This year is now the third year of a rebuild going on in Los Angeles. The LA Kings have done a phenomenal job of building up their prospects and opening up cap space for the future. However, this year has still been a tough pill to swallow for Kings fans.
All of their top prospects have been signed and were able to play from the start of the season. The Kings though have opted to keep most of their crop of young talent in Ontario. This decision is extremely frustrating for Kings’ fans having to endure another dismal season while hope seems so close and yet so far away.
One of the main reasons for sheltering their prospects is so they don’t burn the first year of their entry-level contract. If a player plays more than seven games in a season, the first year of the ELC is used up. There have been players that have gotten a taste of NHL action, including Arthur Kaliyev who scored in his NHL debut, and then was promptly sent back to Ontario.
The LA Kings should have played their prospects from day one.
Some may say that the youngsters need time to mature and refine their games and playing with the big club too early could overwhelm them both physically and psychologically.
Then there is the example of Anze Kopitar. He was drafted 11th overall in 2005 and spent one year in Sweden where he put up less than stellar numbers. He had 8 goals and 12 assists in 47 games. The next year though, at the ripe old age of 19, things started to change. He played his first year with the Kings and had 20 goals and 41 assists as a rookie. One could also look at Drew Doughty for inspiration on the benefit of not waiting to play prospects. He made the jump to the NHL, the same year he was drafted. He had 27 points in his rookie year, not bad for a defenseman, then exploded for 59 points his second year.
So, this franchise has played their rookies before in their first or second year after their draft and those players turned out pretty well. It is now Alex Turcotte’s and Arthur Kaliyev’s second year after their draft, Rasmus Kupari’s third year after his, and Quinton Byfield looks like he could also make an impact right now, the same year he was drafted.
This year the strategy seemed to be, let’s leave the kids in Ontario, and see what happens, but that is not what LA fans want. Kings’ fans want their team to have an identity and an excitement that mirrors the city in which they live. Right now, the Kings are missing that spark of what the future could bring and their fans feel it.
Also, if you played the prospects, the NHL experience they would amass this season could pay dividends going into October. The team’s strategy now leaves the probability of having 4-5 rookies in the lineup next year, and if you think that will be smooth sailing for the first 20 plus games, I have news for you.
Take the Ontario Reign this year. They had a horrendous start to the season, mainly because the kids were adjusting to pro-level hockey. As the season has progressed, they have started to gel and turn things around. This will most likely happen at the NHL level as well. So, if the Kings want to legitimately be a playoff contender next year (unlike the false hope of this year), they should have played the prospects from day one.
There is a light though at the end of the long tunnel that has seen the Kings win only one playoff game in seven years. LA fans are loyal to their teams and their loyalty should be rewarded with the best each organization has to offer. Kings’ fans want something to cheer for today and that starts by giving them a spark of hope for tomorrow.