Kings’ Prospect Pool Alone Makes a Pretty Impressive Roster

The Los Angeles Kings have what many consider to be the best prospect pool in the NHL. The team boasts an impressive group of young players at nearly every position, making for a very bright future. Though the team has struggled over the past few seasons, the anticipation of what is to come has made the rebuilding process much more tolerable for fans.

The goal of putting together a lineup of prospects only 23 and under was to take a glimpse into what the future of the Kings might look like. After removing the big-name veterans the team has—Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, and Jonathan Quick, just to name a few—you are left with the fresh, exciting, high-end talent that will soon surface.

One thing to note: the following lineup is based on both current impact and potential.

Arthur KaliyevQuinton ByfieldSamuel Fagemo
Jaret Anderson-DolanAlex TurcotteTyler Madden
Lias AnderssonGabriel VilardiAkil Thomas
Francesco PinelliRasmus KupariAidan Dudas
Tobias BjornfotBrandt Clarke
Mikey Anderson Kale Clague
Kirill KirsanovHelge Grans
Matt Villalta
Lukas Parik

Forwards

First Line: Kaliyev – Byfield – Fagemo

While none of these players’ impact has been felt in the NHL quite yet, their potential powers them to the top of the lineup; Byfield is expected to be the Kings’ top center, and Kaliyev and Fagemo are the team’s goal scorers of the future. Both Kaliyev and Fagemo are still developing their defensive games, but both players have taken steps to become better in their own end.

Quinton Byfield LA Kings
Quinton Byfield, Los Angeles Kings (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

Unlike the other lines, the first line keeps all three players at their natural positions, each filling a role they are comfortable with. The entire lineup will almost definitely change by the time most of these players get to the NHL, but don’t be surprised if the line of Kaliyev, Byfield, and Fagemo sticks together down the road.

Second Line: Anderson-Dolan – Turcotte – Madden

The second line of Anderson-Dolan, Turcotte, and Madden will serve as a great supporting cast to the flashy first line. Before Byfield was drafted by the Kings second overall at the 2020 NHL Draft, Turcotte was projected to be the next number one center.

Though Byfield likely takes the number one spot, Turcotte will still be a great fit on the second line; his 200-foot style will pair nicely with the offense that both Anderson-Dolan and Madden can bring. In fact, Anderson-Dolan has already shown he can contribute at the NHL level; last season, he played 34 games with the Kings, putting up seven points in his first seven games.

Outside of Kaliyev and Fagemo, all other players put on the wing in this lineup are actually natural centers, Anderson-Dolan and Madden included. The playing style of these players, though, allows them to be just as effective as wingers as they are centers.

Third Line: Andersson – Vilardi – Thomas

The third line is composed of three players with excellent work ethics. Vilardi has overcome a lot to get to the point he is now, battling through significant injury issues; Andersson had a tough first go in the NHL with the New York Rangers but is set on redeeming himself with the Kings, and Thomas shows incredible determination all over the ice.

Gabriel Vilardi LA Kings
Gabriel Vilardi, Los Angeles Kings (Photo by Juan Ocampo/NHLI via Getty Images)

Vilardi has played 64 games so far in his NHL career, proving that he can potentially become an excellent NHL center one day. In the 2019-20 season, he wasted no time getting on the scoresheet, netting a goal at the beginning of his first shift. He struggled at times last season, but his 10 goals and 13 assists in 54 games made for a passable campaign. While some think he will end up as a winger, I think his 6-foot-3, 201-pound frame would fit in well down the middle, alongside two players who aren’t as physical in Andersson and Thomas.

Fourth Line: Pinelli – Kupari – Dudas

With the experience of only seven NHL games—all coming from Kupari—the fourth line of the 23-and-under Kings has the least experience. While based purely on potential, this fourth line shows an interesting combination of skills that could work out.

Each player on the line brings something a bit different: Kupari is a slick player with a lot of skill, Pinelli is a well-rounded player with offensive drive, and Dudas is an instigator. Pinelli was just picked up by the Kings at the 2021 NHL Draft, while Kupari and Dudas spent last season with the Reign. They are all finding their path to the NHL, and they still have a ways to go, placing them at the bottom of the lineup.

