The LA Kings have now lost two straight games, both of which were just horrendous offensive efforts. While part of that was due to the absence of the team’s lone All-Star Adrian Kempe, a glaringly obvious problem that has been around all season long is the black hole in the lineup that is known as the third line.
It’s pretty evident by now that it is not working, and a change could and should be coming very soon. Here are some options, both internal and via the trade market, that I’d suggest to shake things up.
The answer seems so simple, and yet so far, we’ve seen no signs of it being near.
It’s time to see what Quinton Byfield can do for this team, and that third-line center spot is just calling his name. Thus far, Rasmus Kupari has not been able to fill the role. He has just nine points through 37 games played and has one goal through his last 30 games played, all accompanied by -0.80 goals above replacement (GAR).
It’s not so much that he’s bad because he’s not out there singlehandedly costing the team any games. It’s more so that he does absolutely nothing on the ice. I hardly notice him, which is a big problem for a centreman, as they are the guys who usually set the tempo for their respective lines.
As for Byfield, I think this spot would already be his had it not been for the ankle injury he suffered in preseason that sidelined him for two months. Despite the setback, he’s still been doing amazing work down in the American Hockey League for the Ontario Reign, with four goals and six points through 11 games played, with five of those coming in his last five games.
— Russell Morgan (@NHLRussell) January 3, 2022
Another player out of Ontario, California, what about Tyler Madden?
Madden, 22, was the main piece that came to Los Angeles, along with a second-round pick, for Tyler Toffoli, and since then, he’s done nothing but impress at the AHL level.
He has 11 goals (2nd on ONT) and 19 points (T-3rd on ONT) through 27 games played this season. He’s been able to transition to the wing nicely this season, and his versatility allows him to replace either Kupari at center or Turcotte/Brown/Fagemo on the wing.
Tyler Madden makes it 4-1 #Reign! He has goals in 3 straight games
Assisted by Sutter(4) pic.twitter.com/OSeuqUMM0M
— Eric (@kingsgifs2) January 16, 2022
Madden’s skill is evident, from his skating to his slick hands; he’s been fun to watch since his days at Northeastern University and even represented the USA at the 2019 World-Junior U-20 Championship.
Before the regular season, I had the hot-take that Vladimir Tkachev was a “Calder sleeper,” and I wasn’t talking about the AHL championship.
Obviously, with just four games under his belt with the Kings this season, I was far off, but I still think the potential to be a useful player at the NHL level is there. He showed strides in the preseason and honestly looked like he was going to be a mainstay in the top-nine until he wasn’t.
Now with the Reign, he’s dominated, as any top talent from Russia would. He’s got just four goals but 18 points through 17 games played. Doesn’t that warrant another chance? Even as just a third-line winger and an addition to the team’s second power play unit?
I mean, this is the guy the Kings swayed over from Russia after he led St. Petersburg SKA in scoring. He’s not likely to stay past this season if he remains in the minor leagues, so give him another shot in the big leagues to make an impact. It’s not like you’re taking out some major game-changer in Brown or Fagemo if you do so.
I mean, it’s kind of embarrassing that I even have to suggest this one, but when the heck is Martin Frk going to get a chance in this lineup? He’s a shooting bender just waiting to happen, and I hope it’s with the Kings.
Frk has been obliterating the minor leagues for years now and is well over a point-per-game with the Reign, with 14 goals and 29 points through 24 games played. Yet, he doesn’t get a fair chance in the NHL.
If it’s because of pretty much weak game outside of his shot, I could understand keeping him out of the top-six, but it really wouldn’t hurt to put him in the bottom-six and then give him a prominent role on this team’s dead power play, it’d probably make a much better impact than it would worse.
Frk had an amazing goal in one of the two games that he suited up in with the Kings this season and then was taken out like that. I just don’t see how it’s justifiable when there are so many anchors on the third line.
Martin Frk shoots 109mph. Is that good?
— Spittin' Chiclets (@spittinchiclets) January 27, 2020
Someone show Todd McLennan and Marco Sturm this clip and have them tell you the team wouldn’t benefit from that cannon of a shot on the power play.
The first out-of-team option on this list, I’ve got Arizona Coyotes forward Lawson Crouse. I’ve been told that the Kings have asked about him in the past, but that was before this season, and I’m not sure if there’s any interest there at all anymore. However, I think he’d be a great fit in Los Angeles.
If you’ve watched any Coyotes games like I have this season (if you haven’t, I don’t blame you, they are not good at all), you’d be drawn to Crouse’s work ethic. When watching him, you’d think you’re watching somebody in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, not somebody on the second-worst team in hockey that is on the brink of relocating to Houston. His level of compete is always so high, and he’s got a nose for the net.
Crouse has 18 points through 36 games played, fourth on the Coyotes in points this season. He ranks second on the team in GAR with 5.40, ahead of the likes of Clayton Keller, Phil Kessel, Shayne Gostisbehere, and Jakob Chychrun. He’s already up to 100 hits on the season, too, and generates a ton of shots. I’d say he’s somewhat of a Brendan Lemieux type of player but with more offense. Wouldn’t you want that on your third line?
His cost would likely be a second-round pick and a prospect, but he has restricted free agent contract rights, so he wouldn’t just be a rental. He’d be a piece to build the culture off of for years to come.
Lawson Crouse GAME WINNER
— Bet The Pucks (@betthepucks) November 7, 2021
There’s that nose for the net we were just talking about.
This is an interesting name and one that has seemingly recently entered the trade rumors around the league.
Lehkonen has four goals, 13 points through 35 games played this season, playing for the worst team in hockey, as the Kings have had a horrible fall from their Stanley Cup Final run in June. Not bad numbers for the Finnish winger considering the circumstances.
Lehkonen’s talents don’t just stop in the offensive zone, however, as he’s been the best forward defensively according to the analytics, leading all forwards in even-strength defensive goals above replacement (EVD_GAR) with 4.70, a heavy lead on second place.
His offensive production mixed in with his elite defensive skill this season would automatically make him an upgrade from anybody on that current third line, so it’s definitely worth a look.
He’s on a one-year deal worth $2.3 million, so he would need to be extended this offseason, but once again, due to his restricted free agency rights, he wouldn’t be a rental, he’d be a piece to build off of.
All-in-all, any of these candidates would be great to see the LA Kings bring in. I don’t care which one. I just know that they need to do something before this two-game losing skid turns into a losing streak similar to what we had to see multiple times earlier in the season, which is something the team would like to avoid as the playoff race gets tighter.