Welcome to my new series, the Ontario Reign Recap. In this series, I will be highlighting four Los Angeles Kings prospects who played with the Ontario Reign during the 2020-21 season. I will be doing a deep dive into their seasons focusing on their progress and what areas of their game they still need to improve upon. Today’s article covers Arthur Kaliyev.
Arthur Kaliyev 2020-21 Season
Where He Started
With the COVID-19 pandemic, Arthur Kaliyev was in a very unique situation. He had just come off two dominant OHL seasons, where he was on pace to have back-to-back 50 goal seasons had the 2019-20 season not been shortened by COVID. Luckily for Kaliyev though, he was a rare type of player where the pandemic actually benefitted his hockey career. In a normal year, his only options for the 2020-21 season would have been to either play in the NHL or AHL. Due to Kaliyev coming out of major junior, he would not have been eligible to play in the AHL for another season.
With the OHL cancelling their season, an exception was made allowing Kaliyev to play in the AHL. This exception was a huge benefit to Kaliyev. While he was not quite ready for the NHL yet, he had outgrown the OHL. Despite having outgrown the OHL, Kaliyev was far from a finished product. He’s frequently been pegged as a one-dimensional player. That one dimension being his high-end offensive ability, and his shot specifically.
The other areas of his game still needed some work though. Heading into the year, he needed to engage physically more and participate in puck battles more often. He also needed to put more attention towards his defensive game as a whole. He didn’t forecheck or backcheck nearly enough and seemed to sometimes be cheating towards the offensive zone rather than helping out on defence. Additionally, his skating needed some work too, as he had a short stride and wasn’t super mobile.
Arthur Kaliyev 2020-21 Season Overview
Overall, Arthur Kaliyev had a fantastic 2020-21 season for the Ontario Reign. He finished the year as the team’s leading goal and point scorer, posting 14 goals and 17 assists for a total of 31 points in 40 games played. This was good for fourth overall in the AHL in rookie scoring. Unlike most Reign players, Kaliyev seemed to adjust to the AHL rather quickly. He was a fairly consistent scorer throughout the year and was one of Ontario’s most relied upon scorers. Generally speaking, his offensive game was able to translate to the AHL quite well, which is exactly what he needed to prove he could do.
Once March rolled around, Kaliyev had been consistent enough with the Reign to earn himself a callup to the Los Angeles Kings. He played just one game with Los Angeles but ended up scoring his first NHL goal. In his one NHL game, he led the Kings in expected goals. Despite being one of the Kings best offensive producers in the game, the team decided to send Kaliyev back to Ontario. This was mainly so he could focus more on his defensive play and continue to develop the non-offensive aspects of his game. Getting a small taste of NHL action was more so Kaliyev could better understand what he was working towards.
Upon returning to Ontario though, Kaliyev was very consistent. He solidified his spot as the Reign’s top scorer and was crucial to the team’s offence. Kaliyev usually found himself skating on the right-wing of Ontario’s top line, consisting of him, Alex Turcotte, and Quinton Byfield.
A Deeper Look at Production
In terms of sheer productivity, Kaliyev’s game seemed to translate very nicely to the AHL. According to Byron Bader’s Hockey Prospecting model, he had an NHLe value of 37. The year prior he had been at 42, however, in his draft year, he also was at 37. While seeing an upwards trajectory is nice, it can be hard to maintain when moving to a significantly more difficult league. Especially if you’re not even supposed to be eligible to play in the league. Regardless, the fact that Kaliyev was able to remain in a similar range to his OHL years is a very positive sign.
One of the biggest knocks on Kaliyev as a prospect has been the fact that he does not engage enough, especially defensively. His reputation coming into his draft was he was not a reliable forechecker or backchecker, and it ultimately seemed to hurt his draft stock. Since then though, he has made some major improvements. Throughout the season, Kaliyev was much more persistent on both forechecking and backchecking, which ended up making him a significantly more reliable player. He is no longer what people once considered a defensive liability, which is definitely a starting point for him. Overall, during the season Kaliyev seemed to put much more emphasis on going after the puck and puck carrier, and it benefitted him greatly.
Similar to engaging with defensive play, another issue Kaliyev struggled with in the past was engaging physically. Kaliyev is a big player, and he has strong puck protection skills. For whatever reason though, he rarely used them and seemed to shy away from using his body more often than not. This season though, he seems much more engaged physically. He enters many more boards and puck battles than before resulting in his line gaining more possessions. He also is learning to put his frame and puck protection skills to use, which will only benefit him in the future.
What Still Needs Work
Despite being able to produce and score at a high level, Kaliyev still struggles with skating. If he wants to be a true high-end NHL player, he’s going to need to improve on it. His stride is small, and he looks as if he almost just shuffling his feet across the ice at times. He needs to learn to lengthen his stride to gain more power from each foot and really start to increase his footspeed. He can look heavy on his feet as well and needs to work being lighter on them. On the bright side, however, these issues are fairly coachable, so his skating is not a lost cause.
While Kaliyev improved tremendously with his defence and effort this year, there is still a good deal of work to be done. He definitely engages more often, but it’s still hard to classify him as a “good” defender. The Kings organization puts a large emphasis on two-way play, so improving his defence will be an important task for Kaliyev. We’ve already seen him make big strides this year, meaning he’s on the right trajectory. If he wants to be a regular in the Kings top-six though, his defensive game is still going to need to take a few more steps in the right direction.
Overall, Arthur Kaliyev had a tremendous 2020-21 season with the Ontario Reign. He was the team’s leading scorer and most consistent producer of offence. Additionally, in his one-game stint with the Kings, he was the team’s leading driver of offence, showing that his offensive ability can really translate to any level. Throughout the year, Kaliyev learned to engage much more physically and involve himself in more puck battles. He also started to take on more defensive responsibility, something people have been itching to see from him since his draft year.
As far as the 2021-22 season goes, it’s hard to predict where Kaliyev will end up. The most likely scenario is probably back with the Ontario Reign, as he is eligible to play in the AHL. Don’t rule him out for an NHL roster spot though, after another summer of work, he could be as ready as anyone in the Kings organization to compete for one of the final available forward spots.