LOS ANGELES — Believe it or not, the LA Kings have forward depth. It is a statement that hasn't been true since the days of Stanley Cup contention. And it hasn't come from the line combinations anyone predicted.
After the Kings' disheartening collapse against the Winnipeg Jets last Thursday, head coach Todd McLellan expressed displeasure with how the team's first line was meshing. McLellan pointed toward new addition Kevin Fiala not quite fitting in yet.
He then hinted at the possibility of changes up front.
"There are some things with Kopi's (Anze Kopitar's) line that I'm not happy with," McLellan said. "And I thought Gabe needed an opportunity there (on the first line)," McLellan added.
The thought of moving your newest addition, whom the organization is paying $8.25 million and traded a top prospect and a first-round pick to acquire, seems counterproductive. However, it is working out.
Kopitar is a future Hall of Famer, but he can't work with just anyone. He needs structure on his line and a lot of the puck. Two things he didn't get with Fiala. Fiala is a play driver who always likes to have the puck on his stick. He's also a freewheeling rover in the offensive zone, which has never worked well with Kopitar. See Ilya Kovalchuk and even Viktor Arvidsson.
The Kings also have a breakout star in Gabe Vilardi, who fits well with Kopitar. As a creative player, Vilardi needs far less of the puck and can play a more structured game in the offensive zone. He's less of a freewheeler and, while he can take over shifts with the puck, is comfortable without the puck and plays a strong cycle game. The proof is in the production, too, as Kopitar and Vilardi have combined for five points at five-on-five in the last three games.
Moving onto the third line, currently made up of Fiala and Carl Grundstrom on Rasmus Kupari's wing, gets the most out of Fiala. It allows him to be "the guy" on a line. Driving play and always with the puck on his stick. It's a demotion on paper but allows Fiala actually to take a bigger role on each shift. He's grabbed five points in the last three games at even strength and looks to have found a home on the King's roster.
"The combination of players he (Fiala) is with right now complements his skill set," said McLellan. "It balances everything out for the team right now. It's a good look for us. It forces teams to think about how they want to play their defense and how they match up forwards a little more. We'll continue to do that until we have to make changes."
He's found early chemistry with Grundstrom and Kupari, but I would expect Quinton Byfield and Alex Iafallo to be his linemates once the latter two are healthy. This should only benefit Fiala. Byfield's size and skill should complement Fiala's game, while Iafallo's responsible 200-foot is always a bonus.
These two lines complement the always-reliable Trevor Moore-Phil Danault-Arvidsson line and the Brendan Lemieux-Blake Lizotte-Arthur Kaliyev fourth line. Making the Kings an almost impossible team to match up against.
This newfound depth has turned what was an impotent offense last season into a high-flying, explosive offense this season. Depth is vital, and the Kings now have it in abundance.