Recently the Los Angeles Kings, along with the other six teams participating, released their roster for the upcoming, 2021 NHL Rookie Faceoff Tournament. This tournament is a great way to gauge where the King’s prospects are at compared to their peers. Several of the team’s top prospects feature on the roster including, Quinton Byfield, Alex Turcotte, Brandt Clarke, Arthur Kaliyev, and more.
The tournament runs from Friday, Sep. 17 to Monday, Sep. 20, and each team will play three games. The Kings will play the Colorado Avalanche, Arizona Coyotes, and Vegas Golden Knights. Unfortunately, we won’t get to see prospects get a head start on the Freeway Faceoff, as the Anaheim Ducks and Kings don’t play one another. Here are some things to look for during this tournament.
Because this is almost the same roster as the one we saw at development camp, with a few changes, the forward group will once again be a point of focus. I’m going to split this group into tiers, dividing them by how high my expectations are for this tournament. Tier one is players I expect to dominate play, tier two is players I expect to be good, but not necessarily dominate, and tier three is players who I’m not expecting much from, but there are specific things I’m looking for.
Tier 1: Rasmus Kupari, Byfield, Turcotte, Kaliyev
Rasmus Kupari: Kicking off tier one is Rasmus Kupari, hopefully, fans aren’t tired of my constant praise of this player, but it’s likely to continue throughout this season. He’s the oldest player in this tier, and because of that, I expect the most out of him. I’ve been saying for a while now that he’s NHL ready and this tournament is a great time to prove that. He should be the King’s best forward during the tournament, and frankly, should be one of the best players on any team. He showed newfound confidence in his shot, and a willingness to drive hard to the net during development camp and I expect these new qualities to show up in games.
The expectation should be for him to dominate play, using his elite skating and puck handling to take shifts over. I would expect him to play a lot with winger Samuel Fagemo, so I want to see Kupari set up the Swedish sharpshooter consistently. An excellent Rookie Faceoff could set the tone for what should be a breakout year for Kupari.
Quinton Byfield: Byfield is arguably the best prospect at this tournament, therefore, the expectations will be high. But, as always, it’s important to remember a few things. He is still very young and he’s coming off a foot injury that forced him out of development camp. Don’t get me wrong, I expect him to be a dominant player at this tournament, but there are reasons he might not dominate all 60 minutes of each game.
The thing I really want to see from him is physical dominance. He is an immensely skilled hockey player, but it is his physical tools that really set him apart. He, understandably, was unable to physically dominate pro players on a consistent basis last season, but he should be able to against players his age. I want to see him bully his opponents during this tournament, using his size to dominate along the wall and down low. This physical dominance should give him the space to show off his fantastic hands and playmaking ability. If he’s 100% healthy, he should be a force during this tournament.
Alex Turcotte: I think injuries and a slow start to last season in the American Hockey League (AHL) have, unfairly, skewed the perception of Turcotte. The general feeling about him seems to be that he’s developing into a defense-first, shutdown center, with limited offensive upside, like new Kings center Phillip Danault. Because of this, I just want Turcotte to show off the elite stickhandling and passing ability he has during this tournament. We know he’s going to outwork everyone, and we know he’s going to be responsible across the full 200-feet — but I really want him to show off the skill that saw him drafted fifth overall. Few players drive offense like him, and we should see this on full display.
He can start to flip the perception of him during this tournament, remind people why he was such a high draft pick, and set himself up for a fantastic 2021-22 season. He’s never been someone to falter in the face of adversity, so I expect a fantastic tournament from him. With several alumni from the 2019 draft class attending this tournament, he will be eager to prove why he was drafted higher than anyone else in attendance, including Ducks prospect Trevor Zegras.
Arthur Kaliyev: After missing development camp fans will be ecstatic to see Kaliyev in this tournament. After leading the Reign in goals and points last season, the expectation will be on him to produce plenty of points during these three games. While I’m also expecting him to pick up plenty of points, that’s not my main focus for him this tournament. We know he can score goals and set up teammates, it’s the rest of his game I want to see improvements in.
We’ll see if his skating has improved over the summer, and if he’s continued to buy into coach John Wrobleski’s 200-foot playstyle. I’d also like to see him use his big frame more effectively. At 6-foot-2 and nearly 200-pounds, he’s a big player for his age, and can use that size more effectively when creating offense. He can force his way into goal-scoring areas before unloading his deadly shot. I think he has the tools to use his strength in a similar way to St. Louis Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko, by shielding the puck and powering his way to high-scoring areas, creating shooting opportunities. I want to see a more complete game from Kaliyev during this tournament, and of course, goals.
Tier 2: Tyler Madden & Samuel Fagemo
Samuel Fagemo: The things I want to see from Fagemo will closely mirror what I discussed with Kaliyev. Like Kaliyev, we know Fagemo can score goals and generate offense, that has never been a concern. It’s his ability to play a complete game that we need to see.
He is still adjusting to playing on the smaller North American ice, something he identified during development camp. He also needs to get stronger on his skates, because a decrease in time and space means there’s going to be more contact for him to deal with. If he wants to become a regular NHL player he will need to get stronger along the boards, and down low. I expect him to score goals during this tournament, and hope to see improvements in his defensive zone coverage and strength.
Tyler Madden: I’m very excited to see how Tyler Madden does during this tournament. As I’ve mentioned before, injuries saw him miss most of last season, making it difficult to assess where he is at in his development. Development camp was a decent barometer, but this tournament will give us a much better picture. Like Turcotte, there are a few things we can expect from Madden, he’s going to outwork everyone and will be responsible in his own zone. I’m more interested in seeing what he does with the puck on his stick.
