Several months ago, when putting together our first drafts of the LA Kings 2022-23 line combinations, the top two lines were close to a given. Where things really started to get interesting was with the bottom-six forwards. At that time, we figured coach Todd McLellan would go with something like:
Iafallo – Byfield – Kaliyev
Lemieux – Lizotte – Grundstrom
Essentially, that left Jaret Anderson-Dolan, Lias Andersson, and Gabe Vilardi in a battle for the final two roster spots. What about Sammy Fagemo and Rasmus Kupari? More on that later. First, let’s focus in on that third line, as apparently, McLellan sees big things there.
“When you write our lines, you’re probably going to throw them down as the third line,” McLellan began. “Al’s normally played in the top two. It may be (seen as) a demotion, but I think it’s a promotion for him. It’s just us rewarding him with more responsibility with two young players. He checks well, he’s defensively sound. He’s a puck retriever, he comes up with things that are going to help those two. I believe that the three of them are excited about playing with each other right now. I can hear them talking and discussing things. It’s a positive thing for us to this point.”
When discussing Byfield’s upcoming season, McLellan started with what he observed during Game 1 of last weekend’s rookie tournament in San Jose and how that’s carried over to the first few days of training camp.
“In the battles, he’s on his feet a lot more,” McLellan said of LA’s top selection at the 2020 NHL Draft. “He’s rolling out; he’s coming out of those battles with the puck. He’s getting to his next job. He’s bigger, he’s stronger, he’s able to carry his size around on the ice sheet a little bit better. He’s been involved in plays – where, one, he could have scored and didn’t quite go in; or else, he set somebody up and it didn’t happen. In both scenarios. He had an important assist off a faceoff (on Friday). We asked him to work on faceoffs. There’s a lot of things that should lend confidence to his game right now.”
McLellan continued to point out, it’s all about building on those early success points and adding to them in the days ahead.
“Leaving San Jose, the question was, ‘Okay, let’s take it a step further,’ ” he said. “If he continues to approach it that way, and not worry about goals and assist, I think he’s going to get some goals and assists,”
Putting Kaliyev on the right side of Byfield should also bring some comfort and familiarity, as they played together in the AHL – another point that McLellan acknowledged. Even so, for the Kings to take the next step in their evolution to a Stanley Cup contender, they’ll need more production from players outside the top-six.
“The gap between making the playoffs and taking it to the second or third round is really tight for us right now,” noted the veteran coach. “We’re going to try and move further ahead. Our game should get better. Our power play should be better. Our penalty kill should be better. We should see kids evolve. We want to get our goals against down. We need to score 10 more goals this season.”
With an overall team outlook on the table, McLellan is also looking for a bounce back season from Brendan Lemieux.
“His line had played quite well (in the first half of last season), with Lizotte and Kaliyev, they had chemistry, confidence – they played a certain way that was effective. All three of them were at the top of their game at that point,” he explained. “When Brendan got hurt, he hurt his legs; and that’s probably his biggest asset. To move that big body around and get there. When he came back, he gave back a lot of training time because he couldn’t do anything. So, all of a sudden, you’re just a little bit slower; moving that big body around. Lizzo was also hurt, Arty was playing sometimes with different players. Everything about what was positive was gone and we had to try and rebuild it. I thought when Brendan played in the playoffs, against Edmonton, he was starting to get his legs again and he was effective. He looked more like he did on his good run (earlier in the year).”
With two-thirds of that line back together, Lemieux and Lizotte will be looking to recapture the magic and create some harmony with Carl Grundstrom — or perhaps a rotating cast of right wings.
Which brings us to Sammy Fagemo. He’s been getting some early looks on the second line, in the absence of Viktor Arvidsson. When all is said and done, though, it’s highly unlikely he’ll make the Opening Night roster. Between JAD, Andersson, and Vilardi, the Kings already have one too many forwards — and none of those guys can be sent down without passing through waivers first.
That would suggest Andersson is the most likely to be placed on waivers in a few weeks. It’s not that the team wants to lose him; they just likely have less of an appetite to lose JAD or Vilardi. If there was another injury in camp that somehow opened a spot for Fagemo, could he open the season in the NHL? It’s certainly a developing storyline and one to keep a close eye on through the first 2-3 exhibition games.
We have more with McLellan in the podcast linked below.
Lead Photo by Mike Zitek
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