What Makes the LA Kings Young Third Line Effective
After quite a bit of shuffling and experimentation, the LA Kings’ third line has finally made a real impact.
Throughout the year, the third line has seemed to be somewhat of a revolving door with players. It has become a home for call-ups and ended up as really the only line on the LA Kings that lacked consistent personnel for the majority of the year.
Then, however, as the injuries piled up for the team, they were forced to make some adjustments up front. This resulted in what some dub the “kid line,” or what Jim Fox labeled the “Champagne Line.”
Regardless of what you call them, the trio of Gabriel Vilardi, Quinton Byfield, and Rasmus Kupari have been impressive in their short time together.
Not only has the group been one of the most entertaining lines to watch, but they have been one of the most impactful for the Kings since being assembled. Their mix of size, speed, and skill has made them tough for opposing teams’ bottom sixes to match up against.
What Has Been Working
It’s easy to look at the draft positions of each of these players and think that they should be effective, but what exactly do they do that makes them click? Mainly, the reason they are so effective is through the way they can dominate play in the offensive zone.
They do this in two specific ways: cycling/puck retrieval ability and forechecking ability.
Cycling and Puck Retrieval
The best way for a team to establish offensive zone time is by cycling the puck. This is something the LA Kings’ third line does very well. This all starts and is sustained, however, with puck retrieval.
The primary puck retrievers on the “kid line” would be Quinton Byfield and Gabriel Vilardi. With Byfield being 6-foot-4 and Vilardi being 6-foot-3, the two each have size advantages that they can use to win puck battles.
While Byfield definitely needs to fill out a bit, he has still shown that he can use his body to his advantage in that regard.
As shown, Byfield is elite at recovering pucks from dump-ins. He can engage in a boards battle and uses his body to create space to get the puck. Then, he uses his quickness and hands to create separation.
Vilardi uses his body similarly, but being slightly more filled out than Byfield, he relies more on his hands and puck protection skills to create separation rather than quickness.
As a result of this, both players are able to win battles and allow their line to sustain pressure in the offensive zone, continuing a cycle.
When the Kings do not see a passing or shooting lane open while cycling, they have the ability to dump the back into the corner with the knowledge that one of Byfield or Vilardi has a strong chance of getting the puck back.
This, in turn, has allowed the LA Kings’ third line to take over shifts and dominate offensive zone possession.
Another key aspect that allows this line to dominate offensive zone possession is their forechecking ability. Even when they give up the puck, all three players can be tenacious forecheckers, applying pressure to the opposition in their own end.
They do a very good job of giving opposing players difficulty to get the puck out of their defensive zone.
A key result of the aggressive forecheck of this line is a high rate of created turnovers. This can be reflected by Byfield’s 2.21 takeaways/60, the highest rate on the LA Kings.
By forcing bad passes or even just hounding sticks, this line is able to regain possession fairly frequently, causing them to have more offensive zone time.
When in the offensive zone, this line can be so dangerous because of the sheer skill of everyone on it. All three forwards can make accurate passes through defenders, as well as creative moves around defenders. With this, we see them generate a good amount of high danger chances. According to Natural Stat Trick, the trio has a HDCF% of 51.11 percent, generating 11.43 HDCF/60.
As stated, this line can absolutely dominate possession at times. For example, when they faced San Jose about a month ago, they had outrageous possession numbers, posting a 70 CF% and a 76 xGF%. When the “kid line” gets going, it can be one of the LA Kings’ most effective lines.
However, the biggest struggle the trio has faced has been consistency.
All three of Kupari, Byfield, and Vilardi have faced consistency issues over their careers, and every once in a while, it can carry over as a rotten game for the line.
An example of this would be when the Kings defeated Seattle in late March. That night the line had an underwhelming 27.52 CF% and a 32.55 xGF%. It’s games like these that have brought the line’s overall 46.70 CF%, a misleading number based on the way they have proven they can dominate possession.
As of now, Todd McLellan has broken the “kid line” up until Blake Lizotte draws back into the lineup. Upon his return, though, McLellan should bring them back together.
Down the stretch, if the trio can find a way to be more consistent, they should prove to be a valuable asset to the Kings. While they have not produced many goals yet, they have gotten slightly unlucky and created plenty of offense, as pucks are bound to go their way eventually, with the PDO of the line currently sitting at 0.973.
With the capability of the line to dominate offensive possession when everything clicks, McLellan should have no other choice but to keep giving them opportunities.