Alex Iafallo didn’t miss a beat when asked about his favorite player growing up.
Easy answer. Mike Modano.
“Just loved his speed, so I idolized him. Maybe [Paul] Kariya, too,” the 23-year-old forward said. “Back then, I was young, I just liked those players, and [at training camp] it’s pretty cool seeing all the NHLers around skating in the morning and stuff. It’s awesome here in L.A.”
He should make himself comfortable. Iafallo, signed to a two-year entry-level contract in April after a breakthrough 21-goal, 51-point, 42-game senior season at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, carried an impressive performance at development camp into rookie camp, where he’s been among the top standouts. He’ll be among the players worth keeping an intent eye on when Kings and Golden Knights rookies meet at Toyota Sports Center for a pair of games on Tuesday (5:00 p.m.) and Wednesday (1:00 p.m.) that will be broadcast on LAKings.com.
That’s because Iafallo owns an impressive top speed – one that he’s capable of deploying whether in possession of the puck or on a disruptive backcheck.
“I just kind of learned that growing up and have just taken that with me as part of my game,” he said. “It just helps with the puck possession, too. I like getting the puck back, and I do it mainly for that and just to keep it out of our D-zone.”
The Kings are very high on Iafallo, a player scouted regularly by Mark Yannetti, Tony Gasparini and Ted Belisle by the end of his NCHC season and through the conference playoffs and the NCAA tournament, where the Bulldogs lost in the championship to Denver. Iafallo scored to halve Denver’s 2-0 lead midway through the 3-2 loss.
Ultimately, it was Los Angeles’ needs and their developmental system that led them to sign the speedy forward as a sought-after free agent.
“They just needed what I had and needed some more speed, so they just told me about development and what they do on the summers and I was pretty sold on that,” he said. “I came here over the summer with trained with them, and it’s been great so far.”
He’s also known for his ability to protect the puck, a skill that goes a long way for a team that prides itself on its possession habits. With his speed, scoring knack and checking, there are those who believe Iafallo can make a push for a roster spot with the Kings. Claiming one of 23 spots is probably a long shot, though, and the 6-foot, 185-pound forward who can play both center and wing is most likely ticketed for Ontario, where he’d open his professional career as a scoring and detail-oriented forward.
“I mean, you never know. I haven’t really thought about it,” he said about vying for a spot on L.A. “Obviously it’s always a dream to play on the big team, but right now, I’m just going to keep focusing on getting better and just getting into game play. Coming off the summer and playing with all these great players out here, I just need to keep working on my game and getting better every day.”
But the club is high on Iafallo, who by his own ability and his experience – he’s the fourth-oldest player among the 29 invited to rookie camp – is among the most advanced players at this year’s camp. For a team looking to continue to rebuild its prospect pipeline after having exchange assets to extend a championship window, his addition was a nice shot in the arm. He’s happy with what he’s shown so far.
“Probably just my speed and my ability to focus [are aspects I’ve shown],” Iafallo said. “Just focusing on getting every shot off and just doing the simple things. Also just getting better every day – that’s a huge aspect of the game, making sure you know your mistakes and making sure you don’t do them again.”
Defenseman Matt Roy totaled 12 goals and 46 points over his final 79 Michigan Tech games spread across the last two seasons.
That’s an impressive haul for a sturdy defenseman who in 2015 helped lead the Huskies to their first NCAA tournament since 1981, but the Southeast Michigander who matriculated in the Upper Peninsula knows his skill set and how he projects as a pro.
“I think defense is my best attribute,” he said. Still, there’s always fine tuning, and Roy has put in work to round out all corners of his game. That, combined with a lack of first round draft picks and a prospect pool that is being rebuilt as a direct result of the team’s championship pursuits are part of the reason Los Angeles has signed six of their last nine seventh round picks.
“I’ve been working in the summers trying to get a little bit more offensive with my game,” he continued. “At Michigan Tech, it kind of worked out. My sophomore and junior years I got a little bit more offensive, but definitely my defensive game is what I really try and implement to the team and help out with the most.”
That continued in Ontario late last season after his Huskies, like Iafallo’s Bulldogs, had their season end in the NCAA Tournament at the hands of the Denver Pioneers. His collegiate season over, Roy signed with the Kings and got into 10 regular season and playoff games with the Reign, totaling one assist while showing good poise.
“I think it definitely helped me. It kind of gave me a little bit of confidence. This summer I just knew what to expect a little bit,” the 22-year-old said of his professional debut in Ontario. “I felt more comfortable with the guys and that sort of stuff, so I think it just helped with confidence, and that helped me with my training. I pushed myself a little harder, and it seems to be working out for me right now. I feel really good out there right now, and working with Coach Stothers seems to be going well.”
It all led to an intense summer in the gym as he continues to build his frame, an undertaking that he – and many other collegiate-based players – have an upper-hand in due to a reduced playing schedule. At six feet and 200 pounds, he’s already made strength and conditioning inroads prior to his first full professional season.
Reaching the next rung of his career requires new modes of training and practice, and as he continues to adhere to the expectations of the organization, he’s continuing to work on his stickhandling, picking his head and his ability to catch and release pucks quickly.
“They really stress keeping our heads up even before we get the puck so we know where we’re going to go with it or what’s open,” Roy said. “…For me, personally, I like to just keep it simple and just give it to the forwards as fast as I can so they can go do their thing.”
Feature photo credit: Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images