Los Angeles Kings forward Arthur Kaliyev is one of the most unique prospects in hockey.
With a few high-end tools, one world-class tool, and some obvious deficiencies, he was always a boom-or-bust type pick.
It’s why he fell to the second round despite his stellar draft year, leading all under-18 players in goals and points in the OHL.
Heading into his third NHL season soon, it’s getting close to the point where we find out if he booms, or busts.
At least with the Kings.
Kaliyev’s 2022-23 Season:
Last season was an up-and-down one for Kaliyev.
He came into camp and lost his spot on the third line to Gabe Vilardi. He then started the season strong on the fourth line and earned a cup of coffee on the top line. Fell back down the lineup and then broke his foot.
The broken foot really derailed his season. He never looked the same after returning, and as a player who struggles with foot speed to begin with, losing a step because of injury killed him.
He spent chunks of the end of the season scratched and only featured in two playoff games. Granted, Todd McLellan did clarify that Kaliyev came out of the lineup because of subpar play but was held out of the lineup because of an illness.
By the numbers, it was a good, not great season from Kaliyev. His 13 goals and 15 assists while averaging just 11:41 time on ice look promising at first glance, but when you factor in more than half of his goals coming via the man advantage, they’re a little less impressive.
He wasn’t the possession monster he was in his rookie year, but still posted positive numbers in all possession metrics.
Where there should be some concern is in his defensive impact. His defensive game was one of the big concerns surrounding him when he was drafted, but he seemed to put those concerns to bed last season.
Analytically, he was one of the team’s best defensive forwards in his rookie season, but that flipped last season when he was one of the worst.
Like most of his struggles last season, I think a lot of that negative defensive impact comes from the injury. Once he lost a step, he ended up chasing the game a lot and was caught out of position because of it.
As ever, you want to see more even-strength production from Kaliyev and improvements in his own zone. But it’s difficult to be overly critical of him given that injury.
Looking into next season is where things get complicated for Kaliyev. There is a pessimistic way to view Kaliyev’s immediate future and an optimistic way and I’ll present both.
He’s at a point where he needs to move off the fourth line and take on a more impactful role on this team. But that opportunity isn’t available given the Kings’ current roster.
There are six wingers firmly ahead of him in the depth chart, who I can’t envision him catching over the summer.
Realistically, he’s looking to overtake someone on the third line. Assuming that line features Vilardi and one of Alex Iafallo, Kevin Fiala or even Trevor Moore, it seems unlikely Kaliyev forces his way onto the line.
Of course, it’s very possible the Kings trade one of their forwards this summer for cap reasons, opening up a spot for Kaliyev in the top nine.
However, I still see a problem for Kaliyev trying to move into the top nine. And that’s skill redundancy.
Where does he fit onto any of the Kings’ top three lines? I question if he and Vilardi can play on a line together. Both are subpar skaters and work best as the main goal threat on their line.
I don’t think Kaliyev is ready for significant minutes on the top line and playing with a volume shooter like Adrian Kempe doesn’t fit his game. The top line needs a puck hound to compliment Kempe and Anze Kopitar and Kaliyev isn’t that.
I do see a fit on the second line with Phil Danault and either Iafallo or Moore offensively. But given that line’s defensive responsibilities, it’s hard to see a fit for Kaliyev. He isn’t the kind of player you want starting in the defensive zone for most of his shifts.
With other young forwards, and particularly goal scorers, like Samuel Fagemo and Martin Chromiak pushing for a spot soon. Kaliyev could become an expendable asset. Something used to improve in other areas or shed a bad contract.
Perhaps the most optimistic part of Kaliyev’s future in Los Angeles is the coaching staff’s apparent faith in him. When asked about Kaliyev’s future with the Kings McLellan was clear that he still believed in Kaliyev.
“I think Arthur Kaliyev can be an impactful NHL player, and not only can be, but we need him to be,” said McLellan on Kaliyev’s future. “And it’s our job as (a) coaching staff to get him there, development team, everybody else to get him there. And we’ll do everything in our power to get him there, we need him there. And the other side of the coin is his participation and I think he’d be open to that.”
Yes, you can view that as McLellan just saying the right things and not dogging one of his young players. But when you compare that statement to what he says about other prospects like Rasmus Kupari and Jaret Anderson-Dolan, it’s evident that he still has a lot of faith in Kaliyev.
That belief alone can go a long way for a young player like Kaliyev and should an opportunity present itself, I imagine Kaliyev will have a chance to take it.
And I think that chance comes on the third line. I just gave the pessimistic view of why that line can’t work, but I’ll play devil’s advocate and give a few reasons why it can.
Assuming Quinton Byfield centers the third line and Vilardi is on the opposite wing, there is a potential fit there.
That is a massive line, Kaliyev would be the smallest player at 6-foot-2, 209 pounds. Physically, those three would be a lot to handle. If they get a cycle going, good luck taking the puck from them.
The biggest “if” for me would be Vilardi and Kaliyev combining on a line. Their skating together would be a concern. But another summer of improvement from both and a high-end skater in Byfield up the middle should make that workable.
The other concern is having two shooters on a line. However, in an episode of Inside the Play with Jim Fox, Vilardi said he can adapt his game to who he is playing with. Pointing out that in Ontario with Martin Frk, he was more of a passer.
If you believe that statement from Vilardi, and he can adapt his game to become more of a creator, that line has a lot of potential.
Byfield as the puck carrier and puck hound, Vilardi as the play driver and Kaliyev as the trigger man could definitely work.
That’s placing a lot of faith in some big “ifs” though.
There’s also the guarantee of power-play goals from Kaliyev to leave you optimistic. His shot is world-class and will always be a threat on the man advantage. Regardless of five-on-five usage, he’ll score on the power play.
An Important Season Ahead:
One thing is for sure, this is going to be a huge season for Kaliyev. It could be the season that determines his future in Los Angeles.
Given both the pessimistic and optimistic views on Kaliyev’s season ahead. I can see either happening.
I wouldn’t be shocked to see him struggle to adapt in the top nine and end up on the fourth line for another season. And I can see that third line with him, Byfield and Vilardi finding chemistry and becoming a game changer for the Kings.
It’s difficult to project next season for Kaliyev. Another season with double-digit goals is a minimum. But his ceiling is so hard to predict. I wouldn’t call it likely, but a 30-goal campaign from him wouldn’t shock me. Nor would another 10-15 goal campaign.
The projection for Kaliyev really comes down to your individual belief in the player.