Happy Sunday, Insiders!
An organizational off day – The Kings are taking a day to prepare for an upcoming road trip that will begin in Minnesota and continue on the East Coast, while the Reign are enjoying a day off prior to a Presidents’ Day matchup in Coachella Valley on Monday. So, we’re taking the chance to circle back on a busy week for the organization.
Wednesday’s State of the Franchise event featured multiple members of the Kings front office speaking on a variety of topics, including Assistant General Manager Nelson Emerson. Emerson’s discussion was primarily focused on a number of the team’s prospects, who he said “we hope will be donning Kings jerseys here in the next couple of years”.
While many of LA’s top young players are with AHL-Ontario, others are elsewhere, including the NCAA, junior hockey or playing professionally overseas.
Emerson started by discussing the Ontario Reign in the AHL and made it a point to let fans know he and the team’s staff are constantly looking at analytics and stats for their players at all levels. One of his highlights for the Reign was that the team is the fourth youngest in the AHL with an average of 24 years old.
“I think what that means is we’re putting some of our young players in really important situations,” Emerson said. “The neat thing about that is the team is having a pretty good year. They’re challenging for home ice for the playoffs and we’ve got good young players playing important roles.”
He also mentioned that Ontario is allowing a lot of shots and pressure from opposing teams in their own end.
“We look at that every day and try to figure out why that’s happening,” Emerson said. “Maybe it’s as simple as we are young and that’s what happens. Maybe our forwards want to score too much and aren’t thinking about the other end. Maybe our defense is not being hard enough to play against, but that is a stat that’s of interest to us.”
Finally, Emerson mentioned that Reign goaltenders, comprised of Cal Petersen, Matt Villalta and Pheonix Copley prior to his NHL recall, have one of the league’s best combined save percentages that ranks in the top five among all teams in the AHL.
“We have to look at that,” he added. “That’s Pheonix Copley when he was down there earlier, that’s Matty Villalta, who’s been a player there for a couple of years now being a little older and more mature, but it’s also Cal Petersen going down there and playing the right way, doing what he needs to do. We look at those stats and they mean something, and we dive into it every day.”
Emerson went on to identify individuals who fans should expect to see with the Kings in short order. Below is an overview of the players Emerson showcased and his comments on each.
The Kings’ first round selection in 2019 has spent the majority of his season with Ontario but enjoyed a call-up opportunity last month from January 19-30, where he saw action in four NHL games. Emerson noted that Turcotte played well in those contests and that he’s noticeable because the puck always follows him around the ice.
“He goes to places and the puck seems to come to him,” Emerson said. “In the American League, he’s number one on our team and number four in the AHL in expected goals and that’s because he works hard, he’s a tenacious player and the puck follows him around.”
Turcotte has 14 points (6-8-14) in 24 AHL contests this season, but has missed the Reign’s last two games with a lower-body injury he suffered Wednesday night. His status is currently week-to-week. Once recovered, Turcotte will continue logging big minutes at the center position in Ontario and could be called upon by the Kings if another opportunity arises.
Fagemo has continued his development this season in a role primarily focused on Ontario. But, like Turcotte, he has also gotten chances with the Kings, playing in nine games at the highest level where he has three points (2-1-3) including his first two NHL goals.
In 33 games for the Reign, Fagemo is second on the team with 16 goals and has totaled 22 points overall (16-6-22). He added two power-play goals to his season total on Friday and is just one shy of the nine PPG he totaled last season.
“Sammy scores goals,” Emerson said. “If Sammy’s going to play 50 games in the American League, he’ll score 25 goals. But what Sammy needs to do and what he is good at, is he works, he competes, he gets his stick on pucks.”
Emerson compared the young attacker’s shoot-first mentality to that of Kings forward Viktor Arvidsson.
“He’s kind of like if you watch Arvidsson up here with us. When Sammy’s playing his game, that’s when he’s at his best and he needs to realize once he becomes an NHLer, that’s more important probably than scoring those goals. You can’t just come to the NHL and think you’re going score, it’s all these other little things that you have to do and he can do them. He did them at the World Junior tournament when he was elite and led the tournament in scoring, he’s done it in the AHL when he’s successful and he’ll need to do that here when he comes up with us.”
Since returning from a call-up during the same time frame as Turcotte in late January, Fagemo has gotten right back on track, scoring goals in five of his last eight AHL games. He also had two straight nights of success in shootouts, scoring to win games for Ontario on back-to-back nights last weekend.
Spence is also right on the cusp of the NHL with the Reign, playing big minutes each night and leading the way at both ends of the ice for Marco Sturm’s team. Combined with Tobias Bjornfot, Spence has been a top-pair defender and has continued his all-around growth in his second pro year.
