Continuing along here with the theme of Exit Interviews with three members of the team’s evolving secondary core, in Alex Iafallo, Adrian Kempe and Matt Roy.
All three players have become key pieces for this Kings team, with their successes helping to drive the bus and their failures highlighted due to heightened expectations and second contracts. More below from each of those three players in looking back on the 2021-22 season.
Alex Iafallo began the 2021-22 season as perhaps the brightest offensive performer on the Kings roster. Iafallo had 13 points (6-7-13) from the team’s first 13 games played, finding a nice home on the second line with Phillip Danault and Adrian Kempe.
From there, his production tailed off, though he continued to produce at a relatively strong pace even through the end of January, with his goal and assist numbers enough to put the winger on a career-best pace through the first four months of the season. Then the drought hit. Iafallo didn’t score from the start of February through the last day of March, when he found the back of the net in Calgary, a stretch of 23 games.
His overall stat line tied a career-high with 17 goals and looking at the course of a full season, his overall production was fine. In his own mind, though, he wants to see more consistency from a scoring standpoint over the course of a full 82 games.
“Yeah, I went through a drought and just mentally, I have to be stronger for sure,” he said. “It’s tough. It’s a long season and you have to prepare mentally. I’m just going to try this summer to shoot more pucks and get to those areas, just stay on it and stay on top of things.
To Iafallo’s credit, he didn’t duck the scoring slump at the time, nor did his Head Coach feel that he was slacking in other areas of the game. Todd McLellan talked about the other parts of Iafallo’s game remaining consistent even as the offensive production dried up. That’s not always the case with players expected to score and sometimes you can see those other areas lack.
For Iafallo, when the puck wasn’t going in, he tried to put his focus into those other areas of the game, making sure he wasn’t slacking across the board.
“Having a drought like that, you have to stay positive and try to work throughout the whole game, blocking shots, things like that, that’s what I was trying to focus on,” he said. “Next year, I’ve got to be better and stay on top of scoring throughout the whole year.”
One Step Forward, More Steps To Come
Iafallo had similar sentiments to the other leaders on the team when it came to assessing the season.
The Kings checked the box next to their first goal this season, which was to make the playoffs, but still left several boxes unchecked on the way to the ultimate prize, which is competing for and ultimately winning a Stanley Cup.
“Obviously you want to go further, our goal was to win a Stanley Cup, but our first goal was to make the playoffs, ever since the summer,” he said. “We had a few seasons that were not good enough and we wanted to take a step forward, get to the playoffs. For us, that’s a positive and for moving forward, that was our goal we wanted to hit, to get into the playoffs. We wanted to go further, but looking on it, it was good for all of us to get to that point moving forward.”
So where do the Kings go from here, in Iafallo’s mind?
It starts with scoring more goals. He touched on his own individual production above, knowing that he needs to score more consistently across 82 games. It’s not necessarily going to be his pace from the first two months of the season, which was more than 30 goals, but he knows he needs to be productive over the course of the season.
It’s not just on him though. As a team, the Kings went from 2.55 goals-per-game to 2.91 goals-per-game, good for 20th in the league and shy of the league average of 3.14. A goal for moving forward is……well, more goals. Putting the puck in the net more frequently and that goes across the board.
“I think we still need to keep working towards scoring more goals,” Iafallo added. “Definitely big pieces coming in helped us to make the playoffs and win important games, so the team has definitely gotten a lot better. This year, for sure, the team aspect, I feel that everybody was gelling, we had that feel throughout the whole year. To push forward, you need more resiliency and we’ve got to score more goals.”
Playing Through Injury
Lastly, Iafallo let the group know that he was dealing with a shoulder problem to close out the season, though nothing that requires any type of a procedure at this time.
General Manager Rob Blake shared that three players were fighting through separated shoulders during Round 1 versus Edmonton, though did not say outright that Iafallo was one in that count. Iafallo took a couple of maintenance days throughout the first-round series but did not miss any game action and contributed four points (1-3-4) from seven games played.
“Feeling alright, obviously playoffs is a time when you get banged up, but the trainers have been awesome taking care of everybody when you’re sore,” he said. “Just rest, the shoulder and stuff, but a few weeks off and it’ll be fine.”
From his comments, and those from Blake, nothing longer term for the versatile and important forward.
“Overall, a good year for myself and for the team. A lot of good things happened and they’re going to keep happening. We’re just going to get better from here.”
Adrian Kempe, 35-goal scorer.
The last time a Kings player scored more than 35 goals in a season was Ziggy Palffy in 2002-03. It’s been a while since a King has eclipsed 35 goals, making Kempe’s breakout campaign a very exciting one, and a very important one. Kempe transformed from a player with incredible talent and tools into a productive, team-leading goalscorer before our eyes. He didn’t necessarily develop anything new, but he put together everything he already had. And that was great to watch.
“The team, we had a really good season and it reflected on my season as well,” he added. “A lot of guys, Mooresy, Phill, had great, great seasons. This is what we need next year too, I’m going to need to be at the same level or better than I was this year, if we’re going to keep building on this and take the next step.”
The key now is repeating it. Kempe doesn’t want to be the Kings’ version of a one-hit wonder. He wants to run it back.
Similar to what Todd McLellan has been preaching since the season ended, Kempe knows that he’s got to raise the level next season. Whether that means he’ll score 35 goals again remains to be seen, but it’s the bar he’s set for himself and now he’s going to try and hit it.
