Predicting things in sports can be hard enough, and the pandemic of the last 12 months has made it even more challenging. However, listening to what coaches have to say can at least give you partial insight into how their brains work and what may be coming.
About a week ago, Ontario Reign coach John Wroblewski made reference to liking what he had seen from the newly created Turcotte – Kupari – Kaliyev line thus far. Amid his usual detailed answer, filled with the appropriate level of praise for each player, he slipped in a comment that was perhaps the most interesting:
“Sometimes situations need tweaking before they’ve run their course.” – Wrobo, Sunday March 21
As if on queue, that line looked a little stale the very next game. After the Reign loss on Wednesday, we asked Wrobo if in fact that was the case.
“Your read on that line is fair,” he began. “They weren’t skating downhill to start that game off, a little too unpredictable with their puck touches. They can be a lot better than they were starting out. We’ll have a conversation, strong conversation, with those three. They need to be drivers for the team, and they need to be producing scoring chances and not allowing the other team to handle them. It’s obviously a high priority for the organization, and particularly the Reign at this point, that those guys are gonna have to be sharp. Whether they stick together or not is to be determined. It’s gonna be up to them. We’ll probably go back to the well with it, but they’ll be on high alert.”
In the 48 hours since, the situation has moved from TBD to officially breaking up the line. Kaliyev is expected to play with the returning Michael Amadio on the second line tonight. Amadio will be playing his first AHL game since April 2019. Since then, he had played 168 NHL games, recording 39 points (16G, 23A). The Kings reassigned him to Ontario after placing him on waivers and going unclaimed last week. More on Amadio here.
Taking Kaliyev’s place on the top line will be Devante Smith-Pelly, who had been playing with Akil Thomas and Quinton Byfield. DSP stopped by MayorsManor yesterday to talk about Thomas and Byfield and those comments can be viewed here.
Up until know, much of the Reign season has been a collection of two-games series vs. the same opponent. However, this week features three one-off games against the Gulls, Roadrunners, and Condors.
“It seems like we’ve graduated into this situation, where the schedule was pretty light, pretty predictable, and there’s no doubt that now we’re in a flurry,” Wroblewski explained. “There’s not gonna be a lot of time to come up for air. We’re gonna need more consistent efforts from all facets, the special teams included – not just players, but also all departments. We need to be better with the situations we can control. We were deficient [Wednesday] within our neutral zone structure. They applied and really just dominated the scoring chances. We were supposed to be structured and they carved through us too often. Another sign of some mental or physical drain. We’re not gonna let that creep in. We’re gonna do what we can do to embrace it, to know that things are gonna be hard and this is when the mark of the pro comes out. Anybody can go and play a really strong game when their energy is in the right spot. We need to make sure that these guys can play under adverse conditions, when not everything is perfect.”
Lias Andersson recently rejoined the Reign and he’s been playing primarily as a center. Tonight, he’ll slide over to left wing.
“He’s a fiery competitor and he’s versatile offensively,” explained Wroblewski. “At this point, he checks all the boxes for what you want from an experienced player coming down from the NHL. He competes, he gives us that fire. He has enough skill to burn you, as we’ve seen a couple times. Look at the Bakersfield highlights from last weekend, he had a pretty sweet dangle for what would have been our sixth goal on Saturday. He goes through his legs on the toe drag, then finds Sean Durzi on the back door for that. He not only plays an honest 200-foot game most nights, but he brings some electricity and some flair to his game, as well. That’s something that that every team strongly desires. [Somebody] who can dominate on the power play and make plays 5-on-5; it’s what you’re looking for from guys that are assigned from the NHL club.”
It’s also not a secret, part of the mission is to help Andersson get his career back on track after a few starts and stops with the Rangers.
“What we’re trying to do is make his jump back to the NHL, trying to get him back to that level,” noted Wroblewski. “The main concentration has been some defensive positioning – which, frankly, he’s been a little off with. He needs to pick up his guys here and there. Sometimes he gravitates a little bit too much to the puck. That can happen without playing a lot of games, and he hasn’t played a ton this season. We’re just working with that. When he does play, it’s more of a defensive role and we’re asking him to produce and make sure he checks up on that defensive side of the puck. A little bit of a role switch for him and one that we’re gonna keep working with him. It’s such a delicate balance of not knowing exactly how long you’re gonna have him for. We’re not trying to change everything he’s doing at once and making sure that he’s not out there thinking too much, as well. He has to be out there playing instinctually. We’re just trying to bring him along bit by bit. It’s not much different from the rest of the players. We’re not trying to do an overhaul of, let’s say Quinton Byfield, either. It’s just chipping away at a habit or two until he fixes that one and then it’s on to the next. It doesn’t really change for any player whether it’s Brett Sutter or one of our younger guys.”
Wrobo also had some positive words to share about Akil Thomas the other day:
Wrobo on Akil — Not sure there's a better guy, harder worker, more diligent first year pro. Does extra time in the shooting room, even on days off. Always working on his game. Ultra dependable in any scenario. Picks things up quickly. Gonna be a hell of a player down the road.
— John Hoven | The Mayor (@mayorNHL) March 25, 2021
As for the lineup tonight, there are changes at forward, defense, and in net.
Ontario Reign Projected Lineup for Fri. 3/26 vs. Tucson
Alex Turcotte – Rasmus Kupari – Devante Smith-Pelly
Lias Andersson – Michael Amadio – Arthur Kaliyev
Akil Thomas – Quinton Byfield – Nick Halloran
Mikey Eyssimont – Brett Sutter – Aidan Dudas
Cole Hults – Sean Durzi
Kale Clague – Austin Strand
Jacob Moverare – Markus Phillips
Troy Grosenick (starter)
NOTE: Sammy Fagemo remains out injured, likely won’t be back for a few weeks
Friday’s puck drop is scheduled for 6pm PST and can be streamed through AHL TV.
Akil Thomas on Byfield, Challenges This Season, the Reign Locker Room
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