We’re one year removed from the 2019 NHL Draft, in which the Kings made nine selections, including four picks in the first two rounds. Instantly, not only were the members of the Kings Hockey Ops excited about their nine new prospects, but the media had consistently touted the Kings as one of the “winners” of the draft.
Spanning across five birth countries (including the rare Australia sighting), the Kings picks added depth in every position by choosing four forwards, four defensemen and one goaltender. With overall media pundit grades for the Kings 2019 draft class ranging anywhere from A- to A+, the newest additions to the organization’s already promising youth shot them to the No. 1 ranked prospect pool in the NHL, according to Scott Wheeler of The Athletic.
It’s widely known that the Kings are trying to get younger, as they’ve had the NHL’s oldest opening-day roster the past two seasons (2018-19: 28.7-years-old, 2019-20: 30.5-years-old). And while it was an abrupt end to a season that had its share of ups and downs, the Kings started to see some of the young prospects creeping into their lineup.
Overall, the Kings had four recent draft picks make their NHL debuts in Mikey Anderson, Tobias Bjornfot, Kale Clague and Gabe Vilardi while other prospects such as Jaret Anderson-Dolan, Carl Grundstrom and Cal Petersen also saw time up with the Kings. That is in addition to players such as Blake Lizotte, Matt Roy and Sean Walker skating in their full rookie seasons.
The Kings youth-movement is certainly underway, and while the prospect NHL sample size may be small, Kings fans should be chomping at the bit to see the likes of other prospects in the system.
Chief among them are members of the Kings 2019 Draft class, led by first-round picks in Alex Turcotte (5th overall) and Tobias Bjornfot (22nd overall) as well as second-round picks in Arthur Kaliyev (33rd overall) and Samuel Fagemo (50th overall). With the signings of Turcotte and Kaliyev during the NHL’s pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Kings top four picks of 2019’s draft are all under contract after Bjornfot and Fagemo signed their entry-level contracts last summer.
So, what has the 2019 draft class been up to? And what does the future hold for them? Per my conversations with Turcotte, Bjornfot, Kaliyev and Fagemo, let’s find out:
2019-20 Season: Wisconsin Badgers, NCAA
29 GP: 9 G, 17 A = 26 PTS
World Juniors (USA)
5 GP: 0 G, 2 A = 2 PTS
When the Kings drafted Turcotte with the fifth overall pick, it was the highest selection the organization had made since Drew Doughty was selected second overall in 2008 and the first time in 11 years that the team had drafted in the top 10. Following only his roommate from last year, the first overall selection Jack Hughes, Turcotte was the second of eight members from the USA U-18 NTDP drafted in the first round.
This past season, Turcotte played his freshman year at the University of Wisconsin under former LA Kings forward Tony Granato. Despite being the second-youngest team in the country, many pegged Wisconsin as a potential darkhorse due to its roster oozing with talent thanks to its multiple first-round draft picks. Unfortunately, the team’s up-and-down performance resulted in a 14-20-2 record and a last-place finish in the Big Ten conference. Like the team, Turcotte felt his own production fell short of expectations.
“It wasn’t the year I was expecting to have,” Turcotte said. “There were a lot more ups and downs than I would’ve liked and times where I wasn’t producing the way I wanted to. Overall, it was just an average year. I did have some good things from it, but it’s something I really want to bounce back from.”
As an 18-year-old, Turcotte and the Kings knew the difficulties of the competition that the Big Ten conference presented and how, in spite of that, it could help him prepare for the NHL.
“Going into Wisconsin, the whole purpose was to play against older guys and stronger competition,” he noted. “Everyone in the Big Ten is a man, guys that are between 22-24 years old. It was beneficial physically and mentally to battle against older, bigger opponents. I was able to get used to the grind against bigger and stronger players… In the NHL, everyone is going to be older and stronger, they’re all men. I think going college and playing older guys was what I needed to do help me get to the next level.”
Turcotte did start to produce more consistently following the World Junior Championship, where he and 2019 draft class member Kaliyev were part of the U.S. team to lose in the quarterfinals, 1-0, against Team Finland. Turcotte ended the season playing his best hockey with nine points (3-6=9) in the last seven games and, despite the ups and downs, still finished third on the team in points (9-17=26).
“After the World Junior tournament, in the second half of the season I wanted to have more fun, be less tense and with that, I was able to get accustomed to the play. I just focused on playing my game,” Turcotte said.
