After numerous combinations, the LA Kings may have found a formula that works on the third line with a trio of kids.
Throughout the season, the LA Kings’ third line has been unidentifiable. Many different combinations were tried but with very little success.
Players that were placed on this line never seemed to develop any chemistry, and unfortunately, it showed on the ice.
However, things are finally starting to change. The new-look third line put together only seven games ago has succeeded where other previous combinations struggled to produce. The trio of Quinton Byfield (19 years old), Rasmus Kupari (22), and Gabriel Vilardi (22) have impressed many Kings’ fans and coaches alike with tenacity and a direct style of play that reflects a youthful exuberance.
All former first-round picks, all with something to prove.
These three were first put together out of necessity after Dustin Brown’s injury during a game against the San Jose Sharks. Vilardi was called up in Brown’s absence and placed on the third line alongside Byfield and Kupari. Ironically, all three were drafted as centers.
It has been a couple of weeks since this new line was assembled, and they have arguably become the Kings’ most impressive group in terms of both play and production.
Head Coach Todd McLellan recently spoke about the trio saying, “I think they complement each other well. When I look at Q, he has a little bit more jump, he looks faster, he looks quicker. Is that the other two pulling him along, is he more confident, I don’t know, but he does look better and they are feeling good about playing with each other, I sense that.”
Byfield has benefitted the most from working with his new line-mates. Prior to playing with Kupari and Vilardi, he tallied just three points in 20 games. Since the realignment of the third line, he now has four points in his last seven.
Each player’s style of play seems to complement the others. The 6-foot-4 Byfield is known for his powerful stride and skill; the slick Kupari brings both explosive skating ability and physicality. At the same time, the cerebral Vilardi has been great with making plays along the boards, and he looks like he has bought into his position within the Kings’ system.
The third line’s success has also taken some pressure off of the top six. For example, in the last game against Seattle, Anze Kopitar’s time on ice was 16:56. That is nearly four minutes less than his season average. Byfield’s ice time was 16:04 in the same game. This is the formula for success down the stretch and into the playoffs; evenly spread out ice time and each line making an impact.
Now, with the recent success of the third line, the reason for their grouping cannot be ignored. Brown’s injury was the unfortunate impetus for the ultimate success of the third line, and the difficult question remains: Do you put the former captain back on the line when he is healthy?
The Ithaca, NY native is a Kings’ legend, and his experience is a great asset to the organization, but if this line continues to help the Kings win, why would you break them apart? The end goal is to have a successful playoff run.
Soon, the LA Kings have to make the decision as to which line-up helps get them there.