“Same mindset that I had all year, going into games,” he added. “Just play my ass off and I expect myself to score. If I play with Kopi, I know I’m going to score. I don’t know if I’m going to score 35 again, but that’s my goal now and I know that I’m capable of doing it.”
Clicking With Kopi
During his exit interview last season, Kempe spoke about the challenges of playing with so many different players over the course of the season. Similar in some ways to Trevor Moore, Kempe didn’t find a home for an extended stretch, playing with just about everyone down the line throughout the course of 56 games.
Last season, he played more than 50 minutes of 5-on-5 play with nine different linemates, but more than 200 with zero. That changed this season, as he found a home with Kopitar. Kempe played more than 81 percent of his minute this season alongside Kopitar, with Iafallo on his line for 55 percent of minutes played. Kempe and Kopitar had a short run last season, but took it on for much longer here in 2021-22. The results for Kempe were evident.
“It was great, obviously he’s a hell of a player, all three zones, all over the ice,” Kempe said. “It was nice to kind of start playing with him consistently, it builds chemistry and confidence, when you stick around with the same linemate for pretty much the whole year. It definitely helped and you play better overall because you know you have each other, you know where Kopi is when I have the puck and don’t have the puck. It was a good feeling.”
There’s both factors in play that he mentioned – the player and the consistency.
Naturally, Kopitar is the team’s leading scorer and you want to play with that player, because it means offensive opportunities and first-line minutes. Kempe got both and excelled with both. There’s also the consistency of knowing who you’re going to be playing with, night in and night out. That wasn’t something Kempe had the luxury of last season, but getting it here this season was very helpful for his progress.
“The last couple of seasons have been hard, because I’ve been bouncing around on different lines, different positions, and it’s hard,” he said. “You’re trying to think about how you want to play and then you get put on another line and you want to play different, because you’re with certain players. I played with Kopi all year and it just builds chemistry and confidence.”
Lastly, we have Kempe’s shortest quote of the availability, but perhaps his most important regarding the future.
“Yes, I would.”
The question asked was about Kempe’s status as a restricted free agent this summer, asking him if he would like to sign a long-term contract with the Kings. Kempe is one year away from unrestricted free agency, giving the Kings this summer as a window to work out a longer-term team while still under team control.
Rob Blake added in his own session that the Kings and Kempe’s representatives had initiated preliminary discussions during the season, but mutually agreed to move those negotiations into the offseason. We’ll see how it shakes out, but appears to be good signs across the board.
Per Todd McLellan’s comments in yesterday’s article, Matt Roy is one of those players beyond the Key 3 who is starting to develop his place, and his voice, within the organization. Never the loudest guy in the room, or the most vocally opinionated, Roy typically offers a steady, level-headed approach to the game, with his comments on the season as a whole matching that identity.
“I thought we had a slow start to the season but I think we recovered really nicely and obviously making the playoffs was huge for us,” he said. “I think that’s going to give us confidence headed into next year.”
The confidence and experience gained has been brought up by just about everyone. Whether it be about the importance of acquiring it, or whether it be about how it’s only important to acquire it if you properly use it, it’s been a focal point.
As a group, this Kings squad had never played in a Game 7 until Saturday in Edmonton. Players like Roy, who were making their respective playoff debuts, had never experienced the intensity that comes along with that level of game. It was important to experience that moment and see what it takes.
“I think the playoffs, that experience was awesome,” Roy said. “I think that everyone on our team needed it. Playing in that Game 7, the atmosphere, the intensity of the game, we haven’t had that yet and I think as a young group, we needed that. It’s going to help us next year.”
Stick To The System
Roy was not immune from the rash of injuries that hit the Kings in early-March.
As one of the team’s six defensemen on opening night, naturally he was one of those out of the lineup when the Kings had to play without all six of their defensemen from that game. Roy appeared in 67 games in total as one of 13 defensemen to suit up for the Kings this season. An injury on March 12 in San Jose cost him the next 12 games. What it gave the Kings was the chance to see how other, younger defensemen fared in key moments. From afar, Roy saw and enjoyed that impact made.
“Yeah, I mean obviously we had a lot of young guys come in and they stepped up and made a huge impact for us,” he said. “That was great to see. Moving forward, I don’t know, a lot of young guys proved themselves and we’ll have to wait and see. Either way, it’s exciting.”
Similar to some of the things that Drew Doughty said on Monday, Roy believed that the system the team has in place was a big reason as to why the Kings were able to overcome the injuries the way that they did.
The team has built its structure and its identity, with everyone buying in regardless of who it is. That helped the Kings to maintain some form of continuity when faced with adversity in season.
“I think our systems are our bread and butter and I think that everyone understands that,” he said. “No matter who was in the lineup, we had to play those well in order to win. I thought the staff did a good job of hammering that into us and everyone that came in seemed to be ready to go.”
Full 82 Games
It’s hard to think of Roy as a player who had yet to go through a full season in his career, but the 2021-22 campaign was his first full go around the league.
He made his NHL debut in the second half of the 2018-19 season, saw the 2019-20 season cut short due to COVID, and last season only had 56 games scheduled. How did this season compare? Harder in some ways, easier in others.
“It was good, that shortened season kind of felt long, because the games were one day after another and you never really felt like you had a break,” Roy said. “This year, the games were more spread out, even though we had more of them. I think that helped. The body is tired, but in the playoffs, you’re not tired in the game and you’re giving it all you’ve got.”
Alright Insiders, you know what’s coming next. The man himself, Dustin Brown. Exit Interview to follow, along with the final thoughts from his teammates as one of their leaders officially hangs up his skates.