The Los Angeles Kings are in the midst of a tough playoff race right now, holding onto their second-place spot in the division by just two points. The Kings are 4-4-2 in their last 10 games and have looked very inconsistent in that time. Seen most recently in their last two games, beating the Seattle Kraken 4-2 on March 26, then losing 6-1 to the same team on March 28. One of the team’s issues has been the lackluster play of their first line and there has been a lot of discussion about how to get them going again. Specifically, Alex Iafallo has struggled immensely in recent weeks and the team desperately needs him to find his game or they’ll have to replace him in the lineup.
Iafallo’s Recent Struggles
As I said, the entire first line has struggled in recent weeks, with Anze Kopitar and Adrian Kempe both hitting big slumps over the last 20 games. However, Iafallo has struggled the most out of the three forwards. After starting the season strong and scoring at a 30-goal pace over the first 22 games, Iafallo has struggled to generate offense and is producing at nowhere near a top-line level. He has just two points in his last 10 games and four in his last 20. Comparing these to his linemates, Kopitar has six in his last 10 and 15 in his last 20. Meanwhile, Kempe has six in his last 10 and 14 in his last 20.
Even with this line struggling, especially in a stretch of 10 games where Kempe was held pointless, Iafallo has been the least effective offensively. Those four points also include zero goals over the last 20 games. Of course, offense has never been the main selling point to Iafallo, but as a top-line, and even top-six, forward, those offensive numbers simply aren’t good enough. As a bottom-13 team in all situation goals, the Kings can’t have their first-line left wing struggling this much.
He has also done very little on the power play, which is not uncommon with Kings forwards, scoring just five power-play points total this season, despite having the third-most power-play time on the team. Yes, the Kings have struggled as a team on the man advantage, but those numbers are still unacceptable for someone with that much power-play time, and especially someone who has spent significant time on the top unit.
Iafallo is Not a First-Line Player
If you read the first section and stopped, you would probably leave the article thinking I hate Iafallo and think he’s a terrible player. This is very far from the truth; he does a lot of things very well and is a very useful part of this team. He is statistically one of the best defensive wingers, and forwards generally, in the NHL. He provides a ton of value for the Kings, but that value just doesn’t come in the offensive zone and does not fit the needs of a top line. His skill set does not match the role he’s given and that isn’t his fault. In a more suited role, Iafallo is a very effective forward and will provide value for the team.
First Line Shakeup
It has come to the point where I think Iafallo needs a different look, playing with Kopitar and Kempe is simply not working for him, and changing the lines up a little would be smart. Coach Todd McLellan clearly thinks the same, as he shuffled the lines quite a bit on Monday against the Kraken. This was needed, but I didn’t agree with the decision to move the centers around. Shuffling the wings would make more sense, and more specifically, swapping Iafallo with another player makes the most sense.
A lot of people have been calling for Arthur Kaliyev to take this role, but we’ve seen on a few occasions now that he isn’t ready for a top-six role and he should remain on the fourth line. There are other options, though.
The first option is Trevor Moore. While several people are concerned about breaking up the team’s best line since the start of the new year, I would argue that any combination of wingers will succeed playing on Phillip Danault’s line. A line of Iafallo-Danault-Viktor Arvidsson has also seen success in the past, so even if the top line doesn’t get going with Moore, the second line should remain productive. Moore would do a lot for the top line, he’s generating a ton of chances right now, both of the rush and the cycle, and is an excellent forechecker. He would be able to do a lot of the leg work for Kempe and Kopitar while bringing the production Iafallo has been lacking. It would also be fitting for Moore to climb to the top line during his incredible season.
The next two players on this list are probably long shots to be moved up to the top line, but I feel they should both be rewarded for a successful return to the lineup. Rasmus Kupari is the first of these two players, after a rough 37 games to start the season, he was sent back down to the Ontario Reign, in an effort for him to regain confidence and rediscover some offense. The confidence is certainly back and he looks like an entirely new player at wing.
He’s playing with confidence and pace that he hasn’t shown at the NHL level before and it’s great to watch. He has just two points in his eight games since returning to the lineup, but that is the same number Iafallo has in his last 10. There’s also an argument that, in an elevated role, Kupari will produce more based on his play. He has been far more physical and significantly improved on the forecheck since his return, and his speed and skill would mesh well with Kopitar and Kempe. Putting that much speed around an aging Kopitar is always a good idea and if Kupari continues to play the impressive, downhill, north-south style he’s been playing in recent games, he should find success. He’s played great since his recall and a move up the lineup would be deserved.
The second long shot is Gabe Vilardi who, like Kupari, looks like an entirely different player since his recall and move to wing. Just one point since his recall, a goal against the Kraken last Saturday, he has massively improved in several areas. He is much better defensively and far more responsible with the puck in his own zone. He’s also looked more like the dominant player along the boards and below the circles, we saw in juniors. He’s using his frame and hands more effectively now than earlier in the season and on a line with a finisher like Kempe, it could prove beneficial.
There would be a slight issue that he and Kopitar would leave this line a little slow, but their size and skill should help compensate, and Kempe should have enough speed for the whole line. In what has been a tough season for Vilardi personally, he’s done everything the organization has asked of him and a bump to the top line would be a great reward for that. I’ve also said many times that being the “third-best” player on a line is perfect for Vilardi. Kempe and Kopitar would take on more of the pressure and Vilardi should have the space to make use of his excellent skill set.
The Kings Should Move Iafallo Down the Lineup
I don’t want this to read as a hate piece towards Iafallo, who always gives effort and is being used in a poor role for his skill set, but I do think he should be moved off the top line. Production from the first line has been a huge problem recently and he has been the least productive of the three. Moving into a more fitting middle-six role, and possibly onto a line he’s had more success with in the past, would be good for Iafallo and the team. If you swapped him with Kupari or Vilardi, it would also give Quinton Byfield a more veteran presence on the wing. Of course, the last time I suggested someone move down the lineup, Moore went on to move up the lineup and lead the team in points after the article’s release. So, maybe Iafallo goes on to post 20 points in the remaining 14 games?
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.