LOS ANGELES — Back in June 2019, the Los Angeles Kings selected a sniper, a pure goal scorer, in the second round of the 2019 National Hockey League Draft.
That sniper was 6-2, 194-pound right wing Arthur Kaliyev, now 19 years old, who was selected in the second round, 33rd overall. The Kings were pretty lucky to get him, too—he was projected to be a top-20 first-round pick.
Just prior to the 2019 draft, Kings Director of Amateur Scouting Mark Yanetti described Kaliyev as a player with elite offensive skills, most notably, his shot.
“He’s a shooting machine, a scoring machine,” he said. “The puck comes off his stick extraordinarily fast. It gets on goalies quickly. He finds space. He has a shooter’s mindset, a scorer’s mindset. He doesn’t just love to score. He competes to score.”
But like virtually every draft pick, Kaliyev had aspects of his game that needed work.
“He has some consistency issues, in terms of his compete level,” said Yanetti. “His biggest issue would be the discrepancy between his good and bad games. But he’s 6-2, and still growing, and his numbers speak for themselves. He has high-level skill.”
About 1 1/2 years later, Kaliyev has a successful, but COVID-19-abbreviated 2019-20 season behind him, not to mention that he was one of the biggest stars for the Gold Medal-winning Team USA at the 2021 World Junior Championships, which concluded on January 5.
Head coach Todd McLellan watched the Kings prospects who played in the tournament, and in Kaliyev, he saw a much-improved player.
“I [saw] a better skater during the World Junior [Championships], if I compare last year to this year,” he said. “I see [a player who is] stronger and [more fit], physically. The shot, the ability to shoot, the ability to score, is his calling card, and that continues to be good.”
“I thought, as the World Junior tournament [went on], he got better,” he added. “He created opportunities for his teammates off the forecheck, knocking people off the puck, protecting it. His work away from the puck has improved, He understands the importance of that.”
Kaliyev is now in the Kings training camp, and after going through quarantine (part of their COVID-19 protocols), he is getting a thorough look in practice by the Kings’ hockey operations staff. One thing he has going for him is a bit of familiarity.
“Last year, I didn’t know what to expect, didn’t know what was going to happen, or the pace,” Kaliyev said about participating in his second NHL training camp. “This year, I feel more comfortable being here, and knowing what to expect and what to do.”
“[I wasn’t] really nervous,” Kaliyev added. “I’m just excited to be around those guys. It’s a challenge to practice with those guys. I tried to do my best, every rep I got, and I tried to work as hard as I could.”
“I thought it was a pretty good pace [in practice]. I thought the pace at the World Juniors was pretty high, the last game against Canada, and [today] was high, as well. But this one might’ve been a bit faster because I didn’t skate for a couple of days. I think they were both really high-speed games and practices.”
Kaliyev also indicated that he has been working hard to improve his game since he was drafted by the Kings, trying to address some of the weaknesses in his game.
“I’ve really been working on my overall game, trying to be a 200-foot player [who is good] defensively and offensively—able to play in all three zones,” he noted. “I’m also trying to improve my speed.”
“[During the] longer break this summer, I really tried to make strides on getting bigger, stronger, and faster,” he added. “I was really focused on that the whole summer.”
Under normal circumstances, a young prospect like Kaliyev would likely be assigned back to his junior team in Canada (Kaliyev played for the Hamilton Bulldogs of the Ontario Hockey League). But during the COVID-19 pandemic, the return to play for hockey leagues around the world has been in a state of flux, and that’s putting it mildly.
Last October, the OHL announced that they would play a 40-game season that was scheduled to begin on February 4, with training camps scheduled to open on January 23. But that plan was put on hold due to the pandemic, leaving OHL players in limbo.
Indeed, Kaliyev could find himself heading back to Hamilton, Ontario, if the OHL eventually returns to play in 2021. But for now, he remains with the Kings as of this writing (the regular season begins on Januaey 13), and could find himself on their roster for opening night on Thursday, January 14. Other options are being placed on the Kings’ taxi squad, or assigning him to the Ontario Reign of the American Hockey League, who began training camp on January 12.
“I don’t know the plan, so I’m just going to try to practice and see what happens,” said Kaliyev. “I’ll just try to practice as hard as I can every day. They’ll tell me what to do.”
“The goal is to make the NHL roster. I’m here now. I’ll try to play as hard as I can and see what happens.”
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings right wing prospect Arthur Kaliyev, shown here during practice at the Toyota Sports Performance Center in El Segundo, California, January 11, 2021. Photo courtesy Los Angeles Kings Communications Department.
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