2023 Kings Seasons In Review – Fourth-Line Forwards

Our last joint evaluations article comes with four forwards who regularly played on the fourth line.

Typically, each of these individuals would merit their own article, but the timeline makes more sense to combine them here into one piece, before we get into individual evaluations beginning this weekend. This quartet – Jaret Anderson-Dolan, Carl Grundstrom, Arthur Kaliyev, Rasmus Kupari – each had ups and downs in their game and within their seasons. All four showed promise as they rose in the lineup at times. All four were also out of the lineup at times while healthy. Such can be life as a forward who plays lower in the lineup.

A look at some of the strengths and weaknesses of these forwards in their 2022-23 season in review.

Jaret Anderson-Dolan
LAK Statline – 46 games played, 7 goals, 5 assists, -11 rating, 2 penalty minutes
Playoff Statline – 4 games played, 0 goals, 0 assists, even rating, 0 penalty minutes
Possession Metrics (Relative To Kings) – CF% – 48.4% (-3.8%), SCF% – 47.1% (-5.9%), HDCF% – 52.3% (-0.4%)

Anderson-Dolan had perhaps the most difficult role of any player on the Kings.

He was the pinch hitter, as Todd McLellan referenced with the baseball analogy. Anderson-Dolan played just two of the first 17 games of the season, with stretches of seven and eight games as a healthy scratch on either side of two games played in October. He followed that with a long, extended stretch when he was in the lineup, playing a variety of roles, in the heart of the season. To close, he played just six of the team’s final 27 regular-season games, including a stretch of 11 straight games out of the lineup.

That’s three stretches of seven-plus games as a healthy scratch, with a short leash when entering the lineup. When he got a chance, he sometimes had just one or two opportunities to have a good night. Anderson-Dolan did play in four of the team’s six playoff games, however, and kept his lineup spot over others, as a result of the trusting nature in his game. He was rarely a highlight-reel guy, but his awareness, intangibles and hardworking nature lent itself to trust from the coaching staff. It’s a really tough role to play, but it’s a role that keeps a player in the NHL for a full season.

“It’s just kind of sticking with it, I think perseverance,” he said of his role. “It’s kind of an interesting situation and you want to be in the lineup, everyone does, you want to be out there with the guys competing. To be out from the beginning and then to come in and do pretty well and be out towards the end it’s frustrating at times, but you kind of take the positives. I felt like my game came a long way this year and I definitely learned a lot, on and off the ice. Just sticking with it and just learning a new level of work ethic you need to bring, that’s what I take from this year.”

The other side of the “pinch hitter” conversation is why is his role was that of the pinch hitter and not that of a lineup regular. Anderson-Dolan played 39 more NHL games this season compared to last season, so in that regard, you’ve got to consider the season a success for him. He did not, however, command a spot in the lineup every night until injuries hit, and he played 38 straight games in a three month stretch from November through February.

His individual production was almost identical to his 2020-21 season, which was his most complete NHL season to date. Anderson-Dolan’s high-danger chances, both from an individual and on-ice perspective, were at the highest rates of his career. His 3.42 goals against per/60 was also the highest rate amongst Kings regulars. Cherry-picked stats, and the fluctuation of role contributes, but probably a bit too high-event for what his identity is as a player.

Anderson-Dolan is a jack of all trades in a lot of ways, but he also hasn’t become a master of certain parts of his game in ways that say Rasmus Kupari did in certain areas. With a step forward in one area or another, whether that be offensive production, penalty killing, forechecking, faceoffs……whatever it may be, Anderson-Dolan could potentially cement his place as Kupari did. We’ll see how it shakes out.

2023-24 Status – For the second consecutive offseason, Anderson-Dolan is a restricted free agent.

His status is an interesting one, because in the role he’s been assigned, he’s a perfect fit. Capable of playing both center and wing, a hardworker, well-liked in the locker room and a trusting player to enter the lineup at a moment’s notice. It’s also not a stretch to say he wants more and could potentially find a larger role in the right situation. He’s still a valued player here in LA, evidenced by playing in four of the team’s six playoff games. A guy you root for, who you’d love to see carve out a permanent home with the Kings, if the situation fits.

