With the best prospect pool in the league, according to Hockey Prospecting, the Los Angeles Kings will be looking to phase in these players over the next few seasons.
With a laundry list of high-end prospects, the team will have a tough decision on who cracks the NHL roster this coming season. The team has made some significant additions, leaving less room for prospects to cement themselves. Someone will have to massively impress the coaching staff to crack the roster in 2021-22. So, let’s take a look at some of the most likely candidates.
I think Kupari doesn’t receive nearly enough hype. His ACL tear during the 2020 World Junior Championships and the Kings’ impressive center depth in their prospect pool has lowered his stock. But this is an incredible hockey player who can be a big contributor at the NHL level. He’s also the most NHL-ready prospect in the Kings’ system. His 0.719 points per game (P/GP) with Ontario last season was second only to Arthur Kaliyev amongst players with more than 15 games. With Kupari’s 200-foot game being more developed than Kaliyev’s, he’s a likely candidate to make the NHL roster.
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He would add some serious skill to the Kings’ bottom-six forwards and could help bring some much-needed secondary scoring. With the depth at center in the team’s system, he will likely move to the wing, and I think he could outperform the other players fighting for a spot as a fourth-line winger. The team might utilize him like they did Lias Andersson last season, sending him to the AHL to learn the wing position before calling him up to the NHL. Regardless, he is the rookie I view as most likely to cement himself on the NHL roster.
Kaliyev was the most productive player on the Ontario Reign last season, and that alone makes him a candidate to crack the NHL roster. He led the Reign in goals and assists while also showing drastic improvement in his 200-foot game. He also made his NHL debut last season, scoring a goal in his only game with the Kings. This is an exciting player who can add goals to the team’s roster, something they’re in desperate need of. Question marks still surround his skating and 200-foot game at the NHL level; however, his ability to produce points shouldn’t be questioned.
Barring an incredible training camp, I imagine Kaliyev starts the year out in the AHL, but he’s a likely candidate to push for a spot on the Kings during the season. If, for example, he is a P/GP player through 20 games in the AHL, I can’t imagine the teams keeps him down in the minors. The addition of wingers like Viktor Arvidsson and Vladimir Tkachyov leave less room for Kaliyev, but he might force himself into the lineup. Whether it is with Ontario or LA, I’d expect big things from the former second-round pick.
The star man in the Kings’ system, Byfield is another player that could force himself on the team’s roster. In a normal season, he would be a lock for the NHL, as he wouldn’t have the option to play in the AHL. But with the announcement that players who dressed for more than 20 AHL games last season will be allowed to return to the AHL, he’s given that option. This is fantastic news for LA, as most people would agree that Byfield is not ready for the NHL yet. He impressed during his six games stint with the team last year, but it was clear that he still needed further development in the AHL.
It’s important to remember how young he is, as he will be just 19 years old for the entire 2021-22 season since he has a late August birthday. It’s okay if he spends the majority of next season with Ontario — as general manager Rob Blake has stated, he doesn’t want to put players in positions they aren’t ready for, and he wants to allow these players the necessary time to develop. Of course, with the insane amounts of talent that Byfield possesses, there’s a chance that he forces himself onto the NHL roster. I would expect him to start the year in Ontario, but it’s entirely possible that he takes a massive step in his development over the next 12 months.
I would be very surprised to see Turcotte crack the NHL roster for an extended period of time next season, but like Byfield, his abundance of talent leaves the possibility open. After a slow start to life in Ontario, picking up zero points in his first six games, he picked up his play significantly, becoming one of the team’s best players in the second half of the season. He has moved almost exclusively to the wing, and many think this is where he will stay. His ability to drive offense and produce high-quality chances was impressive, while his praised 200-foot play and compete level was as advertised. He’s developing at a steady pace and should be NHL-ready soon.
Despite his strong finish to last season and his continued development, I think he’ll spend most of next season in the AHL. As I mentioned earlier, he’s being moved to wing, and the organization will want to give him more time to develop in that position. There’s also the concern over his health; his last three seasons, including his pre-draft season, have been hampered by injuries, so calling him up too early could be disastrous. The team must ensure that he is physically ready for the NHL before calling him up, and he isn’t there yet. We will see him begin to dominate at the AHL level next season, and he will likely make his NHL debut, but I don’t think he will be an NHL regular.
Despite not being the biggest name in the team’s prospect pool, there’s a decent chance that Akil Thomas cracks the NHL roster next season. He finished last season second on the team in points, with eight more games than Turcotte and Kupari, and is a coach’s dream. His motor never stops, and he has all of the “intangibles” that coaches love to rave about. I imagine it’s another season in the minors for him, but the organization loves this player and might reward his hard work with a spot on the big club. His ability to play any position and any role make him a player that’s likely to stick in the NHL once he gets called up. I wouldn’t necessarily expect him to make the NHL roster, but I wouldn’t be surprised by it either.
Unlikely But Possible Players
Fagemo put together a decent rookie season in Ontario last year and has an outside shot to make the NHL roster next season. Like Kaliyev, his ability to score goals might be enticing for the Kings’ coaching staff. He still needs a lot of development before he’s NHL ready, but his shot and overall skill make anything possible.
After injuries limited him to just 14 games last season, it’s difficult to truly gauge where Madden sits on the team’s depth chart. But this is a complete player with almost no holes in his game. He showed fantastic offensive ability in college, which he combines with an elite motor and hockey IQ, making him an intriguing prospect. He could surprise everyone and force himself onto the team’s roster next year.
It is impossible to tell at this time which rookie will make the NHL roster next season. But one thing we can be sure of is that the team will have an abundance of options. After their recent additions, they should be pushing for a playoff spot next season and will see a few rookies play a big part in that push. With more players than spots available, this year’s training camp will be an intense affair for many players, and we will see some take the next step in their development.
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.