In the fourth installment of the Los Angeles Kings prospect preview series, I’ll discuss Rasmus Kupari and his season ahead. The former 20th overall pick is heading into his sophomore season, looking to build upon an up-and-down rookie campaign.
Kupari’s 2021-22 Season
It was an inconsistent rookie season for Kupari, as he struggled with the demand of being an NHL center at times. He earned himself a spot on the roster after a strong training camp and preseason, quickly taking the third-line center role from Gabe Vilardi, who would eventually be sent down. Kupari showed flashes of excellence during the first few months of the season, showing off his speed and creativity with the puck. Unfortunately, his 200-foot play was lacking, and as his confidence dropped, those flashes became less frequent. He would eventually be sent back down to the American Hockey League (AHL) during the NHL All-Star break and would stay there for a month.
Kupari grabbed eight points in 15 games with the Ontario Reign, including five goals. He was also able to show off the high-end skill he has with a highlight reel goal against the Henderson Silver Knights.
He was recalled in March and would be placed with fellow prospects Quinton Byfield and Vilardi on a line featuring three first-round picks. As I’ve mentioned in Byfield and Vilardi’s prospect preview, this line was inconsistent but very exciting to watch at times. Kupari was arguably the best player on this line after, as his AHL stint seemed to re-instill some confidence and light a fire under him. There was more motor in his game, and he became a consistent threat on the forecheck. The offense still wasn’t quite there, but everything else started falling into place.
Alongside his linemates, Kupari’s ice time began to dwindle down the stretch, and he only played in five of the team’s seven playoff games, but that was more than either Vilardi or Byfield. He wasn’t given much trust in the postseason, averaging just 7:47 of ice time during those five games, but he brought a ton of energy during those minutes. It wasn’t a perfect rookie season for Kupari, but he showed progress towards the end and has a strong foundation to build on.
2022-23 Season Preview
The Kings’ logjam at forward makes previewing Kupari’s 2022-23 season very interesting. He’s still on his entry-level contract, making him waiver-exempt next season, unlike prospects such as Vilardi or Jaret Anderson-Dolan. This could see Kupari start next season in the AHL, even with a strong training camp. Starting the season in Ontario wouldn’t be the worst thing for him, as it would give him a chance to play top-six minutes and continue to develop as an offensive weapon.
It would be interesting to see where he plays if he starts the season in Ontario as well, he split time between wing and center last season, and there’s little indication about where the franchise sees his future. If he’s a potential top-six forward in the future, it will almost certainly be at wing, so I’d rather see him play there next season. If he starts in the AHL, he should be one of the Reigns’ best players and should dominate games. Anything less would be disappointing. In the AHL, he should be a play driver and someone who can take control of entire shifts.
If he forces his way onto the NHL roster, I’d expect him to be on the fourth line. In that role, I doubt his offense would increase much, but we’d likely see him continue to forecheck at a high volume. I also expect him to come back at least five-ten pounds heavier next season, as he needs to fill out his frame to become a consistent threat in the NHL.
I’ve made the comparison to Adrian Kempe in the past, and that comparison is still relevant. Two excellent skaters who can use their size and speed to blow the top off defenses and be a consistent threat on the rush. A major difference between the two is Kempe is and has always been a much heavier player than Kupari. If Kupari can add weight and learn to use his size and speed, he can break out into a top-six player. Like Kempe, I also expect Kupari to be a late bloomer offensively. He, and the organization, are still searching for the position and role that suits him best; once that happens, I’d expect Kupari to hit his peak.
An Important Season Ahead
The Kings’ desire to compete once again has made finding a consistent spot on the roster difficult for Kupari. The team has packed their forward group, leaving little room for him and no room for him in an offensive role. Fortunately, some more AHL seasoning for Kupari will be a positive. However, he needs to dominate at that level next season. I still have a lot of faith in him, as his toolkit screams future NHLer, even if it’s in a middle-six role. This season will be big for Kupari, it doesn’t have to be a big breakout season for him, but there need to be signs of that season on the horizon.
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.