The Ontario Reign have won just one game in thirteen tries. Is it time to be concerned about the prospects’ development?
We knew heading into the 2021 season, the Ontario Reign would feature plenty of new faces, many of them playing professional hockey for the first time. Guys like Arthur Kaliyev, Quinton Byfield, Alex Turcotte, and Akil Thomas, to name a few, have all been somewhat regulars with the Reign this season. Kaliyev had a brief stint with the LA Kings, and Turcotte has battled through some injuries.
There’s a lot to be excited about with the LA Kings AHL affiliate, but through the first 13 games of the season, the Ontario Reign have just one win to show for it. Of course, the aforementioned players’ inexperience at the professional level has a lot to do with that, but these are all highly drafted players.
Shouldn’t they be producing by now?
“Yeah, the young guys…they’re trying to get just keep their head above water,” Reign head coach John Wroblewski said after Sunday’s 5-1 loss to Bakersfield. “There’s very few players out there that are capable of getting through a 60-minute effort, and so in practice that’s a massive focus is to build their engines — lots of up and down drills to try to build that team speed.”
And for the most part this season, the Reign have been badly outscored. Between Saturday and Sunday evening, Ontario had one or fewer goals on the board, with Bakersfield already notching five.
Going back to the end of February, the Reign jumped out to a 3-0 first-period lead against San Jose, only to see the Barracuda score six unanswered goals. The team’s only notch in the win column came back on February 17, a 2-1 victory over Colorado.
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Much like the NHL club, the Reign show moments of growth but then regress. One step forward, two steps back.
“I’d say that the players are showing signs of learning the pro game,” Wroblewski said of his team. “And with every time that we show signs of learning the pro game, we also default back to habits which have been ingrained for a long time with some of these young players. They keep rearing their ugly head, and to say that we’re content or that we’re that we’ve achieved the answer that we’re all looking for is no, and we’re still searching, and we’re still coming up with different themes for each day.”
Certainly, the addition of the taxi squad in the NHL has created an inconsistent grouping of lines and pairings. Austin Strand saw several games up with the LA Kings while Sean Walker was out of the lineup. As mentioned, Kaliyev was up. Lias Andersson was recently sent down, and conversely, Rasmus Kupari made his NHL debut over the weekend.
A lot of moving pieces, and it isn’t easy to find the chemistry needed to help win games.
“I would like to think that our system, for the most part, is based on interchangeable parts, where there should be a predictability factor to be able to slide players in and out,” Wroblewski said. “Whether that’s our line rush mechanism, our thoughts, and what we’re trying to implement there, or our offensive zone and of course, our defensive zone is reliant there on a seal system. And so, you know, we would like the players to be able to go in and maybe jump around and have that interchangeability, have that adaptability.”
No one should be questioning whether the LA Kings have the right man developing their prospects. Wroblewski had tremendous success with the US National Team, which has consistently produced first-round NHL draft picks through the years.
Just like the growing pains the LA Kings have endured in 2021, the Ontario Reign will find their footing. There is too much talent on that roster for them to have only one win. They just need a little more seasoning.