EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — When he was skating at HarborCenter with some Sabres in late August, Alex Iafallo was just an unknown NHL hopeful. Observers in Los Angeles thought the Eden native was an interesting college free agent signing from national runner-up Minnesota-Duluth who would get some seasoning in the AHL.
"I didn't know very much about him," Sabres veteran Jason Pominville said here Friday. "But you could tell he was fast and he was a good player just from the shinny hockey we were playing those days."
There's going to be no shinny Saturday night in Staples Center. Iafallo, the surprise of training camp for the Kings, will be living a dream as the fourth game of his NHL career will be the first against his hometown Sabres. And he'll be doing it as the left winger on the top line with two-time Stanley Cup champions Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown.
"It's been awesome," Iafallo, 23, said at the Kings' Toyota Sports Center complex. "Obviously it was a dream since I was a little kid watching all these players and now you're here with them. Being in this league is pretty amazing. You have to keep working hard every day. It's what I've done the last couple months to get here and I have to keep doing it."
"He's been terrific," said Kings coach John Stevens. "You're always looking for a pleasant surprise in training camp and we were cautiously optimistic about Alex after seeing him in development camp and rookie camp. You wanted to wait to see him with the pros, see how he does and see if he could be the same player."
Iafallo got his first NHL point, an assist on a Brown goal in Wednesday's 4-3 overtime loss to Calgary at Staples. He is plus-5 through three games, one off the team-best ratings put together by Brown and Kopitar.
"My speed worked to my advantage," said Iafallo, who is a 6-foot, 185-pounder. "It helps me generate offense, gets me going on the forecheck and the backcheck. I'm just using my speed to work hard and focus on everything I can do to help the team win."
"He's got a real well-rounded game and he's tenacious," Stevens said. "He's been able to go to the next level of play, which is not just being in a regular season game but being with high-end players. And he's been the same player himself, which is what you hope for from every young player."
Iafallo was simply trying to make the team but Stevens put him on Kopitar's left wing to give the line a speedier look.
"My mind was racing and I was nervous out there but it was good nerves," Iafallo said. "It was a pretty amazing experience with those guys. You're talking outstanding careers for both of them. The thing you notice is they're always in the right areas, always know when to shoot at the right time."
A former Buffalo Regals standout, Iafallo played two years for Fargo (N.D.) in the United States Hockey League before moving on to college at Minnesota-Duluth in 2013.
Iafallo averaged nine goals and 27 points in his first three years at UMD before exploding as a senior for 21 goals and 51 points in 42 games, leading the team in goals, assists and points. He scored the game-winning goal with 27 seconds left in the national semfinal over Harvard and scored his team's first goal in the 3-2 loss to Denver in the national championship game.
Iafallo's parents came West for the season opener against Philadelphia while his sister, a player at Ohio State, was unable to attend. They will not be here this weekend but will be meeting the Kings on an upcoming Eastern Canada trip. The Kings are not in Buffalo until Feb. 17.
"It will be weird playing against the 'Sabes' and seeing that jersey," he said. "But I'm very excited about it. I was watching a guy like Pominville when I was younger. It's going to be cool to play against them. It's a cool experience I'm sure. I liked Derek Roy, Chris Drury, Dominik Hasek, all of them. When the Sabres went to the Cup in '99, I remember watching that in the living room."
Iafallo said he talked to the Sabres in April but opted to sign with the Kings, thinking about the best fit with an organization. He skated in one summer development camp for Buffalo and said he won't be doing any double takes Saturday night.
"It's game time and you won't matter who you're playing," he said. "You're thinking about winning a game. Thinking about it now a day before, it will be awesome. But come Saturday, I know I'll just be feeling it's a normal hockey game and I'll just want to be ready to play."