Carl Grundstrom
LAK Statline – 57 games played, 12 goals, 7 assists, -4 rating, 16 penalty minutes
Playoff Statline – 6 games played, 0 goals, 1 assist, -3 rating, 4 penalty minutes
Possession Metrics (Relative To Kings) – CF% – 52.0% (-1.2%), SCF% – 53.1% (-0.7%), HDCF% – 56.8% (+2.5%)

Carl Grundstrom ranked sixth on the LA Kings in 5-on-5 goals scored this season. On a per/60 basis, Grundstrom ranked third on the Kings, trailing only Adrian Kempe and Gabe Vilardi.

I think the expectations for Grundstrom were relatively high, coming off of an impressive performance during the 2022 postseason. Grundstrom had three goals and four points from six games played, so 12 goals from 57 games, on the surface, isn’t all that staggering. When you look at his play, in relation to both the role he played and the comparison to his teammates, his numbers were actually quite solid.

Grundstrom ranked second on the Kings this season in individual high-danger chances per/60. He was also a top-three player in shot attempts per/60 among Kings regulars. In some ways, those numbers can be inflated due to lesser minutes, lesser competition and a variety of factors. The smaller the sample size, the larger the chance of seeing inflated metrics. In Grundstrom’s case, however, he did show growth this season. Grundstrom was a healthy scratch 21 times during the 2021-22 season, a number that dropped down to eight this past season, indicating he’s worked towards cementing a more regular role with the team.

At a reasonable cap hit, Grundstrom provided hard and heavy play, ranking second on the team in hits among players who finished the season with the team. Though hits is a very unreliable stat from arena to arena, Grundstrom’s totals placed in the NHL’s Top 30. Physicality, occasional penalty killing and strong per/60 offensive totals……not a bad combination for a player who typically played a fourth-line role.

2023-24 Status – Grundstrom is under contract for one more season with then Kings, at a cap hit of $1.3 million. As indicated, his time was typically spent on the fourth line, occasionally on the third, and he provided physicality along with a heavy, straight-line game, which isn’t exactly prevalent throughout the Kings lineup. With that in mind, he’s carved out a role for himself with this group moving forward, despite the presence of players coming up through the system.

Arthur Kaliyev
LAK Statline – 56 games played, 13 goals, 15 assists, -5 rating, 28 penalty minutes
Playoff Statline – 2 games played, 0 goals, 0 assists, -1 rating, 0 penalty minutes
Possession Metrics (Relative To Kings) – CF% – 53.1% (+0.4%), SCF% – 54.4% (+1.6%), HDCF% – 54.6% (-0.0%)

From a production standpoint, break Arthur Kaliyev’s season into two halves.

First Half – 9 Goals from 26 Games (0.35 goals-per-game, 28-goal pace over 82 games)

Second Half 4 Goals from 30 Games (0.13 goals-per-game, 11-goal pace over 82 games)

The bulk of that first-half production came on the man advantage, with seven of his nine first-half goals coming on the power play. Kaliyev was a huge factor on the power play as his unit was extremely effective over the first couple of months of the season, with Kaliyev the big shot on the other end of Viktor Arvidsson’s slick passes. That power-play unit was the more effective unit from October through December, before the top unit hit its stride around that point.

A bulk of Kaliyev’s second-half production came down to a foot injury that cost him the month of January heading into the All-Star break. While he had strong games in the second half, his game-to-game consistency wasn’t that of the first half of the season. Prior to his injury, Kaliyev logged fewer than 10 minutes in time on ice just three times. That total ballooned to 11 times after his injury.

Todd McLellan spoke about that disparity during his own Exit Interview –

“When I look at Arthur’s year, he had a real good start, we put him up on the top line for I think seven games straight, to see if he could produce there. They weren’t a real good seven games for our team, not just for Arthur and then he got hurt. Arthur is still a young player, not necessarily age wise, but in his development physically. It was the first time he’s ever dealt with an injury, so he had to overcome that, six weeks out. He came back and it was hard to get his footing again.”

Kaliyev’s season overall, for a 21-year-old player, was solid. Looking at the 2019 draft class, Kaliyev ranks eighth in goals scored, ninth in games played and tenth in points. Kaliyev was selected 33rd overall. He has certain gifts that others don’t and both he and the coaching staff need to the right find ways to use them effectively. Right out of the gate, Kaliyev was the victim to Gabe Vilardi’s breakout season, in that Vilardi took the third-line role initially targeted for Kaliyev. With much of the forward core still under contract, Kaliyev will need a breakout of his own to take a job for himself higher in the lineup than the fourth line.