Emerson took a page out of Todd McLellan’s book when discussing Spence’s play and likening it to maintaining a bank account.
“Jordan Spence last year and this year, it’s like, every game he plays, every weekend series he plays, he’s putting money in his ATM. He’s adding equity to his game.”
Spence was thrust into a role with the Kings last spring as they chased a playoff spot, appearing in 24 games down the stretch and three more in the postseason against Edmonton. This year as the team’s defensive corps has stayed much healthier, he’s only been needed for three games in the NHL.
“It’s okay that he’s in the AHL,” Emerson said. “No player, as a young player that plays in the American League, gets worse. It’s only going to benefit him and he’s been good last year, he’s been good this year, and eventually he’s going to fill that ATM so much that we’re going to bring him up here to the Kings and it’ll be his time. But for now, he’s down there putting money in his in his bank machine.”
Spence is up to 35 points with Ontario in 42 games (3-32-35), seven shy of where he finished a year ago with 42 points in 46 games. Both his point and assist totals are third-most among AHL defenders and his 134 shots on goal are second highest. 18 of his helpers have come on the power play, which are second among active players behind his teammate on the first unit, TJ Tynan, who leads the league with 26.
Laferriere was on display earlier this month with Harvard in the annual Beanpot tournament. The junior picked up two assists in the Crimson’s opening round win over Boston College, including an impressive primary helper on an overtime rush that resulted in a game-winning goal. The Chatham, N.J. native also had three shots on goal in the championship game of the event Monday night.
“This kid, we like him,” Emerson said. “We talked to him last year after his sophomore year, we’ll talk to him again after his junior year. He skates, he’s big, he’s good on the walls, he plays in hard areas, and he scores goals.”
Laferriere was selected by the Kings in the third round of the 2020 NHL Draft and has already surpassed his scoring total from last season when he posted 31 points in 35 games (14-17-31). This year he has almost identical numbers in just 26 games, already with 14 goals and 18 assists. Five of his goals have come on the power play and he’s taken just four minor penalties. Laferriere’s 32 points rank 24th nationally, while his 1.23 points per game is in the top-15 among all Division I skaters.
“We’ve really liked him ever since we drafted him and he’s got about four or five weeks left in his college season. Hopefully they have a good playoff run, and then we’ll talk to him again, but an exciting player for us.”
In his third season of junior hockey in the OHL with the Kitchener Rangers, Pinelli is having his best year yet. Through 44 games, the attacker has already hit the 70-point mark with 32 goals and 39 assists.
“He needed to have the year he’s having this year,” Emerson said. “Last year wasn’t so good, but this year has been excellent. He’s probably going to score near 40 goals. He’s going to get 80 or 90 points, but the biggest thing that he’s done is he’s become a leader on that hockey club. He’s a captain, and he’s doing things the right way. He’s sticking up for teammates, he’s playing hard, and he’s actually gotten into a few fights too.”
Pinelli has gotten familiar with the Kings organization since he was drafted during the second round in 2021, appearing at both development camp and the Rookie Faceoff each of the last two years. And based on Emerson’s comments and excitement, it seems like he’s just about ready for the pro game.
“The year he’s having will really help him when he turns pro, which is going to be soon in a couple of weeks.”
Fans have been hearing about how special a player Clarke is ever since he was selected eighth overall by the Kings in 2021 and we got to see him up close at the start of the year when he played nine contests in a Kings sweater.
Emerson did nothing to put a damper on that excitement.
“This kid is the real deal – he’s fun to watch, he really is. He’s in the right place in the OHL. That’s where he needs to be. It’s okay, and it’s awesome that we could put him there. But he’ll be here soon enough.”
Since rejoining the Barrie Colts six weeks ago after the World Junior Championships ended, Clarke’s numbers have been something you’d see in a video game. 29 points in just 17 appearances on 10 goals and 19 assists and a +17 rating have Barrie racking up wins (7-1-2 in their last 10) and challenging for the top of their division.
What Emerson really wanted to highlight when it came to Clarke was his performance for Canada at the World Juniors. The blueliner made the most of his opportunity on the world stage.
“If you watched the World Juniors, that’s this kid. He was a little sleepy for the first part of that tournament, but then when the games became meaningful, his game came to life. In the gold-medal game against the Czechs, he wanted to be on the ice. He made a great play to steal the puck in overtime, send a guy in alone and they win a gold medal. He’s a little bit like Drew Doughty in that he wants to be out there, he wants the spotlight, and his team’s got about five or six weeks left in the season, then they’ll play playoffs, and then it’ll be time for him to come to our organization.”