-and-black in 2021-22.
2) Blue-Collar Blake Lizotte
Since Rob Blake has taken over the general manager duties for the LA Kings, he had established himself as one who isn’t to go off the map, if you will, to sign undrafted players from the U.S. college ranks. Alex Iafallo’s name immediately comes to mind, as does undersized forward Blake Lizotte.
When the Kings signed him in April 2019, there may not have been a ton of fanfare surrounding Lizotte, a native of Lindstrom, Minn. However, the St. Cloud State alum has proven his worth through his aggressive, gritty style of play. Not even his diminutive 5-foot-7, 172-pound frame – a stark juxtaposition from the Kings’ championship success in the early- to mid-2010’s – could deter Lizotte.
After scoring six goals and 23 points in 65 games in his rookie season (2019-20), Lizotte’s offensive game took a tip in 2020-21 with three goals and seven assists in 41 games.
So, when he was re-signed to a one-year deal this past June, there was skepticism surrounding Lizotte’s contributions, wondering why he had a roster spot when so many unproven prospects were ready to make the leap to the NHL.
Nevertheless, Lizotte was unfazed. In fact, in 24 games so far this season, the center has already scored three goals and five assists. But, it is noteworthy to mention that Lizotte has proven his worth beyond his offensive capabilities.
Lizotte’s aforementioned aggressive, gritty play has not gone unnoticed this season. The blue-collar aspect of the 24-year-old’s game has undoubtedly helped the Kings find success this season – even if the club has had difficulty finding their way on certain nights.
Still, Lizotte has established himself as one of the more fearless members on the Kings’ current roster, dishing out 20 hits, winning 52.7% of his faceoffs, and registering six takeaways to his three giveaways.
In addition, Lizotte has made himself, and his usual linemates, Brendan Lemieux and the aforementioned Arthur Kaliyev, look good. The latter is finding a groove at the NHL level while the former is quickly becoming one of the Kings’ smartest acquisitions this year.
He may not score 50 goals but Blake Lizotte’s contributions to the LA Kings deserved to be celebrated nonetheless.
1) Defensive Adversity Through Depletion
Having gotten off to a slow start to the 2021-22 season, the LA Kings were expected to be worse off when Drew Doughty and Sean Walker went down to injury – especially with the latter expected to miss the entire campaign.
On the flip side of that skepticism was the reminder that unproven – albeit exponentially talented – defensemen waiting in the wings would have their respective chances to prove themselves at the highest level.
We already covered Sean Durzi and what he’s brought to the table thus far, but he is just one of the reasons why the Kings have excelled through adversity.
After winning their season-opener – a decisive 6-2 win against Vegas – the Kings lost six-in-a-row. But, the silver-and-black then reeled off seven-straight wins. Much of that success has been contributed to some newer talent like the aforementioned Durzi, Kaliyev, and Kupari. However, that’s not to suggest that the more experienced members of the Kings roster hadn’t contributed.
Defensemen like Mikey Anderson and Matt Roy – both entering critical junctures in their respective careers – have been integral to the Kings’ success this season. The latter has even established himself as a reliable quarterback on the power play while Doughty was sidelined.
Off to a slow start himself, Roy began to increase his production level, both offensively and defensively. He has yet to score a goal this season but does have 11 assists thus far, registering 55 blocked shots in 30 games, earning himself an average of 21:46 of ice time.
Anderson hasn’t been quite as effective, however, recording his first point – an assist – in his 20th game of the season. Still, the Fridley, Minn., while he continues to show some ill judgment on the defensive side of the puck, has helped the streaky Kings add to their defensive prowess, blocking 36 shots and registering 47 hits.
Even Olli Maatta, whom we’ve discussed in a previous post, has played better defensively as of late, rebounding from his early-season struggles.
In addition to Walker, the Kings now have to make do without the services of Alex Edler, whom we’ve just covered. To their tremendous credit, however, the silver-and-black continue to find a way to succeed, earning points in four of their last five games before breaking for the holidays.
So, while skeptics have called for head coach Todd McLellan to be fired or multiple players to be traded, it is very noteworthy to point out that, entering the break, the Kings have allowed an average of 2.60 goals-against-per-game, which is good for seventh place in the entire NHL.
Skeptics can also factor in the depletion of other teams’ rosters due to COVID but the fact is, success is success any way you slice it, and the Kings have proven that thus far.
Their 30.80 shots-against-per-game (13th overall) could be better, for instance, but let us remember that there is still plenty of hockey left to be played and, in the process, an exorbitant amount of room for improvement. Of course, I don’t emphasize the latter because the Kings have struggled but rather because they’re not where they want to be, which is overall a testament to their overall competitive level.
At 14-11-5, the LA Kings sit fifth in the Pacific Division. To some, that may not jump off the page but considering the adversity that they have had to deal with thus far, the Kings could very well be in a much worse position.
That, however, is not the case and that is a direct testament to what the LA Kings are truly made of.
*What do you think of this list? A different order? Anything left off that should have been included? Let us know in the comments!