To start off the season, The Ontario Reign struggled, as many of the Los Angeles Kings prospects were still adjusting to professional hockey. Cut to now, 22 games into the AHL season, and the Reign seem like a completely different team.
Los Angeles Kings Prospects Developing Nicely
The Reign had a brutal start to their season, as winning was a rare occurrence. Their team is very young with a number of first-year pros, and even some players who wouldn’t be considered old enough to play in the league in a non-COVID year. Recently, however, the team, and specifically its young players, have started to turn things around. They have won seven of their last 10 games and kicked off their hot-streak with a four-game winning streak.
When looking at the very beginning of Ontario’s season compared to now, there is a noticeable difference. At the beginning of the year, all of their first-year pros were still getting their feet wet in professional hockey. Despite the team’s struggles, they were expected to turn it around sooner or later. It was just a matter of how long it took for some of the Los Angeles Kings prospects to begin acclimating to the North American professional level.
Now, however, many of these prospects seem to finally be adjusting to the professional level, and the wins started to come. When looking at the stats of some players from the first half of the season compared to now, there is a notable difference, further showing that they just needed time to get settled into the professional level.
Probably the biggest name (and player) on this Reign roster is Los Angeles Kings prospect Quinton Byfield. The 2020 second overall pick has been very impressive as of late, especially given that he normally is not even old enough to be playing in the American Hockey League. Byfield, who doesn’t turn 19 until August, has posted an impressive six goals and 10 assists for 16 points in 21 games played. He is currently the Reign’s team leader in points and is tied for second on the team in goals. Five of his six goals came from a five-game goal streak that just recently ended.
Interestingly, most of Byfield’s production has come from his past couple of games as he better settles into the pro game. Through his past 10 games, Byfield has five goals and nine points. Lately, he has been one of, if not the main drivers of offence on this Reign team. Once the OHL announces they will be returning to play, the Kings will have a very tough choice to make with Byfield. Due to his age, he will either have to be returned to the OHL or play in the NHL. The AHL will no longer be an option for him.
Alex Turcotte has had an interesting start to his professional career. He decided to turn pro after just playing one season with the University of Wisconsin. After winning a gold medal with Team USA in the 2021 World Junior Championship, Turcotte’s season seemed to off to a good start. Following the tournament, he was expected to report to play for the Ontario Reign.
Unfortunately, he was injured during the gold medal game, causing the former fifth overall pick to miss some time. Once he made it into the lineup though, Turcotte had a bit of a tough start. He was held pointless and winless through his first five games with the Reign. On top of his scoring drought, Turcotte ended up re-injuring himself as well. He wouldn’t return to the lineup for a few weeks, but once he did, he really started to turn it around.
Once Turcotte returned to the Reign lineup, it didn’t take him much time at all to be his usual, impactful self. He is currently up to two goals and eight assists for 10 points through 16 games. An eye-opening stat to look at, however, is that of Turcotte’s 10 points, all 10 of them have come in his last 10 games played. His game-log directly shows the linear development path he’s been on in the AHL. As a first-year pro, He is expected to struggle at first, and after a few games, not only does his play on the ice but also his stats show how much he has improved.
Shift to Wing
Something else to keep an eye on with Turcotte is his shift to the left-wing. Coach John Wroblewski decided to put Turcotte on a line with Arthur Kaliyev and Rasmus Kupari, prompting Turcotte’s shift from his usual centre position. It’s worth noting that the kings have arguably too many centres in their organization. Some of them are bound to eventually be moved over to the wing in order to fit on the team.
Possibly the most impressive player on this Reign team has been 2018 20th overall pick Rasmus Kupari. Kupari has played pro hockey for several years, as he played in the Liiga in Finland prior to the AHL. Last season was his first North American pro season, and he also had a hard time adjusting. Through 27 games last season, Kupari had just six goals and two assists for eight points. He then went off to play in the World Junior Championship, where he was poised to play a big role. Unfortunately, he was injured in game one and did not return to play that season.
Dominant Bounce Back
Struggling in the AHL is a thing of the past now for Rasmus Kupari though. He has been the Reign’s best producer of offence this season, scoring three goals and 12 assists for 15 points in 17 games. His play was so good, that it warranted himself a call up to the Kings for three games.
Injury Plagued Reign
While the Los Angeles Kings prospects playing for the Reign have been playing much better, we have not yet been able to see this team at full strength. Kings prospect Tyler Madden, who was the Reign’s best player in their preseason went down with an injury a few weeks ago. Along with Madden, Samuel Fagemo, who is tied for the team lead in goals has also been sidelined due to injury. Prior to his injury, Fagemo had been one of Ontario’s best players this season. He was a very effective one-time option on the powerplay.
What Still Needs Work
While the offence has been effective for the Reign, the team still has some areas they need to improve upon. The first area that comes to mind is goaltending. With Cal Petersen being a full-time NHL player this year, the Ontario crease has severely felt his absence. So far, their main goaltenders have been a rotation of Jean-Francois Berube, Troy Grosenick, and Matthew Villalta. Each of the three has a save percentage of .880 or lower and a goals-against-average of at least 3.30.
Another issue that has been costing the Reign is discipline. The team takes a detrimental amount of penalties nearly every game and it does not always put them in a situation to win.
Next Likely Call Ups
In terms of who the next man up to LA is, there are a few options. As of now, the front runner is likely Rasmus Kupari once again. He has proved he is an NHL-ready prospect. Following Kupari would likely be Samuel Fagemo. His injury status may affect how soon he gets a chance with Kings, however. Another good candidate to warrant a call-up could be Lias Andersson. Andersson has already played 11 games this season with the Kings, but he has been held to just one goal. His play in the AHL may get him another chance, however, as he currently has nine points through eight games.
While the Reign had a very tough start to their season, it was mainly due to all of their first-year pros adjusting to playing hockey at the professional level. As these Los Angeles Kings prospects continue to feel more comfortable with the Reign, they will continue to yield results, and hopefully, turn their season around.