Leaving an NHL Entry Draft empty-handed doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the end of the road. Although the odds heavily disfavor the players who aren’t selected, they could go on to become very dominant players, even the greatest of all-time.
In an abysmal 2018-19 season, the Los Angeles Kings had one player that shed some light and showed promise: undrafted forward Alex Iafallo. The Eden native spent a lot of his time last season on the first line with Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown. Alongside the team’s veterans, Iafallo looked like a natural. Let’s take a look at the left winger’s sophomore season.
From Sleeper Prospect to Key Component
To many, the “sophomore slump” is a real thing, but to Iafallo it’s only a myth. After coming off a productive rookie season, the 25-year-old kept the momentum rolling during a disappointing 2018-19 campaign for the Kings.
Backtracking to 2017-18, the University of Minnesota-Duluth alum surprised many, made the opening night roster and started on the top line for several games. He recorded 25 points in 75 games with a plus-10 rating to conclude his debut season.
Due to a hand injury Brown sustained during the 2018-19 preseason, Iafallo reclaimed his top-line role. Even with the veteran right winger returning in late October, Iafallo was able to stay in that position for the entire 82-game season and he didn’t disappoint.
Right from the first faceoff, Iafallo was the Kings’ best player during their early slump. He scored two goals for seven points in the first eight games. It looked as if everyone else had collapsed except for Iafallo. General manager Rob Blake was quick to point that out.
“We haven’t played well,” Blake said to The Athletic’s Lisa Dillman. “There’s no doubt. I’m not sure you can pick a lot of guys that have played well. Iafallo has been a really good player for us.” (from ‘Dustin Brown’s impending return could give the reeling Kings a much needed boost,’ The AthleticNHL – 10/24/18)
While receiving high praise, Iafallo did have one flaw throughout the season. Like many of his teammates, he was on the ice for a lot of goals against Los Angeles. In 2017-18, he only saw 42 goals against the Kings – the number jumped to 68 in 2018-19. It resulted in a minus-17 rating, which was tied for fifth-worst on the team.
Iafallo concluded his sophomore season with 15 goals and 18 assists for 33 points – all good enough for new career highs. He was also a huge asset defensively with 54 blocked shots, 87 hits and 26 takeaways – also new career bests. Kings fans were also impressed with his overall performance and crowned him with the team’s player of the year honor.
Bringing in undrafted players is a hit or miss, but the Kings definitely got a hit from Iafallo. He no doubt made a name for himself last season. He was a great addition to the first line, especially having the ability to get in position and force takeaways like the one below.
It only seems ideal that new head coach Todd McLellan would keep him on the top line for his third season. If that happens, the chemistry between him and Kopitar will be crucial in what’s predicted to be another harsh campaign. With the captain’s help and presence on the ice, Iafallo was able to evolve from a less-proficient spot on the roster to an elevated, versatile player.
Iafallo will be spending more time in black and white as he signed a two-year contract extension worth $4.85 million on July 10. Regardless of how the Kings perform as a team, expect the New Yorker to be a key contributor in 2019-20.
Final Grade: B+
Sara Biela is a Los Angeles Kings contributor for The Hockey Writers. Biela graduated from San Jose State University in 2019 with a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism. She covered SJSU Athletics and the San Jose Sharks through the college’s student-run sports-media publication, The Spear.