Recently the Los Angeles Kings hosted their first development camp since 2019. It featured several of the team’s top prospects, including Brandt Clarke, Alex Turcotte, Quinton Byfield, and more. Unfortunately, Turcotte and Byfield saw limited time, as injuries took both players out of camp early on. Star prospect Arthur Kaliyev also missed camp due to an undisclosed personal reason. While it’s important to remember not to overreact to development camp, there is still plenty to be learned from what we saw during that week. Today I’ll be reviewing what I saw at development camp.
The forward group represented the “more exciting” group of players for development camp, featuring several of the team’s hottest prospects. Some players came as advertised, and some were better than expected. Fortunately, no one was a disappointment during camp, and there are plenty of positives to discuss.
Turcotte & Byfield
This section will be short because neither player made it past Monday, in fact, Byfield only made it roughly 10 minutes before leaving the ice. Unfortunately, a foot injury that has been bothering him for a little bit now forced him out, but the team is confident it isn’t a serious injury, as they just didn’t want to push him too hard.
We were lucky enough to see a full day from Turcotte before an emergency surgery for acute appendicitis cut his week short. Fans shouldn’t worry as the team confirmed that he will be ready for rookie camp in September. He didn’t spend much time on the ice, but he was impressive while out there. During the Monday session, there was maybe no better player on the ice than him. He showed the never-ending motor we hear so much about while also showing off the skill that led him to a fifth overall selection in 2019. He seemingly never lost a puck battle and was a terror with the puck on his stick. I still think it’s unlikely that he starts the 2021-22 season with the Kings, but I fully expect him to be a dominant player for the Ontario Reign. Look for him to take a step up and likely play his first NHL game this season.
Anyone who has heard my opinions on Rasmus Kupari knows exactly how I feel about this player. He’s an absolutely magnificent hockey player. Everything he did during development camp reaffirmed those opinions. As the only player there, who has spent time in the NHL, not including Byfield, who only skated for 10 minutes, the expectation was on him to be the best player on the ice. That was very often the case, and he seemed to know it as well. Don’t mistake that for him looking cocky either, as he didn’t, but he sure was a confident player on the ice. Never needing an invitation to shoot the puck and always looking to take players on one-on-one. He was also clearly a leader on the ice, as something that was nice to see from one of the older players.
I’ve thought for a while now that he is ready for a full-time spot on the Kings this season, and seeing him at camp made that feeling stronger. If he does start the year with Ontario, I wouldn’t expect him to be there long, as he looks ready to make the jump up in competition.
Another big name that featured during camp was Swedish winger Samuel Fagemo. No matter how many times you see it, his shot will impress you. Other than Kaliyev, I don’t think there’s a better shooter in the entire Kings organization, be it on the NHL roster or with Ontario, as few shoot the puck like Fagemo. His shot is hard, accurate, and has a lighting quick release, leading to plenty of pucks in nets. Perhaps even more impressive is his ability to put quality shots on net under pressure. There were several instances where he had a player defending him tightly, and while most players would either hit the defender with a shot or put it weakly on net, he fired a missile. This small detail sets him apart as a shooter and will lead to goals at every level.
He was more than just a shot, though. His skating and hands were both impressive, especially when isolating defenders one-on-one. He’ll need more time to adapt to the smaller North American ice during the 2021-22 season, which is why I think he’ll spend most of it with Ontario, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he made his NHL debut at some point this season. He’s going to generate a ton of offense with the Reign and will likely make huge improvements to his overall game.
Injuries limited Tyler Madden to just 14 games last year, making it difficult to assess where he is at in his development. There’s no question as to where he is at now, as he’s right there with the King’s top prospects. Not being elite in any one specific area, there’s also zero weaknesses in his game. He has also clearly put on significant weight recently, as he looks to be a much bigger and more physically mature player. Like Turcotte, his motor was non-stop, and very few players won puck battles against him. I would expect him to make a big splash with Ontario next season and wouldn’t be surprised to see him make his NHL debut. If you weren’t excited about him yet, it’s time to get excited.
A big favorite of Kings insider John Hoven, Andre Lee showed off why the Mayor is such a big fan. He’s a colossal human, who skates very well, and is an impressive finisher. Really, what more could you want from a forward? As to be expected with a player of his size, his acceleration is a bit lackluster, but when he gets up to speed, watch out because no one is stopping him. His hands in and around the net are very impressive, as combined with a hard, accurate shot, he’s constantly a threat to score.
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I imagine in a more physical setting, as players weren’t overly physical at camp, he will be a much more punishing player to play against as well. I would expect him to be an incredible player for UMASS Lowell next season and might even join the Reign after his college season ends. The thought of him and Samuel Helenius anchoring a third line should scare teams league-wide.
Martin Chromiak is an incredibly talented hockey player. An obvious statement for anyone that has been drafted by an NHL team, but even amongst those players, his talent level shines through. He was one of the best skaters at camp, backed up by the team’s skate tests, and has all the tools to be a dynamic point producer at any level.
He’s clearly a step behind physically, which isn’t a huge worry for the 19-year-old but is worth noting, and he needs significant work on his 200-foot play. But the skill he possesses makes him an intriguing prospect. I would not be the least bit surprised to see him post 100-plus points in the Ontario Hockey League next season, and if he can make improvements on his overall game, he should be a massive steal for the Kings in the fifth round.
