Successful college free-agent signings key for Kings

It has been well documented over the last two years about how many strides the Kings have made at the NHL Draft to build their prospect pool up to one of the best, if not the best in the NHL. The most recent example of this is their NHL-high (for the second consecutive year) nine players going to the IIHF World Junior Championship beginning on Christmas Day (last year the Kings led the league with nine players in attendance).

What hasn’t been discussed enough is the impact the Kings have also made in the college free agent market. That has helped shape their future almost as much as the success they have had drafting star talent, because while those draftees have continued to develop largely at the junior, collegiate or European levels, college free agents have been able to step in on both the Kings and Reign rosters.

The success began in April of 2017 with the signing of undrafted winger Alex Iafallo, who had just finished helping the University of Minnesota-Duluth to three consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, including his senior year, where he led them all the way to the championship game before falling the University of Denver. He had his best statistical season during his senior year, posting 51 points (21-30=51), which was tied for 12th in the nation.

He signed a contract with the Kings and started the next season immediately at the NHL level. He has not looked back since then, becoming a mainstay on the Kings top line, appearing in 227 games and amassing 101 points (41-60=101) over his three seasons in the NHL. In fact, this past season, Iafallo ranked second on the Kings in points (43), tied for second in goals (17) and third in assists (26).

Another notable Kings college free agent signing occurred before Iafallo made his debut when they nabbed Cal Petersen as soon as he became available on July 1, 2017. Originally a fifth-round pick by the Buffalo Sabres in 2013, Petersen became a free agent following his junior year when he chose not to sign with the Sabres.

LAS VEGAS, NV – MARCH 01: Los Angeles Kings goaltender Calvin Petersen (40) looks on during the second period of a regular season game against the Vegas Golden Knights Sunday, March 1, 2020, in Las Vegas. (Marc Sanchez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

During his junior season alone, he was named captain of Notre Dame’s team, becoming the first goalie to be named captain in Notre Dame history. He went on to post a 23-12-5 record with a .926 SV%, 2.22 GAA and six shutouts in 40 games with the Irish. Petersen was named to the Hockey East First All-Star Team and ranked first in the nation in minutes played (2,375), tied for first in shutouts, tied for fifth in wins and 11th in save percentage. He led the Fighting Irish to the Frozen Four before, like Iafallo and Minnesota-Duluth, falling to the eventual National Champion Denver Pioneers in the semi-finals and ended his NCAA career starting 90 consecutive games.

The decorated Fighting Irish goaltender, who prior to his signing was part of the U.S. roster at the 2017 IIHF Men’s World Championship, has made an immediate impact in the Kings organization. Once at the professional level, he has played most of his career with Ontario (AHL), where he has amassed 53 wins over his three seasons there and been named to the AHL All-Star game twice (2017-18 and 2019-20). He is expected to start next season in the NHL and continue the success he has had at the professional level.

Juan Ocampo/NHLI via Getty Images

The next player to come into the fold with the Kings was defenseman Sean Walker, out of General Manager Rob Blake and Director of Player Personnel Nelson Emerson’s alma matter, Bowling Green. Walker has had to earn everything on his way up to where he is now. He was a starter immediately with the Falcons and was a consistent from day 1. He registered double-digit points every season, including topping out with a career-high 24 points his senior year. A captain his final two years, he nearly helped bring the Falcons to the NCAA tournament in 2017 but lost in double overtime of the WCHA Championship game to a Michigan Tech program that featured a future Kings teammate in Matt Roy.

Following his signing on an AHL contract, Walker played a full season with Ontario where he helped the Reign earn an AHL playoff bid in 2018. He then earned an NHL deal in the summer of 2018 and made his NHL debut the following season on Oct. 23, 2018 in Dallas, where he also earned his first NHL point (assist). He split the 2018-19 season between Ontario and Los Angeles before becoming a mainstay on the Kings’ backend last season. This offseason, he earned himself a four-year, $10.6 million contract and looks to be an integral piece on the Kings blueline for years to come.

The final, and most recent, college free agent making an impact for the Kings right now is Blake Lizotte. The energetic forward was highly sought after following his 2018-19 college season ended abruptly with St. Cloud State. He helped the Huskies to the top overall seed both seasons with St. Cloud, ultimately losing in the Regional Semi-Final in both years. The Kings scooped him up immediately following the conclusion of the NCAA campaign, and he made his NHL debut with Los Angeles in the team’s final game of the season against Vegas. His first full season in the NHL proved that he was the sparkplug the organization hoped he would be as he tallied 23 points (6-17=23) in 65 games and was voted the Most Popular Player on the team as voted by the Kings Booster Club. He also led all NHL rookies in shorthanded goals (2) and finished the season ranked eighth among NHL rookies in assists and tied for ninth in games played.

Overall, the Kings totaled 213 games played from college free agents last season, and they combined for 90 points (28-62=90), eight power-play goals and two shorthanded goals while Petersen, in goal, won five of his eight appearances while posting a .922 SV% and 2.64 GAA.

With the success from signing these players, along with how well the Kings have drafted, it shows how truly bright the future of this team is. Being able to build an organization from the top down takes time, and the Kings front office has shown the ability to remain patient, and strike when they see the opportunity to improve.

Photo by Juan Ocampo/NHLI via Getty Images

NOTE – Eddie Fischermann works for the Kings and is currently one of many contributors to LA Kings Insider. Our organization understands the importance of LAKI to you and we remain committed to evolving the platform and providing exciting new content once we resume our usual operations.

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