Prospect Ramblings: Making It Reign

Dave Hall

2021-03-23

Welcome back to Tuesday’s Prospect Ramblings.

With an abundance of rookie skaters, the AHL is at an all-time high with regards to its entertainment value. Of course, we had the San Diego Gulls, who brought us a bundle of exciting pieces in Trevor Zegras, Jamie Drysdale, and goaltender Lukas Dostal. Even the Chicago Wolves had their own crop, with a combination of Carolina Hurricanes and Nashville Predators youngsters, highlighted by Seth Jarvis and Phillip Tomasino. However, none hold a candle to what has been going on in Ontario, California, this year.

For starters.

Over the weekend, the LA Kings affiliates made a little bit of history. At least, in recent memory. Just days after signing with the AHL club on a tryout basis, former NHL’er Devante Smith-Pelly was sent out to skate alongside youngsters, Akil Thomas and Quinton Byfield. Why was this significant?

The year that they are referring to was 1948-49, where three players by the name of Herb Carnegie, Ozzie Carnegie, and Manny McIntyre all skated together on the same forward line.

Not only is this significant and fantastic to see, but the trio (Byfield, Thomas, and Smith-Pelly) also put an exclamation on the night with a tremendous performance. They combined for six points, with Akil Thomas lighting the lamp three times, tallying his first-career (pro) hat-trick. Byfield extended his hot streak with a goal and assist, putting him up to four goals and two helpers over his last five games. As for Smith-Pelly, this marked his first point in North America since the 2018-19 campaign, as he had spent all of last year suiting up for Kunlun Red Star of the KHL.

Prior to the above-mentioned game, Thomas and Byfield had already been skating together and have both enjoyed strong rookie campaigns simultaneously. Well, at least statically speaking. Thomas currently finds himself on a four-game point streak, with six goals and 11 points on the year. While Byfield, who has been scrutinized by some as “not ready” for pro hockey, sits third in rookie scoring with 13 (5G + 8A).

Of course, as nice as it is to see the points pouring in, the pair also sit among the bottom three league-wide in plus/minus – Byfield leading the way with a troubling minus-15. The Ontario Reign currently find themselves dead last within the Pacific Division, and you can bet that dressing a young, very inexperienced team is directly correlated to this. At the time of this column, they only have four players in the “plus department”. Not great.

Yet, even with the 6-11-2 record and minus-13 goal differential, they are still, by far, one of the most entertaining clubs to keep tabs on, NHL included. Why is that? Well, not only is their prospect pool the undisputed top dog with regards to potential, but they are also living up to that monstrous expectation.

At the moment, they have four players in the top seven in rookie scoring, with a few of those being:

Arthur Kaliyev – currently leading the Reign with 14 points, with his totals evenly split with seven goals and seven assists. He is a proven trigger man and is clearly holding true to that trait as he progresses into the pro-level. He has even received a taste at the highest level, scoring his first NHL goal in his first and only game with the Kings.

Sitting at the top of the club’s left-wing depth charts, he is a no-brainer to be a huge piece to the LA puzzle in the next few years. Don’t be shocked to see him crack a permanent spot for the 2021-22 campaign.

Quinton Byfield – The 18-year-old phenom is enjoying his time as a (fast-tracked) pro hockey player. Heading into the 2020-21 season, there was little consensus as to where he would play. Some had him as a shoo-in for LA, while others were certain he was destined to see his third year in Sudbury. Well, the pandemic decided his fate for him, and with no OHL to return to, he was able to slot in on the organization’s AHL team – an option that otherwise would never be available to him, thanks to the current agreement.

His transition, at least in the offensive zone, is going swimmingly. His 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame is certainly keeping his presence felt, and adding his tremendous speed is allowing him to not only compete against pro-level defenders but look right at home while doing so. He seems to be getting better as the days go on, and is even gaining the confidence to pull cheeky moves, much like he did at the Junior level:

With the OHL looking to gear up for the season, the organization will have to make an important decision. Given his age and the current agreement in place, he will not be able to stay with the Reign once the OHL opens its doors. However, the Kings could add him to their NHL roster, resulting in his transition to a full-time King. At this point, being five points back of a playoff spot, it may be the smarter option to hold him back and continue his season in the OHL. Otherwise, it could prove to be strenuous to develop an up-and-coming rookie, who sits with a minus-15 rating, while in the midst of a playoff run. Time will tell.

Samuel Fagemo – I would be lying if I said that I expected such a seamless transition for the Swedish winger. He has undeniable offensive talents and an obvious high ceiling. Yet, seven goals and 12 points through his first 19 games is quite strong, and clearly a sudden, and somewhat unexpected win for the organization. His ability to play on either wing will certainly boost his spot in the depth chart, and at this rate, he could see promotion quicker than expected. Many of the club’s top wingers are aging out, while most of the “filler” pieces will soon be gone. This leaves many spots to be had, and Fagemo is posting a solid interview for the spot.

This isn’t mentioning the other list of rookies and/or young dynamos that they have at their disposal. You know, players like Alex Turcotte (seven points in 13 games), Rasmus Kupari (14 points in 14 games), Akil Thomas (11 points in 19 games), Lias Andersson, Tyler Madden, and Aidan Dudas. Just to name a few.

I think the big question is obvious: What to do with all of these terrific players? Of course, not all will turn out the way that we think they will. However, by the looks of it, the majority will.

It’s quite clear that they are taking their time. Let’s be honest, If they really felt the need to compete immediately, they could deal one, two, or even four of these top-notch prospects, receive a solid “ready now” player in return, and still boast one of the NHL’s top crop of youngsters.

They currently have 9-to-11 centers, alone, who could all turn out to be top-six talents, with three or four of them guaranteed to do so. So, why don’t they just those centers and move them to the wing? Well, even if they were to do so, with players such as Kaliyev, Fagemo, Carl Grundstrom, and Kasper Simontaival all legit top-six hopefuls, there is still a massive log-jam.

All-in-all, the LA Kings have some decisions to make in the near future, and of course, they are all decisions that any GM would be lucky to have.

So, who gets the short end of the stick?

For starters, I think Gabe Vilardi is someone who may be an interesting trade chip. I firmly believe that he has what it takes to be a solid second-line center (or winger), but with Turcotte and Byfield and many more in the mix, the value is worth taking a look at.

I also see Rasmus Kupari as a name that could be floated around and could intrigue a solid return. His pro career has been cut short, thanks to a nasty knee injury last season, but in a small window, has looked very strong. He has a keen eye for making the right play and has proven that he can compete at the pro level.

The problem is, what do they need? With a strong list of defender prospects in their chart, the backend looks to be in good standing order. Sure, you can never have enough goalies in your system, but with Cal Petersen finally breaking through, is that spoken for? With grizzled veterans such as Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty still very much in the mix, there isn’t much need for an added elder to fill in the gaps.

So much talent. Yet, so little space.

What are your thoughts? What is the next step for the Kings and their everlasting list of prospect talent?

**

Well, there you have it, folks. A full ramble on the LA Kings farm system. They are in a very interesting spot organisationally and it’s going to be very interesting to see what comes of all of this. For now, enjoy the ride and take it all in while it lasts. I foresee another dynasty unfolding before our eyes.

Follow me on Twitter @hall1289 for prospect updates. See you next week.

 

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