Los Angeles Kings striker Arthur Kaliev was widely considered one of the most talented offensive players in the recruiting category. He led the OHL team in scoring for players under 18 in the draft year, with 27 points and 14 goals over the next closest players. Despite this, Kaliev fell in the second round, where the Kings managed to snatch him with the 33rd place. Concerns about skating, defensive play and work ethic were the driving forces behind the enlistment day’s decline. However, after three years, he has made massive improvements in some of these areas. In the junior season, Kaliev is slowly developing into a reliable player in the National Hockey League.
Coming out of his draft, Kaliev’s defensive playing was arguably the biggest red flag. It wasn’t just that he was a bad defensive player. It was that he rarely played defense at all. When the disc entered his defensive zone, he closed, spending most of his time watching, failing to move his feet and engage in play. He also didn’t play hard enough along the boards. He showed good puck protection skills in the attack zone, but seemed to disappear when he was in the defensive zone. Often times, it will fail to break the disc because it has a weak disc along the plates. These topical issues and the effort in his own area had many scouts worried that he would be too much of a responsibility at the NHL level.
These concerns about the effort extended beyond the defensive zone as well. During the forward check, he was less involved, as his linemates were checking the mortgage on their own when Kaliev was on the ice. This was also true of his back check, as he was a player who would be the last player on the front check and still be able to be the last player to come back. Of course, when you score 51 goals and score 102 points, it is very easy for a coach to overlook these issues. But at the NHL level, it’s very hard to walk away from being a defensive responsibility outside of a select few players. Kings crafted a highly skilled player and hoped to find fire and drive to advance in these particular areas of his game.
While Kaliev has made tremendous progress this season, it would be unfair to ignore the impact coach John Wroblesky had on him last season with the Ontario Reign. Of course, he led the team with points, but it was his commitment to development in other areas of the game that got the organization excited. So far this season, Kaliev has continued to stay away from the ball puck, something coach Todd McClellan mentioned:
Game after game. Practice after practice. Looking at his only game with us last year, he has had a long way to go then and close that gap a lot. … He is growing every Day. The coaching staff, not necessarily me, but the crew around him, sitting down and having lunch with him a little more, the assistants. They all think he’s learning every day. He’s like a sponge. He sucks.”
From “Kings 20/20: The Return of Quenton Byfield, Vancouver’s Glimmer and Arthur Caliev’s Improvisational Man,” Athletic, 7/12/21
Last season, Kaliev took the first steps in his 200-foot development, and this season he has gone from step to step. Primarily used in the lower six, he was one of the team’s most effective players both defensively and up front. According to the analyzes, Kaliyev is showing very well in the league as well. According to TopDownHockey’s model, it scores in the 64th percentile for defensive effect, and According to the analysis of Andy and Rono Form, he scores in the 89th percentile for defensive impact. Although these models don’t tell the whole story, they prove that Kaliyev is far from defensively responsible and, according to some models, is brilliant defensively.
Kaliev has also been very effective in pre-screening this season, taking a quality approach at the expense of quantity. According to AllThreeZones.com, it publishes a below average 2.29 foreclosure check stresses per 60 but also produces an above average 4,576 spools recovered per 60. It also generates the most of its forehand check offense and during the game by three zones.
Being an all-scorer, Kaliev shouldn’t be the first front-check player to look to finish off chances created by front-check instead, so his low-pressure numbers shouldn’t be too worrisome. But it is encouraging to see how effective it is when examining foreclosure. Landfill recovery with this level of efficiency requires one thing above another, hard work, and Kaliev saves this season.
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Kaliev’s role as a striker at the bottom of the bottom six certainly plays a role in those numbers. It’s a lot easier to post positive defensive numbers playing against six other teams, and more focus on playing hockey and chasing hockey than his streak in check numbers. However, to see a player described as lazy and responsible defensively sharing an unfamiliar role and achieving success is a wonderful sign.
Where Kaliev still needs work
Even with his latest development, Kaliev is still far from the final product. His offensive numbers were good considering his role, his defensive numbers are good, and he was excellent at checking, so why wasn’t he given a high role? The answer is skateboarding. It’s gotten better since it was drafted, it’s gotten better since it was drafted, but it still needs some work. He still drags his feet on the ice, making short choppy steps that deprive him of speed and power. This lack of foot speed kills him in the transition, as his numbers for playing in the neutral and entering the zone look pretty poor. It’s easy for a team to protect against this problem when they’re in the bottom six. But against the best of the league, these shortcomings will be punished. He needs to work with a skate coach to fix his stride before he can truly realize his potential.
A star in the making
I’ve been a huge fan of Kaliev since it was drafted and was shocked that it was available to Kings in the 33rd pick, so it was fun to see these improvements. This is a player with the offensive tools to be a game-changer at the highest level, but he needed to put in the effort to improve his game in general, and that’s exactly what he’s doing. His work is not finished. But given how willing he is to put in the effort, there should be no questions about his future as an NHL star.
My name is Austin Stanovich, as a lifelong player and fan, I hope to bring my unique perspective into the world of hockey, covering specifically the Los Angeles Kings. As a SoCal native, I grew up a Kings fan, and after graduating from Long Beach State in 2020, I joined the crew of The Hockey Writers as a columnist for The Kings.