Kings coach John Stevens recently pulled aside some of his rookies to tell them they weren’t rookies anymore.
It was a breakfast conversation with Alex Iafallo and Kurtis MacDermid, who have passed the 25-game threshold that designates players as rookies. It was also a reminder that the learning curve gets steeper from here.
They mostly have adjusted, but some inconsistencies have been exposed recently as the Kings attempt to steer out of a 2-3-2 stretch during a three-game tour through Western Canada. Iafallo was benched for the third period Thursday, and MacDermid played three shifts in the third. Both were on the ice for a goal against in instances of either getting beat along the boards or breaking down defensively.
“[Thursday] night my wall play wasn’t too well,” Iafallo said. “That hurts the line, and that’s the way it goes sometimes. That’s not getting a puck on a stick and chipping it out. I’ve got to work on that. I’ve got to keep working hard and staying positive.”
Iafallo has gone from top-line left wing to third-line wing and off the power play unit. He is still a wonderful addition because of his forechecking, even as NHL teams adjust to him by pinching tighter near the wall. Stevens wants him to get back to being tough in that area of utmost importance.
“For me, if it’s a winger, there’s 12 feet of ice along the wall that’s going to define your career,” Stevens said. “When he’s really on, he just seems like he’s really sharp and he makes those plays. When he’s not as sharp, I think those are pucks that either go by him or don’t get out of the zone.”
Iafallo is open to critique, and Stevens said that will “allow him to get righted in a hurry.” That’s also a characteristic of MacDermid as he learns from the blue line. He was a surprise player in training camp and largely played a safe defensive game that’s seen rough spots, notably a Dec.15 game against the New York Rangers that got him benched the following two games.
MacDermid said he needs to continue to work on one aspect.
“To be a good defender against high-end skill that’s all over this league, you have to have good position,” MacDermid said. “There’s times when you make mistakes. But you’ve got to learn from the mistakes and get better from them.”
Stevens agrees that it might be more difficult for defensemen to adjust to the NHL because of the minutes they play and the responsibility they carry. He pointed to players such as Alec Martinez, Jake Muzzin and Slava Voynov who were able to make that leap.
Younger players tend to mature quicker and their training when they enter the NHL is “far ahead of what we used to be years ago,” Stevens said. With that, come higher expectations this time of year. Iafallo, MacDermid and the Kings will hit the halfway point of the regular season on this trip. Both know there will be some nights like Thursday.
“It’s all learning from here,” Iafallo said. “It’s good. I didn’t want it to be easy. It’s good to learn, every practice, every game, is learning … It’s good adversity.”
When: 7 p.m., Saturday
On the air: TV: FSW; Radio: 790
Update: Vancouver’s Brock Boeser led rookies in scoring through Thursday following his four-point game. Former Kings forward Nic Dowd is scoreless in eight games with Vancouver but has gotten more ice time. Christian Folin (upper body) has progressed and Stevens considers him more day-to-day than week-to-week.