EL SEGUNDO, CA — Since they signed him as an unrestricted free agent on April 18, 2017, the Los Angeles Kings have been talking up Alex Iafallo, a prospect who could help them in the skill and speed departments.
The 23-year-old, 6-0 (he is closer to 5-10 or 5-11), 185-pound native of Eden, New York, played four seasons with the University of Minnesota, Duluth, leading them to the NCAA’s Frozen Four last season, where the Bulldogs lost in the championship game to Denver University, 3-2, on April 8.
Kings assistant general manager Michael Futa noted that Iafallo was among a select few that the Kings had targeted among college prospects.
“[General manager] Rob Blake has talked about, with the lack of first round picks [in recent years prior to the 2017 draft], some of the holes in the draft that we’ve had,” he said. “You can say that you want to get faster and more skilled, but that’s not easy to do when you haven’t had the picks. Our [amateur scouting] crew really invested themselves in, not a great amount of kids, but a very finite number of kids who we wanted to target in college and free agency. Iafallo was one of the few, and we were really, really fortunate to get him.”
“He’s a special kid, and since he signed with us, we’ve felt he was a kid who gives us another swing in the skill and speed area,” he added. “He had a great college career, and he presented himself so well to [Director of Amateur Scouting] Mark Yanetti, [amateur scout] Tony Gasperini and [amateur scout] Teddy Belisle throughout [last season]. They were all over us about this being a guy who we had to go after.”
As an undrafted college player, Iafallo could choose among his suitors. But he chose the Kings pretty quickly.
“He was strictly an undrafted kid who had an incredible college career,” Futa observed. “He gave himself the opportunity to pick his landing spot. Our crew did an incredible job of just being honest with him about, not only what we do, development-wise, but also the opportunity that’s here for him, with his speed and skill.”
“He clearly bought into what we were selling with regards to opportunity and development,” Futa added. “He’s had an amazing summer, and every chance our development group has had to spend time with him, he’s just continued to impress.”
Speaking of opportunity and development, Iafallo jumped at the available chances to improve during the off-season by not only participating in the Kings annual development camp and now, their 2017 Rookie Camp, but he was also among a group of young players who worked with the team’s development staff a couple of weeks ago at their practice facility, the Toyota Sports Center in El Segundo, California.
“I came here and trained for two weeks at the end of August,” he said. “I was able to get used to some of the guys a little, so that was nice. It’s definitely a different style of play from college.”
As alluded to earlier, the Kings’ 2017 Rookie Camp is currently underway.
“It’s been great, so far, just trying to get better every day, trying to get used to the Kings systems,” said Iafallo. “I’ve been watching a lot of video, going over simple things. I’m really just trying to get used to everything, but it’s been a great couple of days.”
It didn’t take long for Iafallo to realize that he wasn’t playing college hockey anymore.
“You’re up against stronger guys,” he noted. “You have to make every play count and try not to make too many mistakes. You have to be prepared for every practice, too. I’m just trying to be prepared, mentally, and just keep playing my game. I want to make sure that I fit into the system.”
“It’s just trying to get used to the systems,” he added. “Every team runs things differently. In college, I was [playing center], so I’m trying to get used to [playing on the wing in camp].”
“Hockey is hockey, so it’s not that much different [from college]. But we’ve gone over a lot of breakouts and defensive zone play [where there are some differences]. It’s very similar, but at this level, you’ve got to execute and make sure you’re communicating with all of your teammates. That’s huge, and that’s something the Kings are looking for.”
As reported earlier, Iafallo has speed and skill. But there’s more to his skating than speed, and Futa also pointed to Iafallo’s shot as being special.
“He’s a great skater, and he’s got a very wide-based, athletic stride, so he’s kind of hard to move off the puck,” said Futa. “Then there’s the way the puck comes off his stick. We can analyze all we want about what we think we’re seeing, but when one of the best goaltenders in the world tells you what he thinks? [Jonathan Quick] just reiterated that Iafallo’s got something special when that puck comes off his stick, whether it’s a little fake he has before he releases it—he’s got a special release. He seems to know where the puck is heading, and that’s a pretty nice knack to have.”
“Quickie had been on the ice for a couple of sessions with these kids,” added Futa. “In the past, I’ve asked him about the difference when a guy like [right wing Tyler] Toffoli shoots the puck, and he went out of his way to talk about the heaviness of a [center Jonny] Brodzinski shot, and the deception and accuracy of Iafallo’s shot. I thought that was pretty unique, coming from one of the best.”
Despite that, Iafallo pointed to his shot as something he needs to work on.
“I need to work on a quicker release, whether I’m in stride or getting the puck as a trigger guy up top,” he said. “I also have to make sure that I’m finding those soft areas where I can score goals. My job is to score goals, so I have to find those areas and put’em in.”
When asked what the most important part of his game that he needs to improve upon is, Iafallo quickly pointed to physical strength.
“I need to work on my strength,” he emphasized. “I’m light, but I’m pretty fast, so I’m going to bring [speed] to the Kings. My shot is good and accurate, and I’m definitely a playmaker, too.”
“I’ve got to get stronger, but at the same time, my speed helps,” he added. “I can beat a defenseman wide or use it to my advantage in the corners to maintain possession and make plays.”
Even though it is rather common for young players to have to work on building their strength, Futa was surprised to hear that Iafallo pointed to getting stronger as a
“That’s a unique answer for me, and I appreciate his honestly,” said Futa. “But it’s funny because when you’re thinking about the [prospects from major junior hockey in Canada], they’re 18 or 19m [strength is often an issue]. But the college kids, the U.S. program has put such an emphasis on fitness training and the weight room—strength that you’d think, for the college kids, that wouldn’t [be as much of an issue].”
“I think that’s great,” added Futa. “Anybody can get stronger, but that’s a real, honest answer. Maybe the fact that he’s now getting stronger, or his body is maturing later—it’s a credit to him that he’s identified that.”
Futa declined to comment on where the Kings expect Iafallo to play in the 2017-18 season. But it seems highly unlikely that he would make the big club’s roster straight out of college. As such, barring unforeseen circumstances, Iafallo is probably destined to play in the American Hockey League with the Ontario Reign, where he could break into the top six forwards.
“It’s a good story to start,” Futa noted. “There’s plenty of work left to be done, but this is his first NHL camp. We expect him, as an older player, to stand out. We see the speed and the skill, and we haven’t even played a game yet.”
“We don’t want to get too crazy, but it’s really been nice to watch how hard we works, how serious he is, and what an attentive student he’s been with our development guys,” added Futa. “He brings a big smile every day, he has an incredible work ethic, and he also brings a skill set and speed that we’re lacking, so he’s an interesting candidate to move forward with.”
“It’s early in the process, but everything’s just been so encouraging, especially regarding his work ethic and his attitude, in general. We’re excited to see how he moves forward.”
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings forward prospect Alex Iafallo (foreground center). Photo: Gann Matsuda/FrozenRoyalty.net.
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