2023-24 Status – Kaliyev has one season remaining on his entry-level contract, before he would be a restricted free agent for the first time in 2024.

Organizationally, Kaliyev is perhaps atop the list of players the Kings would like to see take a step forward this offseason. There’s 20+ goal potential in there next season, and more going forward, but Kaliyev hasn’t quite commanded that heavier role in the lineup through his first two seasons. He’s improved in numerous areas away from the puck, such as board play, and we know his shot is elite, but he still needs to earn that NHL level of trust to play more minutes. A player to watch, without a doubt, heading into camp in the fall.

Rasmus Kupari
NHL Statline – 66 games played, 3 goals, 12 assists, -5 rating, 12 penalty minutes
AHL Statline – 11 games played, 5 goals, 4 assists, +3 rating, 22 penalty minutes
Playoff Statline – 6 games played, 0 goals, 0 assists, -2 rating, 0 penalty minutes
Possession Metrics (Relative To Kings) – CF% – 49.2% (-4.0%), SCF% – 49.7% (-4.4%), HDCF% – 54.9% (-0.2%)

Rasmus Kupari actually summed up his own season pretty well.

“As the season went along, I got a little bigger role, played PK a little bit, maybe a little more of a defensive role. At the end of the year, I felt like I played better, I was more confident with the puck, I just couldn’t score a goal and I had a lot of chances in the last month or so. That’s definitely something I’ve got to work on this summer.”

Kupari took two major strides forward from 2021-22 to 2022-23. He became an established and important member of the penalty-killing unit and he improved greatly in the faceoff circle.

Now, the Kings penalty kill really was an area of concern this season, as has been well documented. On a team led by two-way forwards though, Kupari broke into the penalty-killing picture as a regular linemate of Phil Danault when skating 4-on-5. Among the Kings skaters who regularly killed penalties, who allowed the fewest goals per/60? Kupari, at 6.83.

The other area of growth for Kupari came in the faceoff circle. Kupari checked in at 42.6 percent during the 2021-22 season. That number improved to 54.6 percent this past season, trailing only Anze Kopitar among regular Kings centermen. His total ranked 31st of the 141 players in the NHL with at least 400 faceoffs taken. Kupari provided the Kings with a reliable, right-handed option in the dot. That, combined with his penalty-killing prowess, made him a player who was not taken out of the lineup down the stretch and in the playoffs, despite other regulars returning from injury.

Where Kupari fell short, by his own admission, was at the offensive end of the ice. Kupari scored just three goals in total. He went the final 17 games, between regular season and playoffs, without a point. He went the final 47 games of the season without scoring a goal, with his last tally coming on January 3 versus Dallas. Kupari’s expectations are higher than your typical fourth-line center because of his draft status. Fair or unfair, it’s the narrative surrounding him. What is his eventual ceiling at the NHL level? Kupari believes he has more offense in his game and with others coming up and pushing for spots in the lineup, there will be an onus on him to create and finish more offensively than he did this past season, while continuing to do other things well. To know what that ceiling is, we have to learn about his offensive upside. He has the tools to be more than a fourth-line center, should things fall into place, but he’ll need strides offensive in order to do that.

2023-24 Status – Kupari is perhaps the team’s second highest-profile restricted free agent this summer, behind Gabe Vilardi.

Kupari played the most games with the Kings of anyone on this list, but did start the season in the AHL. Kupari cemented his own role with the Kings upon his early-season recall, as he established himself as a penalty killer and improved his faceoffs to become a reliable option as the team’s lone right-handed centerman. He wasn’t relied upon to score goals, but a 40+ game drought won’t fly regardless of role. Kupari took strides this season, but will need to take additional steps to evolve from his role as the team’s 4C.

The individual evaluations will begin this weekend with a look at goaltender Pheonix Copley, the only goaltender who will get an individual article. The narrative surrounding Copley’s season was that of a savior capacity at times and he certainly provided stability for a team in need of it. We’ll die deeper into Copley’s campaign coming up next!

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