The Los Angeles Kings took a massive step forward last season, making the postseason for the first time since 2017-18, effectively turning the page on their rebuild. They’ll be looking to take a further step in 2022-23, hoping to compete for the Pacific Division title. One significant factor in realizing their success will be the development of their stellar prospect pool. With that in mind, I’ve started a series previewing the team’s prospects for the upcoming season, focusing on those who have either made the roster or are on the fringe. To kick things off, I’ll start with Arthur Kaliyev.
Kaliyev’s 2021-22 Season
Before previewing next season, I want to take a quick look at his 2021-22 campaign. Kaliyev’s rookie season didn’t get much praise outside of Kings fans, as his 14 goals and 27 points didn’t jump off the stat sheet, but he made significant improvements in key areas. He fell to the second round of the draft despite being a top-15 prospect based on his talent alone, according to most scouts, because there were questions surrounding his defensive game and work ethic. Well, he put a lot of those questions to bed last season.
Playing almost exclusively in a bottom-six role, Kaliyev was one of the team’s best defensive forwards and never showed signs of poor work ethic, and he impressed more than his fellow rookies. His 3.7 even strength defensive wins above replacement, according to EvolvingHockey, were second only to Philip Tomasino among rookie forwards last season, while his one win above replacement was eighth among all rookies. He was also top-15 in goals and top-20 in points among rookies, despite playing just over 12 minutes a night.
Kaliyev was nowhere near a Calder-worthy rookie last season, but given the context of his role, he was fantastic. Everyone knows he has the offensive talent to put up big numbers in the NHL, particularly goals, so seeing him improve other areas of his game was promising. He still needs to work on his skating, but he’s nearly ready to be a big contributor.
Kaliyev’s 2022-23 Preview
As always with prospects, it’s important to consider their role when setting expectations. Most preseason predictions have Kaliyev slotting onto the third line with fellow prospect Quinton Byfield and experienced winger Alex Iafallo. If Byfield continues to develop, this will be a great spot for Kaliyev as Byfield can be the playdriving passer Kaliyev thrives with, while Iafallo brings defensive dominance and elite puck retrieval skills. This will allow Kaliyev to drift into open ice and utilize his world-class shot to score goals.
Kaliyev’s point totals will be greatly affected by how he’s used on the power play. I mentioned his world-class shot, and if he is used correctly, he should score many goals with the man advantage. Playing mostly second unit minutes, Kaliyev grabbed six power-play goals last season, which was tied with Anze Kopitar for the team lead and placed him second among rookies.
Special teams coach Marco Sturm was widely criticized last season for his reluctance to utilize Kaliyev on the top unit. With Sturm moving to the Ontario Reign, Jim Hiller has come in to run the special teams, and there’s hope that means Kaliyev is utilized better.
There’s also the possibility that Kaliyev starts the season in the top six. Viktor Arvidsson underwent surgery to repair a herniated disk in the middle of May, which should require a three-five month recovery time, making his return around the start of the season. Given Arvidsson’s injury history and the Kings’ logjam at forward, management might be overly cautious with Arvidsson and delay his return. If this happens, Kaliyev would be a prime candidate to slot next to Phil Danault and Trevor Moore.
Expectations for Kaliyev
I’m expecting a big season from Kaliyev. He’s shown he can play a responsible 200-foot game, and that should lead to more opportunities and ice time this season. If he’s given a big role on the power play, there’s no reason he can’t break the 20-goal mark and post over 40 points. It’s still unknown how much his skating has improved this offseason, but even a minor upgrade would be huge. If Kaliyev can become even a league-average skater, he’ll be a big-time producer, given his offensive talent with the puck.
Already a big player at 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, I also expect Kaliyev to come back stronger this season, helping him win battles along the boards and in front of the net. It’s hard to set expectations too high for him because he will likely be given bottom-six minutes. But plenty of goals and roughly half a point per game seems fair.
Here’s my hot take: Kaliyev will finish the season in the top-six after taking one of Moore or Arvidsson’s spots on Danault’s wing. Todd McLellan proved in Game 7 against the Edmonton Oilers that he trusts Kaliyev in the top-six, and I think he’ll force his way onto that line by season’s end. Whether he takes the position outright because of his play or gets his chance because of injury, I believe Kaliyev will be a nailed-down top-six player by February or March.
Kaliyev: Best of the Bunch
The Kings have been praised for their incredible prospect pool for a while now, and there’s a good chance Kaliyev is the best of that group next season. He’ll have stiff competition with players like Byfield and Durzi on the roster, but Kaliyev has the tools to stand out. He needs to be given a significant offensive role, including top power play minutes next season, and if he gets that, the league will see a star emerge.
Look out for our next preview: Gabriel Vilardi.