In college, he was an offensive dynamo who was a constant threat, but we are unsure if that quality will translate into pro hockey. This tournament will help us set expectations on him during the 2021-22 season, should we expect him to be a point producer in Ontario or a shut-down forward? I expect him to aggressively attack defenders one-on-one, looking to use his speed and stickhandling to create offense. This can be the beginning of a huge coming-out party for Madden this season.
Tier 3: Francesco Pinelli & Martin Chromiak
Francesco Pinelli: Being a 2021 draft pick, there should be very little expectation on Francesco Pinelli to produce much offense during these three games. He will likely struggle physically and might look out of his depth at times, and that is okay. Frankly, I don’t care if he puts up zero points in three games during this tournament, his production shouldn’t be relevant. The only thing I’m looking for from him is compete level.
As Director of Amateur Scouting Mark Yannetti pointed out, a big reason he fell to LA during the draft, was a perceived lack of compete level. I want Pinelli to put those perceptions behind him and prove that passing on him for that reason was a mistake. So long as he’s working his tail off and isn’t afraid to get gritty, I’ll be happy with him.
Martin Chromiak: I have slightly different expectations for Martin Chromiak. All I want to see from him is the ability to generate offense. Even if it doesn’t translate into points, I want to see him use his speed and skill to put defensemen on their heels. His game is all about creating offense and I want to see it on full display. He’s going back to the Ontario Hockey League next season and is probably a few years away from competing for an NHL roster spot, but he can showcase his talent during this tournament. Even if we only see it in flashes, I want to see his skill.
I won’t be dividing the defensemen into tiers because there are only three blueliners I’m especially interested in during this tournament. Those three being: Clarke, Jordan Spence, and Helge Grans. They all have something to prove, can they succeed in their own zone? We should see how much work each guy needs during this tournament.
Brandt Clarke: My focus for Clarke is on how much will his horrifically inefficient stride hurt him? As I mentioned in my development camp recap, his stride is rigid and upright, causing him to generate minimal power in his skating. Up to this point in his career, his superior hockey IQ and puck skills have allowed him to dominate despite this deficiency. This tournament should give us an indication of how much work his skating needs. I’m worried he will struggle to keep pace with players when transitioning, and will be easy to beat wide because of the poor acceleration he generates.
He’s likely to struggle physically as well, but as a 2021 draft pick, this isn’t a huge issue. On the positive side of things, he’s certainly going to jump into the play and generate tons of offense. His ability to read the play and activate at the right times will be a joy to watch. I’m also interested to see how he implements the lessons coach Sean O’Donnell and Matt Greene taught him, particularly in front of the net and along the boards. This tournament will give us a great indication of how much work his skating needs and should set him up for an incredible season with the Barrie Colts and Team Canada.
Jordan Spence: After a fantastic junior career, Spence will be making the jump to pro hockey for the 2021-22 season. He was clear in interviews during development camp that he doesn’t want to change his game after making the jump. He wants to adapt his style to pro hockey. The question marks on him will be, can he be effective in his own zone? Will his small frame be a detriment? His offensive qualities can’t be doubted, but we can question how good he’ll be at keeping pucks out of his own net.
We will get a good indication of how much work his defensive game needs during this tournament and how well his offensive upside will translate against better opposition. I want to see him jump up into the play and generate offense — because that is his best quality — while not being a liability defensively. He’s never going to be an elite defender, so if he isn’t a liability, I’ll be happy. The 2021-22 Reign roster has plenty of options on defense, so Spence will have to put on a good show during this tournament if he wants a guaranteed roster spot.
Helge Grans: The story with Grans is the same as ever — he has all the tools to be a dynamic puck-moving defenseman at the NHL level but struggles to put these tools to good use. He had a rough first season of pro during the 2020-21 season in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL), struggling to make a positive impact in his own zone. His tendency to get lost in the defensive zone led to several pucks in his net during the season and saw him with the joint worse plus-minus in the league. This makes what I’m looking for clear, can he defend in his own zone? He’s a decent defender on the rush, using his size and skating to force players wide, but once an offense gets set up in the zone, he’s like a deer in headlights.
At just 19-years-old, it’s okay to have these deficiencies, but they need to be fixed quickly. Like Spence, I’m not looking for him to be an elite shutdown player in these three games — if he’s not a liability and shows off the offensive talent we all know is there, I’ll be happy. I’m hoping for a big season from him, as I think he can be a great defenseman for the future, and I hope he gets to represent Sweeden at the 2022 World Junior Championships this winter.
I’ve said it many times before, I don’t think Jacob Ingham nor Lukas Parik have much of a future with the Kings organization. Because of that, I’m not expecting much from either goalie during this tournament. If they don’t concede too many soft goals, I’ll be happy, and consider it a successful tournament from them both.
Gauging the Prospects
This tournament will be fantastic for gauging where the King’s prospects sit compared to their peers. Like development camp, we shouldn’t make any definitive decisions on how good or bad a player is after this tournament. Still, I think it will help set expectations for the upcoming season. We’ll have a better idea of who’s close to cracking the NHL roster and who’s still one or more years out. Lastly, remember that wins and losses don’t matter in this tournament, I’d be okay with the Kings going 0-3, so long as we see clear signs of improvement from the prospects. Everyone should mark their calendars for this tournament because it will be a blast to watch.
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.