While the main focus of the Los Angeles Kings remains its attempt to find a head coach, the club did sign a pair of players during the Easter LAKI Hiatus, including one who the club had recruited and become closely acquainted with during his 2016-17 senior NCAA season.
Those two players are defenseman Chaz Reddekopp, a 2015 seventh rounder whose 19-year-old season with the Victoria Royals ended two weeks ago, and Alex Iafallo, a University of Minnesota-Duluth senior free agent who led all NCHC skaters with 51 points. The former received a three-year ELC, the latter a two-year ELC (and the valuable encouragement from fellow Bulldog and Amateur Scout – United States Tony Gasparini for matriculating at what he described as our nation’s top public university).
RELATED: How Do ELCs Work?The team’s efforts to sign Iaffalo took shape over the second half of the 2016-17 season and was described by Gasparini as a group effort consisting of a consortium of himself, Director of Amateur Scouting Mark Yannetti and Amateur Scout-United States Ted Belisle. They watched Iafallo so consistently that there was always one Kings representative present from his NCHC playoffs through the NCAA title game. The efforts to educate him on the Los Angeles organization began earlier in the year, and the team remained close with his family, his family advisor and the UMD coaching staff, who were all said to be receptive. Gasparini made the trip to Duluth to meet him and returned with a good sense of Iafallo’s focus and character.
“He fits the mold of the type of young man that the Kings have had success developing into NHL players,” he said. “He’s a very driven young man, and he’s very passionate about his game and very detail-oriented. I thought his attention to detail was outstanding this year and during his maturation process throughout college.”
In terms of his actual skill package, it begins with his legs. Described as a “speed-based left wing with very good touch around the net,” Iafallo’s game began to mature with added responsibilities and a widened workload over his final two years at Duluth, where he appeared in all situations. This season, he potted 21 goals as part of a 51-point, 42-game senior campaign.
“They don’t advance to the Final game and win the NCHC championship without his efforts,” said Gasparini, who noted Iafallo’s effectiveness on both the forecheck and in back-pressuring situations. His biggest asset is clearly his speed, which allows him to attack open ice quickly and take away ice while checking and was one of the main reasons Los Angeles was attracted to his game.
Iafallo, voted to the NCAA Frozen Four All-Tournament Team, was also named to NCAA West Regional and North Star Cup All-Tournament Teams and was chosen the MVP at the NCHC Frozen Faceoff as part of a senior season that ended with a 15-game point streak. His collegiate career comes to a close with 48 goals and 121 points in 152 career games over four seasons with UMD.
The six-foot, 190-pound forward does not turn 24 until December 21 and was a teammate with Jonny Brodzinski with the 2011-12 Fargo Force. He went to development camp with Tampa Bay in 2015 and 2016 and with Boston in 2015.The 6-foot-3, 221-pound Reddekopp has always been known as a player capable of providing snarl and hard minutes in less glamorous areas of his defensive zone, but beyond the rough veneer there appears to be a player with some additional skill being peeled away. The 19-year-old recently completed a 10-goal, 43-point, 51-game season with the WHL’s Victoria Royals, where his heavier attributes meshed well with an ability to move the puck crisply and confidently.
It’s too early to say whether Reddekopp, who got into two games with AHL-Ontario last week, will be able to transfer the attributes he showed at the junior level to the professional game, but according to Brent McEwen, Los Angeles’ Amateur Scout – Western Canada, the team liked the way the defenseman moved the puck and displayed strong vision.
“When he got it, he knew what he wanted to do with it,” McEwen said, noting the defender’s ability to make reads quickly and be aware of plays that had to be made. As his junior career began to unfold, so did his ability to read the ice well and make that transition pass.
Of course, Reddekopp was a seventh round draft pick, so there are caveats. His skating, though it has improved during his time in Victoria and with the Kings’ development team, is what separates him from someone who could theoretically make a quick impact at the professional level. As someone who turns 20 in one month, he will be eligible to be returned to the Royals for his overage season or play professionally for the Kings, and that decision won’t be made until training camp.
But Reddekopp has always had a good base of being hard to play against deep in his own zone – “he makes players uncomfortable playing against him,” McEwen said – that has combined well with some interesting ability when the puck is on his stick.
“Not just outlet plays, but he passes the puck hard up into the neutral zone and makes long, penetrative passes,” McEwen said, noting the advantages of being multi-faceted and not just a “hammer-down-low guy.”
The team liked the way he moved the puck and the vision he displayed while scouting him in his draft year, and since then, his feet had become quicker and his confidence grew as he progressed year over year. This is also a player credited with 11 WHL fights, according to HockeyFights.com.
Named Victoria’s best defenseman in season-end awards, Reddekopp played through injury late in the year, as the Victoria Times-Colonist noted.
Reddekopp broke his foot blocking a shot Feb. 15 in Medicine Hat and missed the rest of the Western Hockey League regular season before almost willing himself back for the playoffs. He clearly only was operating at about 50 per cent but won rave reviews for his dedication and resolve in even being on the ice in the Royals’ first-round playoff exit against Everett. Many drafted players might not have risked it.
“You want them in their last year to have their best year, and I thought by far, this was his best year,” McEwen said of the West Kelowna native who has 20 goals and 103 points through 234 WHL games.
Given the lack of first round draft picks and a prospect pool that became more diluted as the championship window tightened, this is a good time to be a seventh round draft pick under Los Angeles’ control. Six of the last nine seventh round picks selected by the Kings have signed entry-level contracts with the club, including defenseman Matt Roy, a fellow 2015 draft pick who made his AHL debut with Ontario earlier this month. Of those also selected by Los Angeles in 2015 other than Reddekopp and Roy, second rounder Erik Cernak was traded to Tampa Bay, third rounder Alexander Dergachyov is currently under contract to SKA-St. Petersburg, fourth rounder Austin Wagner has been signed and is about to begin a third round playoff series with WHL-Regina, and fifth rounder Matt Schmalz is unsigned and about to begin a playoff series with Owen Sound to determine the OHL’s Western Conference Champions.