Our annual Top 25 Under 25 countdown has begun! The rankings were determined by a combination of reader voting and our staff’s own voting. We then combined the reader rankings (50%) and the staff rankings (50%) to determine the top 25. To be eligible for the countdown, a player must be 24 or younger on October 3, 2018, when the 2018-19 NHL season begins.
We’re taking a look at the best and the brightest in the Los Angeles Kings organization in our sixth annual Top 25 Under 25 countdown. Kicking things off in the top five is Alex Iafallo.
Age: 24 (December 21, 1993)
2017-18 Team: Los Angeles Kings
2017-18 Statistics: 75 GP, 9 G, 16 A, 25 P (Playoffs: 3 GP, 1 G, 0 A, 1 P)
Jewels Reader Ranking: 7
Jewels Staff Ranking: 3
Last Year’s Ranking: 12
We’re all friends here, right? Right. Good. Then I will go ahead and admit that when I sat down to write last year’s Top 25 Under 25 piece on Alex Iafallo, I really couldn’t have told you much about him. Highly uncharacteristic of me, I know, but the University of Minnesota-Duluth product managed to completely escape my notice until it came time to turn in my own Top 25 ballot.
Fortunately for the Kings, and for Iafallo, I’m not the GM, and so when Iafallo started to catch some attention during training camp and the pre-season last year, there were people around who had the good sense to listen.
Going into the 2017-18 season, everyone’s best guess was that Mike Cammalleri would be playing on Anze Kopitar’s left wing, reuniting some Kings players from years gone by. It seemed like a great chance for Cammalleri to revitalize his career after being bought out by the New Jersey Devils, and he had some familiarity with Kopitar and Dustin Brown.
Alex Iafallo had other plans.
From the very first game, Alex Iafallo took hold of that first line left wing spot and rarely let it go. And while we told ourselves that it was too early to get excited, you have to admit that Iafallo looked darn good alongside Kopitar.
It took a little longer for Iafallo to show up on the scoresheet, though. He did good work along the boards and certainly had his chances against goaltenders, but always found himself being denied. It took him a month to get his first goal, what ended up being an easy tap-in set up by Kopitar.
Trouble on the scoresheet was one of the bigger problems with Iafallo’s game, though, and perhaps why he didn’t rise even higher on this year’s top 25 list. While he (and his line) were defensively strong, and while he was a player commonly cited as doing all the right things, his 25 points put him right in line with Trevor Lewis (not known for his NHL scoring) and Jeff Carter (who played 27 games). Not great, when it comes to a player who had a huge offensive explosion in his last year at college.
Iafallo’s year got rougher as the season went on, leading to several healthy scratches and some time spent on the third line as John Stevens tries to find the right line combinations to create depth scoring. For a player making the transition to the NHL right out of college, the fact that fatigue was a factor in his play wasn’t a surprise; by the time the season was over, Iafallo’s time on ice started to trend to be more like that of a third liner.
The 2018-19 season will be an interesting year for Iafallo. His coveted top line left wing spot is being handed to Ilya Kovalchuk, and unlike Cammalleri, this is one veteran player who will probably not let go of his hold there. Based on pre-season and practice lines, it’s entirely possible the Kings open the season with a third line of Alex Iafallo, Adrian Kempe, and Trevor Lewis.
The Iafallo/Kempe combination could be a net positive for both players. Kempe gets two wingers who are already known for being defensively responsible, if not for their scoring prowess. Iafallo, perhaps more prepared physically for the rigors of the NHL, may not face the same mid/late-season slow-down that he experienced last year. In taking on presumably lesser competition now that he’ll be separated from Kopitar, Iafallo may have more opportunities to cash in on the scoresheet for all of his hard work.
Last season, there were some voices that called for Iafallo to be the winner of the team’s unsung hero award. It went to Trevor Lewis, as it always does, and while we all have higher hopes for Iafallo than being the team’s Swiss Army knife, perhaps attempting to follow in Lewis’ footsteps isn’t so bad of an idea.