This shows the depth of LA’s prospect pool, as all three of these players could end up in the top-six, despite being put on the fourth line here; if Kupari can contribute the offense he is capable of adding, Pinelli can continue to develop a solid game in all three zones, and Dudas can embrace the Brad Marchand-like style he has been asked to play, each of them could be crucial down the line.

Defensemen

First Pair: Bjornfot – Clarke

The future of the Kings’ defense centers around the eighth-overall pick from the 2021 NHL Draft—Brandt Clarke. LA doesn’t have as many options on defense as they do at forward, so selecting him in the first round was crucial. He is an offensive defenseman who uses his elite hockey IQ to produce from the blue line.

Clarke’s only downfall is that he can be a bit inconsistent in the defensive zone, making Bjornfot a perfect partner for him. Bjornfot lacks the same offensive abilities as Clarke, but he more than makes up for it with his smart defensive play.

Second Pair: Anderson – Clague

Out of all the defensemen selected for this lineup, Anderson has by far the most NHL experience. He has played 60 games in his career, 54 of which came last season—he put up one goal and 10 assists. He shows a well-rounded playing style, as he is reliable in his own end and has solid offensive skills.

Mikey Anderson LA Kings
Mikey Anderson, Los Angeles Kings (Photo by Juan Ocampo/NHLI via Getty Images)

Clague hasn’t spent a lot of time in the NHL, and the 23-year-old just qualified for this lineup, but he still has a bright future ahead of him. He is known for his offense and the versatility he provides; he can play on either the left or right side, making him a valuable piece on any team.

Third Pair: Kirsanov – Grans

Neither of these players has any NHL experience, but they both have the potential to be in the lineup someday. Both players were drafted recently; the Kings drafted Kirsanov 84th overall at this year’s draft, while Grans was selected 35th overall at the 2020 NHL Draft.

This pair is an interesting one, as each player provides something the other doesn’t. Kirsanov has great defensive awareness and he plays a physical game. On the other hand, Grans struggles with the defensive game and physicality but compensates for it with his speed and skill—Kirsanov is not as well versed in those two areas of the game.

Goaltenders

Starter: Matt Villalta

Villalta was drafted 72nd overall by the Kings back in 2017, following an outstanding pre-draft season; he recorded a 2.41 goals-against average (GAA) and a .918 save percentage (SV%) with the Soo Greyhounds of the OHL. He has struggled since he was drafted, but the 6-foot-4 goaltender still takes the starter role in this lineup because of his experience.

Matthew Villalta, OHL, Greyhounds
Matt Villalta (Photo by Terry Wilson / OHL Images)

Over the past two seasons, Villalta has played mostly with the Reign; in the 2019-20 season, he recorded a 3.27 GAA and a .899 SV% in 22 games, while in his most recent campaign, he showed a 3.34 GAA and a .889 SV% in 18 games. Future starting goaltender Calvin Petersen will need a backup, and Villalta could be the answer.

Backup: Lukas Parik

Parik doesn’t have as much experience as Villalta, granting him the backup role, despite potentially being the better goaltender one day. He was drafted 87th overall in 2019 before playing for several different teams in the years since. In the 2020-21 season, he played for the Dubuque Fighting Saints in the USHL, recording a poor 3.35 GAA and .867 SV% in 28 games. That said, he had an impressive performance at the WJC playing for the Czech Republic; he came out of the tournament with a 1-1-0 record against stiff competition.

Kings Have Options Down the Road

There is an incredible number of ways to put together a 23-and-under lineup for the Kings: Turcotte or Vilardi could be moved to the wing, any of the eight natural centers who are playing on the wing could move to the middle, Samuel Helenius could have gotten a spot in the forward group, and Villalta and Parik are interchangeable as far as who should be the starter.

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Clague could also be moved to the left side, pushing Kirsanov out of the lineup—either Spence, Faber, or Durzi would become the right defenseman on the third pair. This would help balance the defense, as all offensively-minded players are on the right side in the above lineup, whereas the more defensively responsible ones are found playing on the left.

All of these options show just how deep the Kings’ prospect pool is. The next few seasons for Los Angeles will be tremendously exciting, as we will see some of these young players appear in the NHL more often. Eventually, the lineup will look more and more similar to this one, and the future will become the present.


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