In this edition of Los Angeles Kings news & rumors, I’ll be discussing Elliotte Friedman’s comments on his conversation with Rob Blake, a check on the Ontario Reign, and Adrian Kempe’s All-Star game performance.
Friedman on Brown & Trades
On the Feb. 4th episode of the 32 thoughts podcast, Friedman had a short section discussing a conversation he had with Kings general manager Blake. It was a very brief recap, but there were still some interesting pieces of information in there. Firstly, it sounds like veteran forward Dustin Brown is going nowhere. Friedman stated, “I didn’t get the impression he’s going anywhere; I think he’s going to retire a King, and his number retired there too. Blake said he’s happy with him as the third-liner on Byfield’s wing (to) help him out.” This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise, Blake made similar comments on a recent King of The Podcast episode, stating that there’s interest from both parties for Brown to stay a King.
The other piece of interesting news was surrounding Friedman’s expectation of future Kings trades. He stated,
“I just think he’s gonna go for a left-shot (defensemen) and a scorer. Like, he quoted expected goals to me, that’s a conversation I didn’t think I would’ve had five years ago. That’s one of the first things he said to me actually, was the expected goals.”Eliotte Friedman on his Podcast
Blake looking to add a left-shot defenseman is no secret, it’s been reported for a long time that the team wants to add a top-end player in that position. But the possibility of Blake shopping for another scorer, presumably a winger, is very interesting. He quoted expected goals, which makes sense considering the Kings are bottom of the league in goals below expected, with 27.13 goals below expected. They’ve won games despite this but adding another consistent goal scorer to the roster would be huge.
I’ve discussed the need for more scoring in the top-six quite a few times, but the big question is, do you look to acquire it or wait for your treasure chest of prospects to fill the void? I’ll talk about the stellar performances from prospects in the American Hockey League (AHL) later but waiting on certain high-skill players is a viable option for Blake. Perhaps he will try and capitalize on cap space casualties this summer, opting for an opportunistic buy, similar to how he acquired Viktor Arvidsson last summer. This final stage of the team’s rebuild will be the most difficult for Blake, as he has to utilize the prospect pool he’s created intelligently, be that through trading assets, or giving prospects the best chance to succeed in the NHL.
Having discussed the Kings’ treasure chest of prospects now would be a great time to check in on a few players who are tearing it up in the AHL. Blake mentioned that the organization wants to see Gabe Vilardi re-gain his confidence and become a point-per-game player in the AHL again before recalling him. Well, he has done exactly that. He now has five points in his last three games and 12 points in his last 10 games. He has been dominant in the AHL recently, taking to his new position at wing very well. There isn’t space for him on the NHL roster right now, but trading someone to make room for him at the deadline seems like a real possibility at this point. The team has told Vilardi what needs to be done for him to make an NHL return, and he’s doing exactly what’s asked of him.
He isn’t the only prospect who’s playing great with Ontario either, Alex Turcotte is on a five-game point streak, with six points in that time. Jaret Anderson-Dolan has five points in his last three games, Samuel Fagemo has five points in his last three games, and Jordan Spence just had a 13-game points streak snapped, a streak in which he posted 18 total points. The Reign also possesses the league’s best power play, currently ticking at 27.6 percent, perhaps the Kings need to take a few notes from their AHL affiliate, as their power play is a dismal 16.3%.
One name to keep an eye on over the next few weeks in Ontario is Rasmus Kupari, the forward was sent down last week after losing his spot in the NHL lineup to Quinton Byfield. He had zero points in his first two games, but it’s not uncommon for players to take a few games to re-acclimate to the AHL. He was the Reign’s best player at times last season, and I would expect him to become that once again. An interesting note is that he’s still playing center. I assumed this re-assignment would see him move to the wing full-time, much like Vilardi, but it appears he’s staying at center for now. I don’t like this decision, as it seems clear he doesn’t have a future at center in the NHL but getting game time at any position is important for him right now.
All-Star Adrian Kempe
Kempe was the Kings representative in Las Vegas for the NHL All-Star Game and took part in the fastest skater competition. He finished in second place, just 0.085 seconds behind first-place winner Jordan Kyrou. Anyone who’s watched Kempe will not be surprised to see him place well in this competition. as his speed is evident every game. It must be said that the skills competitions have to be taken with a grain of salt, as players aren’t trying their hardest, but it was still nice to see him put forward a good effort in this competition. Unfortunately, he was a part of the most boring game during All-Star weekend, as the Pacific Division fell to the Metropolitan Division, in a game where it felt like no one shifted out of first gear.
Kempe earned his spot in the All-Star Game, having a breakout season, on pace for 34-goals. With the Kings fighting for a spot in the playoffs, he’ll need to continue his stellar play and specifically the consistency in which he’s scored goals. If he can break the 30-goal mark and continue to play at close to this level moving forward, he accelerates the Kings rebuild, giving them a bonafide top-six forward to compliment the plethora of young talent coming up. He’s also in a great position to take on a leadership role, bridging the gap between the old guard and the young stars at 25-years-old.
A Break for the Kings
The Kings were fortunate to only miss a few games due to COVID this season, meaning they’ll get a long break during what was originally supposed to be the Olympic break. They won’t play again until Feb. 15th, a makeup game against the Edmonton Oilers. This will give players a chance to recharge before heading into the second half of the season, and hopefully, it doesn’t kill the momentum they build up during the 4-0-2 road trip just before the break. Most importantly, this will hopefully give the team plenty of time to work on their terrible special teams.
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.