Kings’ Kaliyev Needs More AHL Seasoning

So much of the hype around the Los Angeles Kings these days surrounds their incredible prospect pool. There were expectations amongst fans to see some of these prospects phase into the lineup this season — the first prospect to do this is Arthur Kaliyev. After his fantastic play in the American Hockey League (AHL) during the 2020-21 season, an impressive summer, and some injuries in the Kings’ lineup, Kaliyev earned himself a spot on the team’s roster.

He was placed on the third line alongside Gabe Vilardi and Vladimir Tkachev. Unfortunately, this line hasn’t found success and has looked poor to start the season. Of course, that line has only played two games together, but I don’t think they will find chemistry, and I think Kaliyev would benefit from more time in the AHL. Here’s why.

Kaliyev’s NHL Usage

Kaliyev is easily my favorite prospect for the Kings and there’s maybe no one I want to see on the NHL roster more than him. However, I only want to see him in a role that actually suits him. So far, that role is not there for him. He was asked to replace Lias Andersson on the third line after Andersson suffered a lower-body injury that placed him on the injured reserve. I’d argue Kaliyev is a more talented player, but he simply doesn’t fit that line at all.

What Vilardi and Tkachev need is a forechecker who can retrieve pucks and play a defensively responsible game. Kaliyev has several positive facets to his game, but none of them involve heavy forechecking or stellar defensive play, making him fit like a square peg to a round hole on that line.

Arthur Kaliyev Hamilton Bulldogs
Arthur Kaliyev formerly of the Hamilton Bulldogs. (Photo by Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

I want it to be clear, I don’t think the issues he has had are all his fault. I think asking a player, specifically a young one, to fill a role he isn’t suited to is unfair. I had a similar feeling about the disappointment in Vilardi as the second-line center last season; I don’t want to blame players for bad play if I think they were put in a situation to fail. Kaliyev isn’t suited to a bottom-six, energy-forward-type role, and shouldn’t be asked to play it. With that being the only role available in the team’s lineup, it would be better to send him down, allowing him to further develop in a more natural role with the Ontario Reign.

Positives & Negatives of Kaliyev in the AHL

I think the positives of sending Kaliyev down are clear — get him more ice time in a more suitable role for the player. I believe that allowing him to gain more ice time, in a more comfortable position is better for his development than forcing him into an uncomfortable spot in the NHL. He also has deficiencies that still need improvements and the AHL is a better place to make these adjustments in his game. His skating still needs work before he can be an impact player in the NHL, and he needs to improve defensively. He made huge strides in both areas last season under coach John Wroblewski and I think he needs to continue developing those areas with the coach.

Martin Frk LA Kings
Martin Frk, Los Angeles Kings (Photo by Rob Curtis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The negatives of sending him down become about asset management. Unless the team calls up another prospect with waiver exemption to replace Kaliyev, they’ll risk losing someone in the future. I would imagine Martin Frk or Austin Wagner would replace him, meaning when Andersson and Andreas Athanasiou return from injury, someone would need to hit the waiver wire. Frk and Wagner have cleared waivers before, but there’s always a risk sending players through waivers, as the Kings found out when they lost Christian Wolanin.

What the Kings Should do With Kaliyev

I think there are a few things the Kings can do with Kaliyev, but I think there’s only one realistic option in the short term. If they want him to play in the NHL, they have to find a new role for him and there are two options for that. One, the Kings can move someone off the top-six, likely Dustin Brown or Adrian Kempe, and slot him in. I think he could find real success on the second line with Phillip Danault and Alex Iafallo able to carry him defensively and do the hard work in the corners for him.

The second option also involves moving the top-six around, but it moves Tkachev into the top-six and Kaliyev into his role. Playing with Vilardi and a puck-retrieving winger, Kaliyev could find success on the third line. He is a limited player right now and needs the right situation to succeed. I think The Athletic’s Corey Pronman explained it well — Kaliyev will need a center to carry and create entries into the zone, but once in and on the power play, I expect him to put up numbers… (from: “Ranking the best under-23 NHL players: Does Cale Makar or Andrei Svechnikov top the list?” Corey Pronman, The Athletic, 09/07/21)

The question then becomes what to do if he is sent down to the AHL. In my opinion, the organization could call up Frk and slot him into the bottom-six. The team desperately struggled for goals last season, and while it is still very early, that issue is persisting. Losing Andreas Athanasiou to injury removed the biggest goal threat from the bottom-six and Frk would add that element back into the lineup.

Related: Los Angeles Kings’ Top 10 Prospects

He would also help the team’s second unit, which has continued its struggles from last season. I mentioned Frk’s physicality and energy during training camp, and I think it would be worth trying him alongside Vilardi and Tkachev — having two of the team’s best passers playing with the team’s best shooter could bring real success. There’s also the option of swapping Tkachev and Kempe, bringing back the Kempe-Vilardi-Frk line we’ve seen work in the past.

Kings Have Options With Kaliyev

At this stage in his career, the Kings must do what is best for Kaliyev’s long-term development, and, in my opinion, that’s sending him down to the AHL. I think fitting him into the lineup in the ways I mentioned above would be great, but I don’t see it as realistic right now. Being sent down wouldn’t need to be the end of his NHL season, either. If the team can find a suitable role for him in the lineup later in the season, then call him back up.

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