After making some impressive moves this summer, the Los Angeles Kings will be hoping to make a playoff return this season. Like any team, the Kings will need their top line to perform if they want to find any success. Assuming star center Anze Kopitar will retain his spot as the first-line center, and that newcomer Viktor Arvidsson will take over as the right wing on that line — this leaves an open spot on the left wing. There will likely be two players fighting for this spot — Adrian Kempe and Alex Iafallo. So, let’s look at the case for both players.
The Case for Kempe
The case for Kempe is a “what could be” thought process. As discussed in a recent article, he has all the tools necessary to be a dynamic point-producing winger, and this could be the year he finally puts those tools to good use. His speed and size would complement this line very well. Placing two speedy players on the wing would be beneficial, as Kopitar has never been the fastest player, and the soon-to-be 34-year-old is only going to get slower. Adding a big player with a heavy playstyle would also benefit this line, as Arvidsson is just 5-foot-8, 180 pounds. While Arvidsson plays much bigger than his size, adding Kempe would still help. Kopitar and Kempe could physically dominate teams, giving Arvidsson more time and space to work with.
Kempe’s heavy, north-south playstyle could prove to be the perfect complement on this top line. He can add a physical presence and always be the first one in on the forecheck while also bringing the skill to finish off chances and set up his teammates. If this line finds chemistry, he could become a poor man’s Gabriel Landeskog for LA.
The Case for Iafallo
If it isn’t broken, why fix it? The argument to keep Iafallo on the first line really stems from that mentality. Kopitar has said many times that he loves playing with Iafallo, and the two have developed great chemistry since Iafallo entered the league in 2017. We know he can play the role of complementary forward extremely well and would add another defensively responsible forward onto that line. When talking about doing the “dirty work” for your line — few do it better than him. He will never be a dynamic offense driver, but on a line with Kopitar and Arvidsson, he won’t need to be. He might lack the raw tools that Kempe has, but his tenacity and hockey IQ set him apart.
The balance on this line would be fantastic, as teams would have a difficult time dealing with the non-stop motors of both Iafallo and Arvidsson. It would also be a very difficult line to produce against, as all three players are very responsible in their own zones. It would be a line that could beat teams in all three zones, never giving teams a moment’s rest. While Iafallo might not have the potential upside that Kempe does, the known quality that he has cannot be overlooked. He has also produced more points than Kempe since entering the league, although his numbers are slightly inflated by playing most often with Kopitar and Brown on the top line.
Two Great Options
The Kings really can’t go wrong with either player at left wing. Both Kempe and Iafallo would be fantastic complementary players, even if they go about it in slightly different ways. I think it will come down to how much faith coach Todd McLellan has in Kempe significantly increasing his production and how much weight he places on Iafallo’s previous experience on the first line with Kopitar. It’s also worth noting that Lisa Dillman favored Kempe on the top line after speaking to an unnamed NHL coach. In a recent article, she put together a first line of Kempe-Kopitar-Arvidsson, stating,
This lineup takes into consideration a couple of suggestions from a coach on an NHL staff… I like the thought of Kempe and his skill with Kopitar and Arvidsson. (From, “Kings depth chart: Should it be Alex Iafallo or Adrian Kempe as the first-line winger,” Lisa Dillman, The Athletic
This decision will likely come down to the wire and will be decided after seeing both players in training camp. We also must remember that McLellan is known for constantly shuffling his lines, specifically in-game, meaning we will likely see both these players switch spots several times throughout the season. Regardless of who wins this positional battle, we should see a much-improved Kings top-six and a much improved first line. I think McLellan will start with Iafallo on the top line, as I think it gives the most balance to LA’s top-six, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Kempe next to Kopitar either.
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.