The outstandingly self-aware Turcotte has not stopped working on his craft since the COVID-19 pandemic struck the world of sports either. Currently, Turcotte is training in Michigan with fellow 2019 first-round picks Jack Hughes (NJD), Cam York (PHI) and Cole Caufield (MTL) as well as several NHL/AHL players. Having already gained strength in the weight room to improve his explosiveness and speed, Turcotte has goals to improve his shooting, score more and improve his defensive mindset in the d-zone.
With eyes set on being in a Kings uniform at the start of next season, Turcotte feels “a lot more confident going into this season than last season” and “a lot more prepared.”
2019-20 season: Kings/Ontario Reign, NHL/AHL
Kings- 3 GP: 0 G, 0 A = 0 PTS
Ontario- 44 GP: 6 G, 13 A = 19 PTS
World Juniors (SWE)
7 GP: 0 G, 0 A = 0 PTS
Bjornfot was the first member of the 2019 draft class to make his debut in a Kings uniform, when he featured on the opening day roster against the Edmonton Oilers on October 5th. Throughout the preseason, Bjornfot’s game had heads turning, and one head in particular stuck out; Drew Doughty.
The 2016 Norris Trophy winner described Bjornfot as “amazing. I love playing with [Bjornfot]. His poise of there – it’s nuts. He has the same mentality I have… He just keeps getting better and better.” Having heard Doughty’s comments provided the Swedish defenseman confidence in what he was doing. “I think for my confidence it makes me want to work harder and stay there and play with him.”
Though short lived, as Bjornfot explains, he took many lessons with him to Ontario after his three-game stint in the NHL.
“I realized firsthand that guys are much more skilled in the NHL and you get to see how all of the them prepare, practice and play in the games,” Bjornfot said. “It was good for me to see that because I never saw that in Sweden. I learned a lot and I was able to take a lot of that to the AHL.”
While getting sent down to the AHL for many can be seen as a negative, Bjornfot both excelled and grew as a player. Bjornfot’s effectiveness stemmed from his plus-13 rating, which led the Reign and ranked sixth among rookie defenseman in the AHL.
“It was a good experience and I learned a lot,” he said. “I had a guy like Paul LaDue to play with, he was a great teammate and I look up to him. I got to play on the penalty kill, the power play and a lot at 5-on-5, so it was a good year for myself.”
Looking ahead to the 2020-21 season, the left-handed, two-way defenseman now feels he’s ready to push for a job in a Kings uniform.
“I think I’m ready… I played a lot of minutes for the Reign in all different situations, I learned a lot and grew as a player which was really beneficial for me.”
Bjornfot, like Turcotte, also traveled to the Czech Republic to take part in the 2020 World Junior Championship. It marked his third time representing Sweden in IIHF play after helping the U-18 squad to a bronze medal in 2018 before captaining Sweden – on home ice – to its first-ever gold medal in 2019.
At the 2020 World Junior Championship, Bjornfot and fellow 2019 Kings draft pick Fagemo helped Sweden to a bronze-medal finish. Though Bjornfot went scoreless in seven games, his steady presence on the blue line was often praised by his head coach, Tomas Monten, as well as prospect media writers.
Bjornfot will be entering next season’s training camp with the hopes to be “better positionally sound, stronger and more opportunistic offensively.”
2019-20 season: Hamilton Bulldogs, OHL
57 GP: 44 G, 54 A = 98 PTS (5th in points and 6th in goals in OHL)
World Juniors (USA):
6 GP: 4 G, 2 A = 6 PTS
Considered “the steal of the draft” according to many of the draft experts’ postmortem analysis, Kaliyev was a projected first-round player who the Kings landed with the 33rd overall pick. Regarded as the second-best pure goal-scorer in the draft (behind Cole Caufield, the 15th overall selection by Montreal), Kaliyev knows how to find the net, registering a whopping 248 points (126-142=248) in 192 OHL games to-date. Still, the Hamilton Bulldogs right winger isn’t satisfied.
“I want to continue working on finding the open areas in the offensive zone, getting my shot ready at all times and keep improving my shot strength, release and accuracy,” Kaliyev said.
For his development as a player, Kaliyev, an American chose the “road less traveled” by going to the OHL, and it paid off. During the 2018-2019 season, Kaliyev scored 51 goals as a 17-year-old, becoming one of only eleven players all-time to score more than 50 goals in a season in the OHL before turning 18, joining notables such as John Tavares, Jeff Skinner and Alex DeBrincat. Kaliyev explained that “I felt that the OHL fit my game. With the style of play, I felt confident I could succeed and grow as a player in the “O”.”
