With the call-ups of Quinton Byfield and Lias Andersson earlier this week, the Kings are now down to a single call-up remaining for the 2021 season.
As explained at the time of Kale Clague’s call-up on April 12, team’s are only allowed four call-ups following the NHL Trade Deadline (ed note: yes, there is a provision for emergency call-ups in the event a team doesn’t have healthy players for a particular game, yet put that to the side for the purposes of this discussion).
Further, those call-ups are the only players who can later be sent to the AHL, as well. This means Clague can go back down, but Matt Luff cannot (because he was on the NHL roster at the time of the NHL Trade Deadline).
Should Clague be sent back down, though, he cannot be called back up to the NHL without using another of the Kings four call-ups. Essentially, unlike prior to April 12, players are not free to go up and down as often as a team desires. In part, this is done to protect the integrity of the AHL. For example, an NHL team can’t recall their 6-8 best players from their American League affiliate to make an NHL playoff push, and then return them all for the final week of the AHL season and/or playoffs. In other words, both NHL and AHL rosters are designed to be “set” at the NHL Trade Deadline each season, with four very specific exceptions allowed.
Clague was the Kings first call-up, then Byfield and Andersson. They now have one remaining? Who should get it?
In alphabetical order, here are the six leading candidates:
In a normal season, the Kings would have wanted to see Durzi up for at least a few games this year. He has 13 points (3G, 10A) in 32 games played for the Reign – similar numbers to his 14 points in 39 games in 2019-20. We did a full scouting report on him last year, looking at his offensive upside as a right-shot defender. Although he is the only real candidate listed here coming from their crop of blueliners, we’d be a bit surprised if Durzi received the call-up for reasons that actually have nothing to do with his own performance. The Kings already have nine healthy defensemen on the NHL roster, so he’s not quite ready to challenge for one of those spots. Durzi also has one more season of being waiver exempt, so LA can more easily recall him early next season without consequence.
Quietly, he’s been pretty impressive for the Reign. He leads the team in power play goals and is fifth in points-per-game among players who have suited up for at least 15 games. Overall, he has 14 points (7G, 7A) in his 25 games played. Most often lined up on the right side of Kupari, his 52 shots on goal are on par with Quinton Byfield – and in the second tier behind high-volume shooters like Arthur Kaliyev. After lighting up the World Juniors a little more than a year ago, Fagemo began this season with Sodertalje SK in Sweden before joining the Reign for training camp in January. And he seems to have fit right in, something that isn’t always easy to do for first-year AHL players coming over from Europe. Again, we’d be a bit surprised if Fagemo received the nod here, yet it’s not totally out of the realm of possibility. Call him the dark horse, but certainly not an underdog.
We can get right to the point here, Kaliyev is clearly the most deserving based on his statistical performance. He leads the team in goals (10) and points (22), plus he’s doing a plethora of other things right, as well.
“Arty has bought in completely on the idea of being a 200-foot player. He’s one of our more reliable players in our defensive system. … Hats off to him for his dedication. Even when pucks weren’t going in for him, and he was frustrated with that, he didn’t change his game, he didn’t revert back to junior habits. He just kept pushing for his faith in the system, and the work ethic that he was putting in has been commendable.” — Ontario Reign coach John Wroblewski
This is also where it gets a bit more complicated. For starters, Kaliyev wasn’t even supposed to be in Southern California right now. He was targeted for the OHL this season, and had the league ever started up, he’d possibly be there. Second, he’s already had a call-up this season. Sure, it was only one game, but it served the purpose of showing this young sniper how much more challenging it is to play up another level. The Kings likely already know that Kaliyev will be motivated to work hard again this summer and push for an NHL job come training camp. They don’t really need to tantalize him with a second recall before this season is over. While nobody could reasonably argue if he did see a few more NHL games in the weeks ahead, we’d put him third on the list if we were handicapping the race. Again, not based on merit — he’s more than earned it — just simply based on the other factors explained in this article.
Statistically speaking, Kupari could hold his own in an arm wrestling match with Kaliyev this season. The second-year pro has been one of the key drivers of play for Ontario this season, especially in the early part of the year. His 20 points (6G, 14A) place him just two back of Kaliyev for the team lead, however Kupari has played in five fewer games. Thus, his .71 points-per-game is slightly ahead of Kaliyev’s .67 PPG. Amazingly, Kupari has done it while recording half as many shots (45 compared to 89). This has been a talking point for Wroblewski several times this season, as he wants to see the former first round pick drive harder to the net. Having just turned 21 years old in March, the Finnish forward has plenty of time to work on his game and there is no reason to rush him. He had his first NHL cup of coffee earlier this season (getting three games with the Kings), so – like with Kaliyev – we think the organization will likely opt to use the final call-up on one of their other stud prospects.
Although he doesn’t initially bring the same cache as some of the many first round selections currently in the Kings pipeline, there isn’t really another player among the group as diverse as Thomas. He’s a coaches dream, in that he already has a pro-mindset and he’s willing to do whatever is needed by the staff. Another first-year pro out of the OHL, Thomas has played center, left wing, right wing, been on the top line, and played down on the third line. Wroblewski has used him in all situations, including on the power play and penalty kill. Thomas is fearless on the ice, both with the puck on his stick and when he’s defending. With 16 points (7G, 9A) in 33 games, he’s only beginning to scratch the surface of what he he’ll be able to do offensively. If we were consulted on the call-up, it’s a coin-flip between Thomas and Turcotte – with a slight edge here.
Let’s face it, there are always certain privileges afforded former first round picks, especially guys taken in the Top 5. That’s not to say Turcotte hasn’t earned his spot in the pecking order. He deserved to be selected where he was in the Draft and there’s no doubt the offense ran through him when Team USA won gold at the most recent World Juniors. While playing in only 25 AHL games this season due to an injury that kept him out for a few weeks at the end of February, Turcotte has produced 14 points. That’s a point total matching Fagemo’s output in the same number of games, yet Fagemo has seven goals compared to Turcotte’s three. Looking at things with a more long-term view in mind, Turcotte may be the most important piece of the Kings puzzle as it relates to the call-up conversation, as they need to know how close he is to being NHL ready. That type of bigger picture thinking may ultimately be the deciding factor between him and Thomas when all is said and done. One final note here – from a fan/reader perspective, Turcotte was the runaway winner in our twitter poll this week too.
Other Candidates: Aidan Dudas, Mikey Eyssimont, Martin Frk, Jacob Moverare, and Austin Strand
If you haven’t heard yet, the Reign will play in a postseason tournament. We have exclusive details below.
Ontario Reign: 2021 AHL Postseason Tournament Details, Plus Byfield Notes
Wrobo talks Byfield on Eve of Call-up to Kings, Plus Thoughts on Turcotte and Kaliyev
World Juniors: Grading the Performance of Nine LA Kings Prospects
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