Admittedly, I’ve never been overly enamored by Aidan Dudas, while I’m still not sure he’ll ever crack the Kings lineup, I’m confident that he’ll play in the NHL for someone. Like Madden, he wasn’t incredible in one area of his game but was good everywhere. I was surprised by his high skill level, particularly his hands and passing. He should be a solid performer for the Reign next season, and I’m sure will see a big increase in his point production, especially on a good Reign team. Again, I don’t see him as a top prospect for the organization, but his play was very impressive.
The talent level for Francesco Pinelli is undeniable. Despite being one of the youngest players at camp, one of only two players that were drafted in the 2021 Draft there, he was still making his presence known. He displayed a great shot and fantastic vision all week. He was clearly physically behind most players, but that should be expected for a player drafted roughly a month ago.
I also didn’t see any indication of the effort concerns that Director of Scouting Mark Yannetti pinned as a reason he fell to the second round. He seemed to always be giving maximum effort and clearly wanted to learn. Of course, working hard in practice doesn’t matter if you don’t do it in-game, but it was nice to see that concern not show itself. Like Chromiak, I would Pinelli to post fantastic numbers in the OHL during the 2021-22 season.
The group of defensemen at the development camp saw fewer big names than the forward group but still saw some players impress. Unfortunately, several prospects, including Helge Grans, Brock Faber, Kim Nousiainen, and Kiril Kirsanov, missed camp for different reasons. Meaning, several of the defensemen at camp were invitees and not a part of the King’s organization.
I truly don’t think there are enough superlatives in the English language for me to describe how impressed I was with Clarke. I’ll get the one negative out of the way. He desperately needs to work with a skating coach, as he has one of the most inefficient strides I have seen from anyone at this level. His stiff, upright style gives him a weak stride that might be exposed at the NHL level. With that out of the way, I will say this if he fixes his stride, he is going to be a premier defenseman in the NHL. The talent he has is truly insane. It wasn’t major things like a big shot or heavy hits that were so impressive, as it was the little aspects of his game.
Several drills focused on picking the puck up in bad situations and making quick reads, passing to the right player, and wow, was he good at this. He was significantly quicker than any player at receiving the puck, picking his head up, and finding the right pass to make, while also making the pass perfect. Defensively he was also massively impressive, as his stick and body positioning were fantastic, rarely having pucks passed through him, another focus from the coaches. He was also a sponge for information, coaches never had to tell him something twice, and he always instantly picked up the tips they were sending his way.
During game situations is when he really shined, in scrimmages or small area games, he was immaculate. While his straight-line skating needs work, his lateral movement is extremely impressive, allowing him to easily beat forecheckers and make moves in the offensive zone. His ability to know when to step up into the play is also impressive, as he rarely pinched or joined the rush at bad times and almost always made a good play after committing himself up ice. His passing and vision were also top tier. Like Pinelli, he was clearly struggling a little bit physically, but like Pinelli, that’s okay for a 2021 draft pick. I think he will be a top-five player, not just defenseman, in the OHL next season and will be a top-pairing defenseman for Team Canada at the upcoming World Junior Championships. If he can improve his stride and add muscle, I think we could see him in a Kings jersey to start the 2022-23 season. He is an unbelievably good player.
After Clarke, Spence was probably the most exciting defensive prospect at camp this year. After a wonderful Junior career, fans are excited to see the offensive-defensemen transition into pro hockey. While he wasn’t as awe-inspiring as Clarke, he was very impressive. He’s an incredible skater who uses this ability to make up for his small frame. Even in the corners, he uses quick feet and a low center of gravity to beat bigger players in puck battles. He also showed good defensive awareness all week. It really is his offensive ability that stands out though.
Particularly his ability to shoot the puck. His shot almost never missed the net, and often found the corners from the point. He is also a fantastic passer that quickly gets the puck moving up ice. Hopefully, he can put together a solid season in Ontario, as I think he would add a nice element to the Kings roster. I think he could develop into a similar player to Sean Walker, who is a solid contributor to the organization.
I’m, admittedly, not the most knowledgeable person when it comes to the technical aspects of goaltending, so I will keep this section short. Both Lukas Parik and Jacob Ingham looked very confident in the net and rarely gave up extremely soft goals. One thing I noticed with Ingham was a similar trait to Kings goalie Jonathan Quick, and that was the burning hate for having pucks go into their net. Even during warm-up drills, Ingham would be furious if pucks beat him. This is a quality that many elite goalies have, so seeing this from him was nice. I don’t think either goalie will have massively impactful careers for the Kings, but both looked solid during camp.
An Embarrassment of Riches
Not that anyone needed confirmation that the Kings are loaded with talented prospects, but development camp once again proved this fact. Several of the team’s prospects looked close to being NHL ready and should be ready to begin phasing onto the roster soon. As we mentioned earlier, it’s important not to overreact to what we saw at development camp, and training camp will be a better indication of where these players are at, but it’s still exciting to see the kids look great. It was also nice to see former Kings Jarret Stoll, Sean O’Donnel, and Matt Greene as coaches.
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.