Los Angeles Kings fans recently got a taste of the future at the Arizona Rookie Faceoff Showcase. Fans watched as several of the team’s top prospects, including Quinton Byfield, Alex Turcotte, Arthur Kaliyev, and more, played three games in Arizona against other Pacific Division teams’ top prospects.
They finished the weekend with a 2-1 record, with wins over the Colorado Avalanche and Arizona Coyotes. They were unable to complete the sweep against the Vegas Golden Knights on Monday, but they still showed plenty of fight in that game. It was an impressive weekend for several of the Kings’ prospects and should leave fans very excited about the upcoming Ontario Reign season. Here’s what I saw from the young kids and how it matched up with my pre-tournament thoughts.
As I’ve mentioned in nearly every article talking about the team’s prospects, it’s this forward group that brings in the most excitement. This tournament was no exception, as the team brought a star-studded group of forwards to Arizona. How did they perform?
Los Angeles’ biggest name at this tournament, Byfield might have been the hottest prospect on any team in attendance. He did not disappoint, as he was a constant threat all tournament. He started off the weekend hot, picking up an assist just over one minute into the first game of the weekend. From there, he only grew in confidence and began taking control of games when he touched the ice. His ability to drive the puck into dangerous areas using his size and skill was on full display — he would often grab the puck from the corner or the half wall and force his way to the center of the ice before dishing to teammates or shooting himself.
He was also solid defensively, never being caught too far out of position and showing a willingness to battle down low. His ability to carry the puck in transition through center ice was also on full display. I still think he should start the season down with the Reign, as I think there are still a few things he needs to work out positionally. But he’s very close to being an elite playmaker at the top level. He did leave game three because of an upper-body injury, but it’s said to be precautionary and not a big issue.
Every time I watch him, Turcotte impresses me more and more. I’m also reaffirmed, in my opinion, that people are unfairly negative towards where he projects at the NHL level. There are zero weaknesses in his game, and he does everything at a high level. Very few have a motor like him. Almost no one can match him for hockey IQ, both defensively and offensively. Plus, he has silky hands, and is a fantastic playmaker. He was arguably the Kings’ best offense driver in the two games he played and never took a shift off. Only one point in the two games doesn’t pop off the stat sheet, but ask anyone who watched those two games, and they’ll say he was a force.
An interesting piece of information for me is where they used him in game one. All signs have been pointing to him moving to left wing — it’s where he played most of last season in Ontario and where most people expect him to play again this season. But coach John Wroblewski moved him back to center this weekend and matched him up against Avalanche prospect Alex Newhook. It was clear the plan was to have Turcotte shut down the Newhook line, giving Byfield and his line more offensive freedom. He was impressive against Newhook, a player most people consider a lock to make the Avalanche’s roster next season. I might be reading too much into his usage for one game, but I think this might be a clue into how they’ll use him moving forward. He was impressive in these two games, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in the NHL very soon.
It was a somewhat odd tournament for Kaliyev. He was slightly snake bitten, picking up zero goals in the three games he played in, despite having some good scoring chances. But in classic Kaliyev fashion, even not playing at his “best” offensively, he still picked up two points in three games, with both being primary assists. I think that sums up his game well, too; no matter, what he’s going to find a way to produce. I was impressed with his compete and defensive game as well. He’s still far from a Selke candidate, and there’s work to be done, but he’s shown clear improvements. There can also be no question about his compete level anymore, as he works hard.
It’s slightly difficult for me to judge his performances, as my expectations for him are always going to be through the roof. He played well this tournament and, on another weekend, he would have likely picked up a goal or two. Because of the work needed in his defensive game and some issues with his skating, I wouldn’t be upset to see him spend most of next season with the Reign. This would be music to coach Wroblewski’s ears, as he is going to put up huge numbers in the American Hockey League.
Like Kaliyev, it was an interesting two games for Kupari. In many respects, he was excellent, as he controlled play at times and drove offense well. But he couldn’t convert those good bits into points. He was given a slightly more reserved role in game one, centering the third line between Francesco Pinelli and Aiden Dudas, but received plenty of power play time and first-line minutes in game three. I think saying he was disappointing over the weekend would be unfair, but I would’ve like to see him produce a bit more. I consider him to be the team’s most NHL-ready prospect and was hoping to see him really take control of games during this tournament.
There were positives, of course. As I say whenever I talk about Kupari, he loves having the puck on his stick, and that was on full display. He carried the puck into the zone consistently and was aggressive in attacking defenders one-on-one. He was playing at a high pace and more direct than we’ve seen from him in the past. He can get caught playing from the perimeter too much, but there was a clear emphasis on him to play a more North-South game. If he can put together a strong training camp, I still think he should play a large chunk of this season with the Kings.
Electric. That’s the best word to describe Samuel Fagemo in this tournament. Every time he touched the puck, good things happened. When talking about focusing on playing North-South hockey, no one did a better job of this than Fagemo. He used his speed well to attack defenders, backing them off before firing the puck on net. He also showed a willingness to get gritty, playing the front of the net on several power plays. The production was also there for him, with two goals and an assist in the three games. His goal in the third contest personified his game, in my opinion, as he burned down the left wing before completely overpowering the Vegas goalie with a hard wrist shot. He was often the team’s most dangerous forward, and I would expect a big season from him in Ontario.
