One game. One goal. And one very important word – patience.
Those three statements could apply as much to the LA Kings as they do to young Arthur Kaliyev.
Tuesday night in Downtown LA, devoid of the usual pomp and circumstance that comes with one of the team’s top prospects making his NHL debut, Kaliyev put in nearly 15 minutes of ice time in a game that will largely – hopefully – be forgotten rather soon.
Nearly one year ago to the day, Gabe Vilardi had a similar debut – scoring in his first game – and fans inside the building worked themselves into quite a frenzy while celebrating. For a team already out of the playoff hunt at that point last year, and just weeks removed from dealing away a few popular players at the Trade Deadline, Kings fans were simply looking for a glimmer of hope and they got in that night – on Vilardi’s first NHL shift, no less.
This time around, things were a bit different. While the team around Kaliyev was putting on a dreadful performance, fans could only watch from home. However, they were again reminded the future is indeed bright in Los Angeles — if everybody can maintain a little bit of that patience referenced earlier.
Kaliyev opened the game playing on a line with Trevor Moore and Lias Andersson. He saw some power play time, as well as eventually skating with Carl Grundstrom and Gabe Vilardi when coach Todd McLellan shortened his bench, an attempt to jumpstart his team from the sleepwalk they were experiencing at both ends of the ice.
“Whoever they put me out there with, I’d love to play with,” said Kaliyev. “I was just trying to get used to game pace. I was trying to get involved in the game more and be up to speed. I think I got better every shift as the game went along.”
He also admitted to being a little uneasy in the early going; to be expected for a player without any real pro hockey experience.
“A lot of nerves at the start of the game,” said Kaliyev. “After the first period, I was just trying to get the nerves out the way. I played more comfortable and more confident after that. I was better in the second and third period, less nervous.”
Just after five minutes had passed in the second period, it happened.
“I saw Drew was skating down the hole, and I saw that I was above my man, the third man high,” Kaliyev began, when asked to describe his first NHL goal. “I saw [Amadio] get it off the pad and I thought I was going to see a rebound there. Next thing I knew, I got lucky enough to have the rebound pop right to me and I was able to bury it.”
At that point, the Kings trailed 2-1.
“It was a really special moment, getting the first one – you never forget those moments,” remarked Kaliyev.
Having guys like Dustin Brown and Anze Kopitar congratulate him after the fact was a bit surreal.
“It’s crazy!” he said. “Growing up watching these guys win Cups when I was a little kid, it’s a dream to play with them on the team right now. I’m honored to be playing with these guys.”
In the end, it was just one game. The Kings still have at least 47 more to play this season and if they’re ready to make a serious push for a playoff spot remains to be seen.
Either way, Kaliyev’s goal was a big one, for him personally and for the franchise. Not even 20 years old yet, the young sniper figures to play a key part in what the Kings develop into over the next few years.
For now, though, we hear Kaliyev is targeted for a return to the AHL. He’ll be joining the Reign, as they’re set to open their 2021 season on Saturday.
Some will moan. Others will groan.
For Kaliyev and the Kings, it’s all just part of the process.
NOTE: Ontario Reign coach John Wroblewski will join us for an all new Kings Of The Podcast this Friday. We’ll talk about Kaliyev, Quinton Byfield, Alex Turcotte, Tobias Bjornfot, and look ahead to what’s in store for the team over the next six months.
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Lead image via Getty Images / LA Kings