Today may seem like a normal day for Kings’ fans, but according to the hype, the greatest player in the history of hockey, Jere Karalahti, will arrive in LA today to lead the Kings to the first of several Stanley Cups. Karalahti is 7’3″ and weighs a svelte 356 pounds. His slap shot has been clocked at light speed and he had 85 goals in 36 games last season. His hip checks have nearly ended the careers of dozens of players and he posted 1,456 PIM’s last year.
While these numbers are false, Jere Karalahti comes to LA amid so much hype that it is difficult to discern fact from fiction. This column will attempt to separate what is rumor and what is truth.
Jere Karalahti was drafted by the Kings with the 146th pick in the 1993 NHL draft. This 6’2, 210 pound defenseman is now 24 after playing in the Finnish Elite League and the hockey World Cups since 93. Much of the hype surrounding Jere came a couple of years ago when Sports Illustrated disclosed that nearly every potential King trade that season hit a snag when teams would demand that this European defenseman be included in any deal. While that may have been true, Karalahti was exposed in the Nashville expansion draft. There are several reasons for that, the most likely is that Dave Taylor made side deals (Marian Cisar and Vitali Yachmenev) with the Predators so they would not take certain players, like Karalahti.
Karalahti is a tremendously physical defenseman, particularly for a European player. He enjoys contact and has a very nasty streak. The most revered part of Karalahti’s game is his heavy shot. Jere’s slapshot has been clocked at 104 MPH. The thought of that shot joining a power play that already has Rob Blake’s cannon could either give the Kings two vicious point shots or two line that each have a cannon on the blue line.
Karalahti has benefited from World Cup and Hockey Championship play. He was named first team all-star from both of these tourneys over the last two years. Despite all this upside, Karalahti has come baggage. His battle with drugs was uncovered this summer, and while he undergone rehabilitation and passed every drug test, it was the main reason for his delayed arrival.
What does he mean for the 99-00 Kings? That is hard to say. He will stay with the Kings for an evaluation period. There is no telling how long that will be, but there has been indication that he will then go to Long Beach for conditioning. I have to think that if he has been playing, which he has, he may be ready sooner than later. As a Kings’ fan, I am eager to see his game. As a hockey observer, I am eager to see what the Kings do with their surplus of defensemen if he is as good as advertised.