In this edition of Los Angeles Kings news & rumors, I’ll be recapping the team’s State of the Franchise meeting on Saturday, the Kings moving into second in the Pacific Division, and a check-in on the Ontario Reign.
State of the Franchise
Before their game against the New York Islanders on Saturday, the team had their annual State of the Franchise meeting. These meetings always give a great insight into what the organization is trying to achieve, and its goals moving forward, with this year being no different.
General manager Rob Blake addressed the upcoming trade deadline early in the meeting, hinting that the team might not be too active this season. He made it clear the team is no longer looking to trade players for future assets, but he also doesn’t seem committed to making big trades right now. For fans hoping to see a big trade for someone like Jakob Chychrun or Filip Forsberg, this would be disappointing to hear, but it’s a smart decision from Blake.
Of course, there were questions regarding Gabe Vilardi and his future with the organization. Many people think he’s destined to be traded, as the team looks to add reinforcement on defense, but it appears this isn’t a foregone conclusion. On Vilardi, Blake stated, “we see him playing for the Kings eventually.” He then discussed how successful he’s been in the American Hockey League (AHL) and his reassignment down to the Reign is going as planned. Giving him power-play time, top-line minutes, and experience playing wing. President Luc Robitaille added to this saying Vilardi is, “doing what he’s supposed to do” in the AHL. For fans of Vilardi, like myself, this is a relief, as he still has a very high ceiling and can be a difference-maker for the organization.
Vilardi wasn’t the only young player discussed though, as director of player personnel Nelson Emerson excitingly discussed several prospects, in the way only he can. He had high praise for Brandt Clarke and Brock Faber, calling Clarke, “one of the best defensemen in Canadian Juniors.” He then highlighted Faber’s excellent skating and defending, “(Faber) really knows how to defend, He defends through his skating, and that closes off lanes.”
Emerson went on to discuss two more prospects, 2020 third-round pick, Alex Laferriere, and 2021 second-round pick Samuel Helenius. Laferriere has put together an impressive freshman season, with 16 goals and 27 points in just 29 games. Focusing on his work ethic and skating, Emerson feels Laferriere is a player who will fit right into head coach Todd McLellan’s system. The focus on Helenius was slightly different, with Emerson discussing his physicality more than his offense. He stated, “he’s six-foot-seven and he’s a centerman, and to add onto that, he’s mean. Sometimes the big guys aren’t mean, but it’s really difficult when the big guys are mean, and he can do that.” Helenius has always been a low ceiling, high floor kind of prospect, and it appears he’s working towards being a perfect bottom-six center. He also mentioned that Helenius should be with the organization soon.
The last highlight for prospects is the team’s commitment to slowly developing players in the AHL. Throughout the meeting, Blake, Robitaille, and Emerson all reiterated how important time spent in the AHL is for prospects. On the topic, Blake stated, “I think, what the American League is for, is to go and play well and play with confidence, play in positions where they’re going to be productive. That way, they’ll gain the trust of the coaching staff and a player that can be productive.” You can see this commitment to patient development play out with several players on the Reign. Of course, Vilardi is the most obvious example, but players like Jaret Anderson-Dolan, Rasmus Kupari, Tyler Madden, Samuel Fagemo, and Alex Turcotte, are all given the time to slowly grow into their offensive game. This is a great way to develop talent, and we should see the benefit of this soon.
The last piece of information I found very interesting from this meeting focused on Dustin Brown. A fan asked about Brown possibly retiring soon, and Blake seemed dismissive of this idea. He was quick to point out the things Brown does off the ice, which fans can’t see. Focusing on his role as leader and mentor, especially for young players like Quinton Byfield. At this point, I’d expect Brown to be re-signed for next season, as the organization seems committed to keeping his off-ice intangibles as they bring through more young players.
Kings Move Into Second Place
After back-to-back wins Friday and Saturday night, the Kings are now in sole possession of second place in the Pacific Division. Their 65 points puts them three ahead of the Vegas Golden Knights, and four ahead of the Edmonton Oilers. The Kings are 8-1-1 in their last ten games and have been especially good against the league’s weakest teams.
While this doesn’t seem impressive upon the first reading, winning the games you’re supposed to is very important. Having a stellar record in these games takes some of the pressure off the games against better teams, and helps keep them in the playoff hunt. The Kings will have a more difficult game Monday night, facing off against the 31-17-4 Boston Bruins, as they look to hold onto second place. The matchup between the Patrice Bergeron line and the Phillip Danault line will be particularly fun to watch, as two of the best lines in hockey faceoff.
The Ontario Reign had a two-game weekend, playing the Tucson Roadrunners on Saturday and Sunday. In typical fashion, the Reign lit up the scoreboard during the two games, scoring a combined 10 goals. Unfortunately, they dropped Saturday’s game 6-5, but came back with a strong performance on Sunday, winning 5-1. Martin Frk and T.J. Tynan continued to lead the way for the Reign, with Frk posting two goals and three points, while Tynan grabbed five points, as he continues to make a claim for back-to-back MVP wins. It was another impressive weekend from Anderson-Dolan, who had two goals and three points, his two-goal weekend brought him to 21-goals on the season, moving him into eighth place league-wide. He’s quietly putting together an incredible season with the Reign and should be with the Kings next season.
Fagemo had another strong weekend, with two goals and three points. His 17-goals put him third on the team, as he continues to develop into a reliable goalscorer. It wouldn’t be a Reign-check without Vilardi’s name being mentioned, as he continues to push for an NHL spot with two more points over the weekend. Lastly, Jordan Spence’s three-point night on Saturday moved him into fifth place for scoring amongst rookies and made him the scoring leader for rookie defensemen. He is also second overall in points for defensemen and has certainly entered the rookie-of-the-year conversation. He is exceeding all expectations this season and is one of the best offensive defensemen in the AHL.
Kings Moving on Up
Even the most optimistic fans wouldn’t have predicted the Kings to be second in the Pacific Division by the end of February, but they have exceeded expectations, and deservedly sit in that spot. After playing Boston on Monday, they’ll have four more games on the road, where they’ll look to continue this hot streak. With the deadline approaching, look for the Kings to remain conservative, while they continue to develop their fantastic prospect pool.
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.