Rasmus Kupari ‘Might Be What He Is’ & That’s Okay
This new role is one that McLellan thinks might be Kupari’s long-term one in the NHL.
With every forward drafted in the first round, there comes a certain expectation of offensive production. However, players don't have to be offensive superstars to be effective in the NHL, regardless of draft position. Something 2018 first-round pick Rasmus Kupari is figuring out.
A player who was lauded at the draft for high-end skating and stickhandling, coupled with an above-average shot. The offense hasn't translated to the NHL level. Through 94 games, Kupari has scored just nine goals and 21 points. Not a terrible total considering he's spent most of those 94 games in a bottom-six role, but still, not what people would have expected given his reputation on draft day.
Despite the offense not jumping off the page, Kupari has found a way to be effective. He's figured out how to do the things "players don't really want to do," as Todd McLellan puts it. Kupari's committed to being a defensively sound forward, who kills penalties and blocks shots. And he's excelling in those areas.
This new role is one that McLellan thinks might be Kupari's long-term one in the NHL. Despite his draft pedigree, this might be the player he is, and that's still a benefit to the Kings.
"He (Kupari) might be what he is now," said McLellan. "And he can become very good at it. We might have to adjust our expectations from whatever they might be, I don't know what everybody's are in the room for him, to what he is now. And if we make that adjustment and allow him to do that really well, we might get four or five more goals out of him a year, is how I look at it."
Killing penalties with regularity is new for Kupari at this level, something he's only started doing in the last month or so. McLellan has highlighted Kupari's skating and reach as the main reasons he's taken on this new role. One he takes pride in.
"I've killed penalties in the past, especially with the Reign," said Kupari. "I feel pretty comfortable being out there on the penalty kill. It just shows that they (the coaching staff) can trust me and I want to be that guy they can trust. I've got to bust/ try and build off that and be solid out there."
That trust has been developed this year because of Kupari's improvements at five-on-five. According to evolving-hockey.com, Kupari is posting the second-best five-on-five defensive numbers, with an even-strength defense score of 2.5. Putting him above players like Alex Iafallo, Anze Kopitar and Phil Danault.
His ability to block shots has been noticeable too. Kupari's 4.38 shots blocked per 60 leads all Kings forwards. More little things he does that have a big impact on the team.
And they're things that can make him an important part of the Kings' future. One of the comparisons for Kupari is Trevor Lewis, a fellow first-round pick who developed into a responsible bottom-six forward. And, someone who was a key part of two Cup winning teams.
When you draft a player in the first round, your mind doesn't go to, "I want this player to be another Trevor Lewis." But getting Lewis' career and impact out of an 18th overall pick is good value.
If Kupari develops into a similar player, the Kings will have an important complementary piece to players like Kevin Fiala, Adrian Kempe and Quinton Byfield as they move into their Cup window.
None of this means Kupari can't develop into more and that the Kings have given up on his offensive ability. Earlier this year McLellan pointed out there is more offense in Kupari, particularly in the goal-scoring department. Highlighting their emphasis on Kupari to shoot more. But, expectations have changed, and big offensive numbers aren't being asked of him.
Whether Kupari has a breakout in the next few years, similar to what Gabe Vilardi is doing this season and Kempe did last season, doesn't really matter anymore. It would be great for the Kings if everything clicked and he was a bonafide top-six player, but if he continues to be a responsible bottom-six player who can kill penalties, that's great too.
His size, speed and commitment to playing a complete game have made him an effective and important part of the Kings' future. Players in this role aren't flashy, but they're essential to winning.