Kaliyev continued his spectacular offensive output this past season by filling the stat sheet yet again, ranking fifth in the OHL in points (98) and sixth in goals (44). Impressively, the numbers he put up weren’t his only focus like they may have been in year’s prior; “beyond producing offensively, this year I wanted to work on playing a hard-nosed 200-foot game and being an all-around player.”
Like Turcotte, Kaliyev was also a member of the U.S. National Junior Team that lost in the World Junior quarterfinals. And just like Turcotte, Kaliyev took positives away from the tournament that was highlighted by his two-goal effort in Team USA’s 3-1 preliminary round win over eventual silver medal-winning Russia.
“It was a valuable experience and it was great playing against all of the top players in the world for our age,” Kaliyev said. “It was fun and really fast paced. Every game provided something special with the different matchups and situations we were put in.”
Following the World Junior Championship, Kaliyev returned to Hamilton, but that is not what he hopes to do next season. Because of the NHL’s agreement with the Canadian Hockey Leagues, Kaliyev eligible to play for either the Kings or Hamilton next season, but not the Ontario Reign. Though it is unknown as of right now who Kaliyev will spend the year with, that will be determined after training camp. Regardless of what happens, Kaliyev’s hopes for next season are clear,
“I’m going into day one of training camp with the mindset of making the Kings roster,” he said. “I want to make the team.”
2019-20 season: Frolunda HC, SweHL:
42 GP: 13 G, 9 A = 22 PTS
World Juniors (SWE):
7 GP: 8 G, 5 A = 13 PTS
Going into the 2019 NHL Draft, Fagemo was entering his second year of draft eligibility after having been passed over the previous year. Luckily, for the Kings, following Fagemo’s draft-less 2018 summer, the goal-scoring winger exploded onto the scout’s radar as the 18-year-old rookie tallied 25 points (14-11=25) for Frolunda HC, en route to winning the Le Mat Trophy, awarded to the champions of the SHL. As a result, it was no surprise to see Fagemo chosen by the Kings – after making a trade with the Montreal Canadiens to move back into the second-round – with the 50th overall selection.
“It was a lot of fun,” Fagemo said, reflecting on his rookie season. “I was able to take advantage of the chance I was given. It was a great experience to fight for a spot and earn it, along with earning ice time. It was a great learning experience and it will help me in the future.”
The first opportunity Fagemo will have is going to be the 2020 training camp, whenever that may be.
“I’ve been training since April, so it’s been a long summer, but the time just gives me confidence to get where I want to be; in Los Angeles… I’m super excited for next year and I think I’m prepared too. I’m going to go out there, fight for a spot and do my best. I’m excited for the opportunity and can’t wait to get to camp” Fagemo emphatically stated.
Another area Fagemo gained confidence was at the 2020 World Junior Championship. In his second U-20 appearance for Sweden, Fagemo led the tournament in goals (8) and points (13) in seven games.
“The experience last year (2019) was great,” he said. “To play in the biggest games in the world for our age was unforgettable. Unfortunately, we lost to Switzerland in the quarterfinals, so to get back this year was exciting with the team we had. Having lost like that the year prior made us really want to succeed this year. I think it helped us win the Bronze Medal.”
Currently, Fagemo is in Sweden skating 3-4 times a week and has been since May. With efforts focused on having a positive impact every shift, the speedy left wing has his eyes on being in a Kings or Reign jersey next season.
The Kings promising picks don’t stop after the second round either. Here’s a look statistically at draft picks from Rounds 3-7…
Spokane Chiefs, WHL:
32 GP: 22-7-2, .917 save %, 2.73 GAA
1 G, 1 A = 2 PTS
World Juniors (CZE): 4 GP
Jordan Spence, Defenseman (4th Round, 95th Overall)
Moncton Wildcats, QMJHL:
60 GP: 9 G, 43 A = 52 PTS
Kim Nousiainen, Defenseman (4th Round, 119th Overall)
KalPa Kuopio, SM-liiga:
51 GP: 6 G, 13 A = 19 PTS
World Juniors (FIN):
7 GP – 1 G, 3 A = 4 PTS
Braden Doyle, Defenseman (6th Round, 157th Overall)
Dubuque Fighting Saints, USHL:
48 GP: 7 G, 25 A = 32 PTS
Andre Lee, Center/Left Wing (7th Round, 188th Overall)
33 GP: 8 G, 12 A = 20 PTS
NOTE – Jack Jablonski works for the Kings and is one of many contributors to LA Kings Insider during this time. Our organization understands the importance of LAKI to you and remain committed to evolving the platform and providing even more content once we resume usual operations.