LOS ANGELES — After a breakout 2019-20 season, Los Angeles Kings Alex Iafallo and head coach Todd McLellan have higher expectations for the left wing in the fast approaching COVID-19-abbreviated 2020-21 National Hockey League season.
Indeed, after setting career highs in goals (17), assists (26) and points (43) last season, Iafallo has bigger skate boots to fill…
“I thought Alex had a tremendous season last year, especially the second half,” said McLellan. “If he can build on that part of his game—the offensive part—he’ll complement the two guys that he’s playing with.”
To illustrate, Iafallo was considerably more effective in the second half of the season, scoring 12 goals and adding 15 assists for 27 points, with a +4 plus/minus rating. That compares to first half numbers: five goals, eleven assists for 16 points with a -3 plus/minus rating—part of the improvement McLellan is talking about is consistency.
“[He just needs to keep working on his game],” McLellan noted. “I think more offense is going to come from him, and I think he understands how we want to do things now, so it can be a year-long process for him, not just the end of the season.”
Iafallo seems to be on the same page as his head coach, and he indicated that he is working on parts of his game that could help him to improve, especially in the offensive zone.
“I feel like this year, I need to shoot more, and keep getting better in the offensive zone, while staying consistent in all three zones,” he said. “I’m working on quick shots in the slot—being more offensive.”
“[I’m working on] simple things like shooting pucks after or before practice,” he added. “There’s a shooting room, too. I’ve been focusing on that, trying to get a quick release from anywhere in the [offensive] zone. I’m just working on that. Hopefully, it pays off.”
Indeed, Iafallo has been focusing on improving his offensive skills. But he also wants to continue to be effective defensively, and he pointed out how much playing with center Anze Kopitar, one of the best defensive forwards in the game, has helped him.
“[I’ve learned] a lot from him over the years,” said Iafallo. “He’s very consistent in all three zones. Just simple things like always coming back to the puck. He’s always communicating, and he’s always in the right spot, whether it’s breakouts or just defending. Little things in the defensive zone like that go a long way for myself and for a lot of players on the team.”
For his part, McLellan doesn’t worry about Iafallo’s defensive play and although he is looking for improvement in the offensive zone, that isn’t a concern, either.
“We trust him in every situation—power play, penalty-kill, five-on-five,” he noted. “He might not be the fancy guy. He might not be the top scoring winger in the league. But he’s certainly a trustworthy player who the coaches really appreciate, and his teammates really appreciate him, too. That goes a long way.”
One thing that isn’t going a long way is Iafallo’s contract, which expires after this season. If he is not signed to a contract extension, he would become an unrestricted free agent.
McLellan indicated that while Iafallo being in the final year of his contract isn’t a secret, it hasn’t been something that’s been a big concern, and he has not spoken to Iafallo about his situation.
“In Alex’s case, I don’t think that conversation is warranted right now,” he said. “I thought he was, perhaps, the best player on the ice today [January 2, 2021, the third day of their 2020-21 training camp], the way he managed himself, the way he skated. The business part of the game will take care of itself.”
“Ultimately, as a coach, you want a player like that to be rewarded handsomely because that means he had one heck of a year and we’re moving forward,” he added. “It’s our job to get him the best possible contract. That’s our job. That’s what he’ll do and that’s what we’ll do. The business side will take care of itself later on.”
LEAD PHOTO: Alex Iafallo, shown here during practice at the Toyota Sports Performance Center in El Segundo, California. Photo by Gann Matsuda/Frozen Royalty.
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