With Quinton Byfield being called up to the taxi squad on Monday, the Los Angeles Kings are now left with only two non-emergency call-ups for the remaining 10 games. They’re now all but out of the playoff picture and will likely look to give some of their young talents a taste of the NHL.
Alex Turcotte, Arthur Kaliyev, Akil Thomas, and Rasmus Kupari have all put together fantastic seasons in Ontario and would be looking to gain some NHL experience before the end of this season. With so many options available to the organization, which players will the Kings opt to call up?
2019 5th overall pick Alex Turcotte is probably the second most exciting prospect in the team’s system behind Byfield. Because of this hype, it’s possible that the Kings decide to give him a call-up before the season ends. He had a slow start to his first season of professional hockey — coming into it carrying an injury sustained during the 2021 World Junior Championship certainly didn’t help his transition.
After going pointless in his first six games with Ontario, he bounced back with seven points in the following six games. He brings more than just point production, however, as his 200-foot game is immaculate.
Pros: A taste of the NHL could be massive for Turcotte’s development and how he trains in the offseason. Getting first-hand experience of what he’ll be up against in the NHL would help him set his offseason goals. Earning a call-up could also help his confidence massively heading into the offseason.
Cons: The jump up to the NHL might be a little too much for him right now. While he’s been very good at driving offense and controlling the puck, converting those positives into points hasn’t come easy for him. A stretch in the NHL where he can’t find the net might hurt his confidence moving into next season. His injury problems this season should also be a slight concern, as calling him up before he’s physically ready could result in a costly injury.
Possibly the most offensively gifted player in the Kings’ pipeline — Kaliyev has had a fantastic start to life as a professional player. He leads the Reign in goals and points, showing off the talent that had a lot of people labeling him as a possible steal in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. It hasn’t just been his offense that has impressed the organization, as coach John Wroblewski stated in an interview with Mayor’s Manor:
“Arty has bought in completely on the idea of being a 200-foot player. He’s one of our more reliable players in our defensive system. He still has some things to work on in our neutral zone defense, and that’s a fine art, not many players have played in a 1-3-1 before.” (From “Wrobo talks Byfield on Eve of Call-up to Kings, Plus Thoughts on Turcotte and Kaliyev,” Mayor’s Manor, April 26, 2021)John Hoven, Mayor’s Manor
With Kaliyev developing his 200-foot game — the biggest knock on his play when he was drafted — he is looking primed to make an impact at the NHL level very soon.
Pros: He has now proven himself a reliable point producer at the AHL level and might be ready to make the jump up in competition. He would be one of, if not the best, shooter on the Kings’ roster if he received a call-up. Considering the Kings’ goal-scoring problems, having a player with a shot like his could be massively helpful.
Cons: He already got a call-up earlier in the season and got his taste of the NHL. Despite his massive improvements to his 200-foot game, there’s still plenty of room for improvement and calling him up could halt his progress. His skating still needs some work before it’s NHL ready too.
Thomas announced himself to the wider hockey world in 2020 when he scored the game-winning goal in the 2020 World Junior Championship gold medal game for Canada. But he is a player that has excited the Kings organization since his draft day in 2018. After two fantastic seasons in the OHL, he started his first season of professional hockey with Ontario in 2021 and has done very well for himself. His 16 points in 32 games are very good for a first-year pro finding his feet at this level. It’s more than his point production that excited the organization — his versatility and work ethic make him a coach’s dream.
He has filled in everywhere this season, switching between center and wing on different lines, even taking one shift on defense in a game against the Bakersfield Condors. While there might be some “better” players waiting for their NHL debut, Thomas’s hard work may be rewarded by the organization via a call-up.
Pros: His versatility means that he can be used anywhere coach Todd McLellan sees fit. Be it on the second or fourth line, you can rely on him to get his job done. Rewarding his hard work could send a message to the entire organization that putting in the effort doesn’t go unnoticed and has its benefits. His excellent passing and vision could help bring an offensive spark to the Kings’ lineup.
Cons: His call-up could take away from other players that also need NHL experience and are more likely to make the Kings’ opening night roster next season. There’s still plenty of development left for him as he is still looking to replicate the massive numbers he put up in juniors at the pro level.
In what is now his second season of pro hockey in North America, Kupari has begun to hit his stride and develop into a dangerous 200-foot player for the Kings. With a fantastic 0.7 points per game (ppg) average with Ontario so far this season, he is developing into an extremely complete player that can control all three zones of the ice. His play with Ontario has been so good that he already earned himself a three-game stint with the Kings earlier in the season. His stellar play since returning to Ontario might see him get another call-up before the season is over.
Pros: During his three-game cameo earlier in the season, he proved to be a capable player at the NHL level. Despite posting zero points in the three games, he competed hard every night and created some decent offense. He’ll likely push for a full-time spot on the Kings’ roster next season, and another stint in the NHL to end this season could be huge for that push.
Cons: Having already tasted the NHL this season, he’d be taking a call-up away from another player who needs a taste of the NHL. While he has made big improvements offensively this season, there’s still room for growth in that department, and calling him up to the NHL could stunt that growth.
With so many fantastic prospects, it’s almost impossible for the Kings to make a wrong decision with their last two call-ups. In the end, I think Turcotte takes up one of the two call-ups, and the last spot is a toss-up between the other three players I’ve mentioned. Regardless, these last ten games should give Kings fans a chance to watch some of their best prospects in an NHL game. Fans should start getting excited for a look into what the future holds.
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.