It was a whirlwind Thursday for defenseman Tobias Bjornfot and forward Alex Turcotte.
Both players were coming off a back-to-back set in Colorado with the AHL’s Ontario Reign, as the Kings’ top minor-league affiliate earned a split on the road, in a difficult place to win. After games on Tuesday and Wednesday, both players were on their regularly scheduled flight back to Los Angeles, though their plans quickly changed. Both players learned upon landing they’d be on their way to the NHL, joining the Kings that evening at Crypto.com Arena and on their upcoming six-game roadtrip to the East Coast.
Neither player played last night for the Kings, which would have been three games in three nights, though Turcotte did take the pre-game warmup. Both will now look for a potential opportunity coming up on a six-game trip that starts with three games in four nights, beginning tomorrow evening in Nashville. Kings Head Coach Todd McLellan spoke about both players and their potential opportunities yesterday.
McLellan on Bjornfot
When Toby gets the chance, he’s got some experience here, he’s a left-handed shot and he’s got to give us some real good minutes at both ends of the rink. He’s been able to do that in the American League and we expect that here.
McLellan on Turcotte
He’s been doing a good job. Every time Turc gets a little bit of traction and gets going, something happens with injury. There’s nobody to blame, you can’t blame Turc, you can’t blame anybody, it happens. The big thing for him, individually, is to get traction, get a bunch of games under your belt, feel good. You won’t be perfect every night but start to feel good about your game and apply it night after night after night.
Turcotte and Bjornfot are connected by the common trait of being selected in the first round together during the 2019 NHL Draft. The duo joins Samuel Fagemo, Arthur Kaliyev and Jordan Spence as players selected from that class to be on the Kings active roster this season. The Kings are the league’s only organization to have five players from the 2019 draft class play in multiple NHL games.
Though they share a common bond of background, both are different players, with different skillsets, who are capable of different forms of contribution. Bjornfot is a two-way defenseman who is at his best when he’s active and aggressive with his legs, while Turcotte is a versatile forward, capable of playing both at center and on the wing, with an active and energetic style of play when he’s at his best.
Starting with Bjornfot, he’s been deployed typically as a first-pairing defenseman at the AHL level, skating on a pairing with Spence that is used to defend the opposition’s best players on most nights.
“When we’re both on our game and feeling good, I think we can be one of the best pairs in the AHL,” Bjornfot said of his AHL assignment. “Some nights it’s about consistency and we both have to be at our best to do it.”
McLellan has complimented Bjornfot’s skating ability, both offensively and defensively, when he’s playing his best hockey. When the Swede is on his game, he’s using that ability assertively, both to defend and to attack. In his time with Ontario this season, he’s been used a lot on special teams, including some power-play time as of late, as he did when he was last in the AHL for an extended stretch back in the 2019-20 season.
As his comfort level and confidence rises, so does his performance and output.
“I’m feeling pretty good in the d-zone and I’m trying to get more involved in the offensive side of the game,” he said. “I’ve gotten to play a little bit on the power play and I’m feeling more comfortable with the puck, more confident.”
As a left-shot defensemen, Bjornfot has the potential to provide something the Kings don’t have, which is a lefty-righty mix, though it’s not a given that the team will simply pursue that route just to do it. With three games in four nights, however, and the Kings not always looking to use Alex Edler in every game during those situations, Bjornfot will need to be ready for when his opportunity potentially comes.
On Turcotte, this is his first NHL recall of the season. Turcotte got into eight games a season ago with the Kings, as he came up right after the holiday break to center the team’s second line in the absence of Phillip Danault, who was in COVID protocol at the time. Though he’s fought through a couple of setbacks this season, and he’s currently sporting a few stitches after his lip hit a stanchion in Colorado, Turcotte is healthy and back with the big club, looking to make an impact.
The Illinois native has been strong at the AHL level as of late, with Ontario Head Coach Marco Sturm complementing his game a couple of times after recent performances. Even if it’s not all he’ll be counted upon for with the big club, Turcotte’s production has been good as well, with three goals and six points over his last five games. He spoke today about making more plays when carrying the puck on his stick and feeling more comfortable and confident in doing so.
“I would say probably just carrying the puck and being comfortable with the puck on your stick a lot,” he said, when asked where his game has taken a step forward. “We try to make plays all the time, not just throwing it away, playing with confidence and trying to be comfortable with making plays. I think that’s something I’ve focused on and I think I’ve seen some pretty good results in the games lately.”
An element that Turcotte brings that could help him when entering a lineup is his versatility.
Though he developed almost exclusively as a center, Turcotte has played a decent amount on the wing this season with the Reign. With two-time AHL MVP T.J. Tynan at the top of the lineup, as well as Quinton Byfield and Rasmus Kupari at various times this season, minutes were sometimes easier to come by on the wing for others, including Turcotte. Though he certainly has more experience playing at center, he was grateful for how much he’s played on the wing because it could open new doors for him at the NHL level.
“Yeah, it’s definitely good to be versatile and be able to help the team in different ways,” he said. “That’s why I’m pretty grateful for playing wing down there, I was playing wing with QB for a good amount of games, so it was nice to learn that part and add that to my game. If they need me here on the wing, I’ll be ready whenever that is.”
As he returns to the NHL, Turcotte spoke candidly about enjoying his hockey right now, after missing as much time as he has over the last couple of seasons. There’s something to be said there, for a highly-regarded prospect, who will now try his best to take what he’s done and learned at the AHL level and translate it to the Kings.
“I think I’ve just been having fun with the game,” he said. “I missed a lot of time the last couple of years, so I’m just trying to enjoy it, have fun and have a good attitude. I’m just having a lot of fun and I think when you’re enjoying what you’re doing it oyou’re going to have better results.”
A very short practice today, Insiders. Gabe Vilardi was on the ice with the main group after he missed last night’s game with an undisclosed injury. Good signs there. Vilardi appeared to be reunited with his regular linemates – Blake Lizotte and Kevin Fiala – after the Kings opted to bump Fiala up into the top six last night against Dallas. Quinton Byfield was back in his spot with Anze Kopitar and Adrian Kempe. More to follow tomorrow morning from Nashville, as we see how things shake out.