In my last article
, I made the case for the Ilya Kovalchuk signing, and Jeff Carter (presumably) having a healthy season, being enough added firepower to make the LA Kings a top-10 power play team and a more classically “Western-style” hockey team.
Now, we entertain the question: Where will (or should) Kovalchuk play in the King’s lineup?
Kovalchuk’s placement will be interesting, both on even strength and especially on the power play, where there are several different potential scenarios.
Let’s start with the easier guess.
Alex Iafallo spent 77.2% of his 75 games played on the left wing of the King’s first line, alongside Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown. This line accounted for 13.2% of the forward lines iced by the Kings for the entire 2017-2018 season, the largest share of any forward trio. Iafallo carried a respectable CF% of 52.54, similar to his other two linemates.
However, playing on a line with two of the King’s most offensively dominant players didn’t translate to a lot of success for Iafallo, who in 75 games managed only nine goals and 16 assists, good for 25 total points.
If I may be blunt, this is remarkably bad considering Kopitar and Brown put up 153 points.
Of those 25 points, only 20 of them came on that exact forward line combination. Of that 20, two of them were on the powerplay, for a grand total of 18 points involving that forward line combo, for Iafallo at even strength.
He was a major third wheel in the newly rekindled Kopitar and Brown bromance.
Enter, “From Russia with Love.”
It’s extremely likely that Kovalchuk will replace Iafallo on this line, in which case I’d look for point totals closer to 50-60 from that line’s left wing spot. While that could cut into Brown and Kopitar’s point totals, I would expect Kovalchuk’s skill set to be a far better fit for that top left wing spot.
Alternatives seem less likely. Tanner Pearson played almost exclusively on the second line to the left of Carter and Nick Shore, before the latter was traded. It’s hard to image John Stevens breaking up that line with a healthy Carter, especially to keep Iafallo on the top spot. The only alternative would be plugging Kovalchuk into the empty left wing spot on Adrian Kempe’s third line. Again, I find it extremely difficult to image Stevens putting Kovalchuk on a line with Trevor Lewis.
Barring a complete breakdown of everything we know to be true of Ilya Kovalchuk, he’ll own the top left wing spot next to Kopitar and Brown. He might pirate some of their point totals from last season, but he’ll still make them better.
Again, I think it makes sense to put Kovalchuk on the first power play unit at the left wing, a line which last year usually iced Brown, Kopitar, and Carter (Toffoli when Carter was injured). At the same time, it’s harder to predict Kovalchuk’s use here given the wealth of offensive talent the King’s can now ice on the power play.
He’ll be on the left side, but it could be any of the following three spots:
PP FWD 1
PP FWD 2
PP DEF 1
I think putting Kovalchuk on the point is the most intriguing of the three options. This would allow Stevens to keep both Carter and Brown on the wings, and still take advantage of Kovalchuk’s shot at the top of the circle. It might even give him a little more space to work with, especially against teams that don’t play a tight point on the penalty kill in favor of a collapsing box. This would be lethal against teams like Anaheim that tend to back into the middle and defend the more dangerous passing lines between forwards.
It’s a field day scenario for both Kovalchuk and whoever plays on the right defensive side (Doughty?). They’d get shots through, and with Brown screening in front, there’s potential for a lot of offensive damage.
Both lines - the top forward and power play unit - seem ripe for a Kovalchuk add-on. Though, we’ll have to wait until training camp to get a better feel for how Stevens is going to sort all his offensive skill.
Where do you all think Kovalchuk will line up? Let me know.