McLellan has big plans for the Iafallo-Byfield-Kaliyev . line

Several months ago, when compiling a file First Drafts of the 2022-23 LA Kings Lineups, the top two lines were close to the given. Where things started to get really interesting was with the lower six strikers. At the time, we thought coach Todd McClellan would choose something like:

Yavalo – Bifield – Kaliev
Limieux – Lisuzette – Grundstrom

Essentially, that left Garrett Anderson Dolan, Leas Anderson and Gabe Velardi in a battle for the bottom two spots on the list. What about Sami Fajimo and Rasmus Kopari? More on that later. First, let’s focus on that third line, apparently, McClellan sees big things there.

McClellan began, “When you write our lines, you’ll probably throw it out as the third line.” “Al usually plays in the top two. It might be (seen as) a demoted, but I think it’s a promotion for him. We just reward him with more responsibility with young players. He checks well, he’s defensively sound. He’s a puck retriever, he comes up with things that will help. These two. I think the three of them are excited to play with each other now. I can hear them talking and discussing things. It’s a positive thing for us so far.”

When discussing Byfield’s upcoming season, McLellan started with what he observed during the first game of the Junior Championship last weekend in San Jose and how that carried over into the first few days of training camp.

“In fights, he’s been on his feet a lot,” McClellan said of Los Angeles’ top pick in the 2020 NHL Draft. He’s rolling over; he’s getting out of those puck fights. He’s moving on to his next job. He’s bigger, he’s stronger, he’s able to hold his size on the ice sheet a little better. He’s been in the plays—where, one, he could score and he didn’t get in. Otherwise he set up someone and it didn’t. In both scenarios. He got important help in a (Friday) showdown. We asked him to work on the matches. There are a lot of things that should give confidence in his game now.”

McClellan continued to point out that it’s all about building on those early success points and adding to them in the coming days.

He said, “Leaving San Jose, the question was, ‘Okay, let’s take a step forward.’

Placing Kaliev on the right side of Byfield should bring some comfort and familiarity, as they have played together in the AHL – another point McClellan acknowledged. However, for the Kings to take the next step in their evolution into a Stanley Cup competitor, they will need more production from players outside the top six.

“The gap between the qualifiers and qualifying for the second or third round is too narrow for us now,” the veteran coach noted. “We will try and move forward. Our game must improve. Our play must be better. The penalties must be better. We must see the children develop. We want to thwart our goals. We need to score 10 more goals this season.”

With a team overview on the table, McLellan is also on the lookout for a throwback season from Brendan Lemieux.

“His streak played well (in the first half of last season), with Lizote and Kaliev, they had chemistry and confidence – they played in a certain way that was effective. All three were at their peak at that point,” he explained. “When Brendan got hit, he hit his legs; that’s probably the most important thing for him. To move that big body and get there. When he came back, he put back a lot of training time because he couldn’t do anything. So, all of a sudden, you’re a little slower; move that body.” The big Lizzo was injured too, Artie sometimes played with different players. Everything went positive and we had to try to rebuild it. I thought when Brendan played in the playoffs, against Edmonton, he started to get his legs back and was effective. He looked like he did really well. On his good run (earlier in the year).”

With two-thirds of that streak back together, Lemieux and Lizotte will be looking to recapture the magic and create some harmony with Carl Grundstrom – or perhaps a right-wing roundup.

Which brings us to Sammy Fagemo. He’s been casting some early looks at the second line, in Victor Arvidson’s absence. When all is said and done, he is unlikely to be on the list of editorials. Between JAD, Andersson and Vilardi, the Kings already had too many attackers – and none of those players could be sent without going through the concessions first.

This may indicate that Anderson is most likely to be put on waivers in a few weeks. It’s not that the team wants to lose. They will likely have less desire to lose JAD or Vilardi. If another injury in the camp somehow opened up a place for Fagemo, could he open the season in the NHL? It’s definitely an evolving story and one to watch closely during the first 2-3 show games.

We have more with McLellan in the podcast linked below.

Related content:

Podcast Kings: Episode. 135 – Season Preview with Todd McClellan

Danault to skip the final brawl, as well as Saturday’s Kings skate lineup


Featured image by Mike Zetick

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