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Kupari helping Kings keep up with times in NHL

Center prospect allowing Los Angeles to follow trend toward speed

by Dan Greenspan / Correspondent

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Rasmus Kupari, a center selected by the Los Angeles Kings with the No. 20 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, fills a significant need -- the need for speed.

In their past two draft classes, the Kings have made it a priority to upgrade the skill and speed of their forwards, and at their development camp last week, it quickly became clear Kupari, an 18-year-old from Kotka, Finland, is helping Los Angeles continue that trend.

"He is an incredible talent," said Mike O'Connell, a longtime NHL coach and executive who now is a special adviser to Kings general manager Rob Blake. "Just explosive, explosive speed, and you could see in the [scrimmage] outings when we played, he knows when to use it and when not to use it."

Kupari said skating always has come naturally to him. Playing against men for Karpat in Liiga, the top professional league in Finland, helped accelerate the learning curve for Kupari, who had 14 points (six goals, eight assists) in 39 games last season.

"Some guys know how long it takes to become NHL players, so they are helping me," said Kupari, who has one season remaining on his contract with Karpat.

Video: Blake on how Rasmus Kupari could help Kings

But Kupari is more than a fast skater, an important distinction to the Kings. Raw speed is nothing without the fundamentals and intuition to play the game, O'Connell said.

"You can really skate, but you've got to be able to pass, and you have to be able to receive, and you have to be able to do the little things, be in the right position to be able to function in the best league in the world," O'Connell said. "Our approach, I don't know if it's any different."

Los Angeles wants to combine the physical and defensive-focused approach that became its trademark in winning Stanley Cup championships in 2012 and 2014 with the faster, offensively minded personnel defining where the NHL is trending.

The quality of forwards attending the development camp reflected as much, with Gabriel Vilardi, the No. 11 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, and Jaret Anderson-Dolan, a second-round selection (No. 41) in 2017, looking like they could fit in next to Kings veterans Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown tomorrow if called upon. Kupari and Akil Thomas, a second-round pick (No. 51) in 2018, might need more time to develop, but they already have the speed necessary to compete at the highest levels.

"It shows we understand what we needed," director of player development Nelson Emerson said. "We understand where we have been in the past, and we like our players the way they were. And now we're just trying to bring in other guys that might fit in to just the way the game is now."

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