A common theme of Tuesday's game against the Edmonton Oilers was the solid play of Rasmus Kupari.
Writing down a buncha good things about 89 tonight
— Jon Rosen (@jonnyrosen) April 5, 2023
He stood out in a lot of ways. He played with speed, was physical and created offense for his line. Because of this, he was given a shift with Alex Iafallo and Arthur Kaliyev on the third line.
And that's where Kupari should stay.
Current third-line center, Blake Lizotte's had a very solid season in his current spot but has slowed down a bit recently.
In his last ten games, Lizotte has four points, but only one of two of those points came from non-empty net goals. And Kupari has three points in the same period.
Kupari's also been superior to the eye test. He's playing with more confidence on the puck than we've ever seen from him and has added an element of physicality to his game. He's also a top-10 faceoff man in the league since Jan. 1.
All keys to playing a third-line center role.
Kupari's production has always left a little to be desired given his skill set. He's big, fast, has a good shot and a solid set of hands on him. But he lacks a finishing touch in his game and a killer instinct right now.
I'm not a believer in the theory that increasing a player's ice time will increase their production, but Kupari's earned a chance at more than his average of 9:58, which drops by almost a full minute when looking at even strength TOI.
Given his toolkit and newfound confidence, it's realistic to think his production will increase. Especially if a player like Gabe Vilardi or Kevin Fiala returns to the third line when healthy.
You could even keep Kupari and Lizotte on the third line together until one of Vilardi or Fiala is healthy. Kupari can replace Kaliyev at right wing, with Lizotte and Kupari sharing faceoff duties depending on which side of the ice they're on.
This drops Kaliyev down to the fourth line and requires Jaret Anderson-Dolan to draw in as the fourth-line center in the short term. Given that Zack MacEwen has played under five minutes multiple times in the last week, that shouldn't be an issue.
This is also a good time of the year to experiment a little bit. Yes, the Kings should be chasing the division title, but with their playoff spot secured, they can try new things.
Give Kupari a chance in the next three games to prove he can take on an elevated role heading into the postseason. Worst case scenario you go back to your initial lineup. Best case scenario, you've found a new element in your top nine heading into the postseason.
I don't expect this change to happen. For all of Todd McLellan's strengths, and there are plenty, his overreliance on players he calls "trusting" is not one of them.
Despite giving him a shift on the third line against Edmonton, McLellan was surprisingly down on the prospect of increasing Kupari's role after the game.
"I think he's got a good role for our team right now," said McLellan. "He's a very good penalty killer and he skates well and checks well."
McLellan likes to keep his cards close to his chest, especially at this time of the year, so nothing is definitive. But I wouldn't expect Kupari to move up the lineup.
Kupari's a quality prospect who's developed a lot over the last four months and moving up to the third line could be the next step in that development.