Martin Chromiak was cerebral this weekend. Not necessarily a puck carrier or offense driver, but the kid produces points. His three points tied Fagemo for the team lead, and he has a knack for popping up in the right place at the right time. He worked hard and was aggressive in the forecheck, not overly physical, and used his speed well to cause turnovers in the offensive zone. He played well off Byfield and Kaliyev, using his speed to create space, and putting himself into good positions offensively. He’s set to spend next season with the Kingston Frontenacs in the Ontario Hockey League — likely to play on a line with potential 2022 first overall pick Shane Wright. Chromiak has the potential to put up some insane numbers. He was impressive during the tournament, and is looking like a possible steal in the fifth round.
Like Turcotte, every time I watch Tyler Madden, I’m more impressed with him. It’s no coincidence that they play a very similar game too. Both guys have no clear weaknesses and outwork everyone on the ice. He was noticeable on every shift he took during the weekend, not just for his silky hands but also for his ability to both forecheck and backcheck. He reminds me of Zach Parise in his prime, a player with first-line skill, but a third-line mentality. He can succeed anywhere from the first to fourth line.
He showed off his immense skill in game two of the tournament, burying one of the nastiest shootout goals you’re going to see. After an injury-plagued 2020-21 season, he’ll be looking to prove why people saw him as a big part of the Tyler Toffoli trade.
Francesco Pinelli had a solid three games. As a very young player, there shouldn’t have been much expected of him from a production standpoint, but I was very impressed with his compete level and physicality. He didn’t let the older, bigger players intimidate him and never hid from physical contact. Dudas is a Swiss army knife that can succeed in all situations. Like Madden, he was always noticeable when on the ice. His ceiling is still as a bottom-six forward in my eyes, but he looks to be filling into that role well. Nikita Pavlychev is massive and uses his body well, but unfortunately, I don’t think he has the skill to be effective at the highest level, but, wow, is he big. Johan Sodergran is also a big boy that uses his body well, and it will be interesting to see what he does with Ontario this season.
The biggest disappointment from the defensive group during this tournament was Brandt Clarke, purely because he couldn’t play. Mono forced him to miss this tournament, leaving the team’s best defensive prospect out. Still, there was plenty to like from the players that did show up.
Having played two seasons of pro hockey already, Sean Durzi would’ve been seen as a “veteran” presence for this tournament. It was evident that coach Wrobleski felt this way too; he leaned on Durzi to log tough minutes during the weekend. He was up for the challenge, too, as he was a calm presence on the puck and shutdown defender. He quarterbacked the first power play unit and played plenty of penalty kill minutes. It was an impressive weekend for him, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he saw NHL action this season. I worry he’s going to fall into the same category I see Kale Clague currently falling into: good enough to play in the NHL but coming into the Kings at the wrong time. I don’t think he’ll find a consistent spot on the team at any point.
Another prospect that was extremely impressive, especially in game three, was Jordan Spence. His size was an issue at times, especially down low, but he’s a smooth skater that advances the puck well. He struggled playing on his offside in game two but came into game three full of confidence. He was consistently jumping up into the play and created plenty of offense from the point. His shot from the point is also fantastic, picking up an assist on Chromiak’s goal off a point shot. When he adds some weight and gets used to the bigger players at this level, he’ll be a solid player that does everything you want a modern defenseman to do. I think he’ll develop into a similar player to Sean Walker.
Unfortunately, a high stick in game two that knocked a few of his teeth out forced him out of game three. But, in the two games that Helge Grans did play, he was impressive. He didn’t provide nearly as much offense as I would’ve expected from him, but he was very solid defensively. I was especially surprised by his physicality; he was stepping up at the blue line consistently and battled hard in the corners. He also didn’t get lost in his own zone too much, an issue that plagued him severely last season in Sweden. It will be interesting to see if he keeps that physicality against older players in the AHL this season. If he can add that element to his game, this could be a huge year for him in Ontario that sets him up well to compete for an NHL roster spot soon.
Like Durzi, Markus Phillips would have been expected to provide leadership and calmness to the Kings blueline, he was solid in this tournament. As ever, he was not flashy but steady on the backend, rarely getting beaten, making simple and effective breakout passes. Both Cameron Supryka and Landon Kosior were solid as invitee’s, smooth skaters that move the puck up ice well — I doubt either signs a contract with LA, but they were decent.
All three goalies got one game, and all three were solid. Of course, Matt Villalta stole the show with a shutout in game one. He made some big saves, including stopping a handful of breakaways against the Avalanche. Jacob Ingham played solid against Arizona, allowing just one goal in game two. He made a couple of big saves, including holding Coyotes prospect Dylan Guenther to just one goal, despite the sharpshooter having several high-quality chances. Lukas Parik took the team’s only loss during the weekend, but I thought he played well. The team in front of him struggled, especially with discipline, as they spent a large chunk of the game down a man.
It was nice to see these goalies play well, but I still don’t see any of them having a long-term future with the organization. That’s not because they aren’t necessarily good enough. But with Cal Petersen signing a new contract and my assumption that the team will add a high-end goalie prospect in one of the next two drafts, I think they’ll slowly fade out of the picture.
League’s Best Prospect Pool Showed up
It was nice to get confirmation that the Kings’ “league-best prospect pool” is more than just smoke and mirrors. All the Kings Men’s Jesse Cohen put it perfectly in this tweet.
Getting tangible, on-ice confirmation that the team’s prospects are worth the praise is so justifying for Kings fans. Performances like this last weekend make it easier for fans to “trust the process” during this rebuild. There is more to be excited about as well, with training camp kicking off this week. We’ll have coverage of training camp in the coming days.
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.