Is the Los Angeles Kings’ rebuild over? The concept doesn’t have to be black and white, but re-signing pending UFA left winger Alex Iafallo rather than dealing him away on trade-deadline day sends a strong message. It appears GM Rob Blake is, at the very least, transitioning the franchise to phase 2 of its rebuild.
Iafallo, 27, signed a four-year extension Monday carrying a $4-million AAV.
He’s gradually risen up the Kings’ depth chart since being signed in 2017 as an undrafted college free agent out of the University of Minnesota-Duluth. With a stat line of 11-14-25 through 39 games, he’s tracking toward career highs in every major offensive category while playing more than 20 minutes a game as the Kings’ first-line left winger. What makes Iafallo special isn’t his standout ability in any one area but the fact he contributes in so many ways. He toils on the first power-play unit but plays almost two minutes per game on the penalty kill, too. He’s not a top-notch driver of play on offense, but he grades out as one of the better defensive wingers in the league in terms of suppressing scoring chances and makes a fine two-way linemate to play with two-time Selke Trophy winner Anze Kopitar.
So Iafallo should continue to be an effective and important member of the Kings. But don’t be surprised if, over the long term, he transitions from big-minutes first-liner to a valuable shutdown middle-six winger. It’s no secret the Kings’ group of prospect forwards is among the best in the NHL, from centers Quinton Byfield, Alex Turcotte and Rasmus Kupari to wingers Arthur Kaliyev, Akil Thomas and Samuel Fagemo. If you project even two thirds of that group to successfully transition to scoring-line duty in the NHL over the next couple seasons, and if we assume the Kings will continue becoming more competitive in the Western Conference playoff picture, the young guns will need veteran leaders to show them how to be pros and handle the harder defensive matchups. That’s a role Iafallo should be able to fill during these last few seasons of his prime. If a good number of L.A.’s prospects pan out and the team becomes a true Stanley Cup contender in the next two or three seasons, Iafallo projects as ideal third-line shutdown winger and veteran dressing-room presence. And in the short term? He’s a perfectly decent top-six forward to play major minutes on a team in transition.
The Kings have stayed extremely patient since Blake took over as GM in 2017, keeping every first-round pick and acquiring an extra one. In the past four drafts, the Kings selected 11 players in the first two rounds. They’ve sold off veterans such as Jake Muzzin and Tyler Toffoli to score additional picks and prospects. They’ve been as stingy as any team in the league with their free-agent spending. The progressive ranking of L.A.’s prospect group, according to our panel of active NHL scouts and executives, in The Hockey News Future Watch over the past five years: 30th, 26th, 26th, 13th, and third. They’ve built a critical mass of young players to the point they no longer have to sell off every veteran on deadline day for futures. Sunday night's Jeff Carter trade might go down as the last traditional "rebuilder" move of the Blake era. It’s time for the next stage of L.A.’s rise, and it will include Iafallo.