In their third preseason game so far, the Los Angeles Kings defeated the Vegas Golden Knights in their annual Frozen Fury game. This game felt more significant than the King’s first two preseason games because it was a more complete roster, which gave us some insight into how the team might lineup on Oct. 14. Fans were able to see a few prospects in action, all but one of the newcomers, and we were given a taste of what the lines might look like. Here are three takeaways from the Frozen Fury Game.
Los Angeles Line Combinations
Unlike the first two preseason games, this one featured some lines that we might see come opening night. The team’s bottom-six had prospects sprinkled in with bottom-six hopefuls, so I don’t think we learned much from them. However, I think we can learn a lot from the top-six. The top-line featured Alex Iafallo—Phillip Danault—Adrian Kempe, while the second line was Lias Andersson—Gabriel Vilardi—Vladimir Tkachev. Both lines put together wonderful displays and should have left fans very excited. I assume both lines will move down once the first-line players enter the conversation, but I think this game gave us an idea of how head coach Todd McLellan will use these two lines during the season.
The top-line, anchored by new center Danault, was used very effectively in a shutdown role. They were consistently sent out to suffocate the Golden Knights’ top line and suffocate they did. One of the league’s best lines in Max Pacioretty—Chandler Stephenson—Mark Stone was rendered near useless by LA’s top line.
I identified coach McLellan’s desire to use Iafallo and Danault together as a shutdown forward pair recently, and it’s clear this is the plan. The addition of Kempe onto that line seemed to work wonders as well. If this line finds continued success, Pacific Division superstars should get used to playing against them because they will see a lot of these three. Their ability to take on the opposition’s toughest matchups gives more freedom to the King’s other lines, I’ve mentioned how this can affect Anze Kopitar and the first line, but we saw in this game the positive impact it can have on other lines as well.
No line on either team was as impressive as the Andersson—Vilardi—Tkachev line on Thursday night. They were a constant threat on the Golden Knights offensively and were probably unlucky to bag just one goal. We saw Vilardi and Andersson develop chemistry at the end of last season, with the addition of Tkachev, this line might hit new heights in 2021-22.
Tkachev was massively impressive in this game, showing off the immense vision and playmaking he possesses while also displaying a unique calmness with the puck. With the Kopitar and Danault line in front of them, these three could see very favorable matchups all year and might act as an offensive third line. Few teams will be able to match the skill this line possesses with a third line, creating a nightmare for opposition coaches. If their stellar play continues into the season, LA will be three lines deep for the first time in a long time.
The Kids are Alright
Another big story from this game was the play of Quinton Byfield, Rasmus Kupari, and Arthur Kaliyev. Fans will have been ecstatic to see their names in the lineup before the game, and I can’t imagine any of them were disappointed after the final whistle, as all three players put on magnificent displays.
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Kupari showed off great versatility, playing wing all game, a position he must get used to if he wants a long-term future in Los Angeles. He also spent significant time on the penalty kill for LA, another sting for his bow that will help him crack the NHL roster. He was defensively sound and offensively, as he was what he has always been, silky. His speed and stickhandling allow him to carry the puck through the neutral zone with ease, consistently entering the zone with possession. Once in the zone, he seemingly always has the puck on his stick, constantly looking to create offense with his great vision and passing. He was unlucky not to score off a nice feed from Byfield, ringing the post with a nice wrist shot. He also showed some nice toughness, shaking off a nasty elbow from Evgenii Dadonov. I still consider him the most likely rookie to make the team, and this display reinforced that opinion.
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Centering Kupari’s line, Byfield was as impressive. He’s incredibly dominant in the corners and along the wall for such a young player. When in these areas of the ice, it’s nearly impossible to get the puck off him. He grew in confidence as the game went on, and by the end, he was showing off the fantastic vision and passing ability he possesses. If I had to criticize one part of his game, it’s that I wish he was more selfish at times. He’s a pass-first kind of player, which is fine, but he sometimes tries to force a pass when taking the shot himself is the better option. He has a good shot; he just needs to find the confidence to fire it more often.
Kaliyev did what Kaliyev does, put the puck in the net. While it wasn’t a flashy goal, but I think it summed up his game well. The puck just finds him, it’s a skill that coaches often call unteachable and one shared by the league’s best goal scorers. When there is a loose puck around the net, it usually finds his stick. There were other positives to his game as well, he has clearly packed on some muscle, and it showed. He was willing to go and retrieve pucks in the corner and showed solid strength in front of the net. I still think he needs more time with the Ontario Reign of the American Hockey League (AHL) to round out his game, but he is getting better quickly.
I already touched on Danault and Tkachev a bit earlier, so I won’t talk about them much here. Danault is a shutdown center that’s going to be a huge addition to Los Angeles. He’s unlikely to jump off the stat sheet, but his effect on the players around him is going to be massive. It’s still too early to decide if Tkachev will make the team, but what an audition it was in Utah. His skill level is through the roof and would add a new element to this King’s lineup, it will be interesting to see how he does when the intensity ramps up, but I think his odds of making the team are going up by the minute.
That brings us to the last new addition that featured in this game, Alex Edler. The 35-year-old was signed to bring a steady veteran presence to LA, and it appears he’ll do just that. He has clearly lost a step, as he looked slow, but he made up for it with his intelligence. It looks like he has learned to compensate for his lost speed, and it won’t be a massive problem. He could be in trouble against some of the faster teams out there, but I have faith that his hockey IQ will make up for his deficiencies. It was a steady debut for Edler, and steady is what we’re hoping to see from him all season.
A Fun Season Ahead
Of course, this was just a preseason game, and we shouldn’t get carried away. But it was still a great showing for the King’s and gives fans something to be excited about. It’s been a tough few years for fans recently, and there’s now hope that LA is turning the corner on this rebuilding period. The kids were great, the new players were great, and the team was fun to watch, what more can you ask for? I will also give a shoutout to Brendan Lemieux and Garret Sparks. I was fairly negative about Lemieux in a recent article, but he played well Thursday, picking up a goal and making his presence known physically — I think Dadonov will play a much cleaner game Friday after Lemieux chats with him. Sparks, a new addition, was left off the newcomer section because he was an AHL signing, but he was solid in net.
My name is Austin Stanovich, as a lifelong player and fan I’m hoping to bring my own unique perspective on the hockey world, specifically covering the Los Angeles Kings. As a SoCal native I grew up a Kings fan, and after graduating from Long Beach State in 2020 I’ve joined The Hockey Writers crew as a columnist for the Kings.