Kings junior prospects off to mixed starts in 2013-14 season

By Jason Lewis

Zac Leslie - Guelph Storm

Photo: With 13 points through 16 games, Guelph defenseman Zac Leslie ranks second among Storm defensemen in points per game this season (courtesy of Aaron Bell/OHL Images)

The ebbs and flows of hockey are apparent at every level, and junior is no exception. With injuries and inconsistencies, the world of hockey can be a rough ride for young players sometimes.

While the Los Angeles Kings do not have the highest number of CHL prospects, the recent 2013 NHL Draft has repopulated their system to some degree. Some have been hampered by injuries, some by inconsistencies, and others have been off to strong starts.

With the AHL and NCAA prospects list heavily populated, the Kings have just eight Junior level prospects spread through the WHL, OHL, and QMJHL. Do not be fooled, even with the limited number of prospects there are still plenty of talents to keep an eye on out in the junior ranks.

WHL

Patrik Bartošák, G, Red Deer Rebels
Acquired: 5th round (146th overall) in 2013

Bartosak has been the bulk starter for Red Deer so far this season, starting 22 of the team’s 25 games. While his 10-9-2 record may not seem all that impressive, it should be noted that Red Deer is struggling as a whole. While the team sits in 10th place out of 12 teams in the East and 19th out of 22 teams in the WHL, Bartosak sports a respectable .916 save percentage and 2.93 goals against average. Red Deer has given the Czech goaltender zero offensive support, as they currently have the fourth lowest goal total in the league at 70 total goals. That averages out to just about 2.8 goals per game of run support for last season’s WHL goaltender of the year.

All things considered, you could easily say that Bartoksak has been one of the lone bright spots in these early season struggles for the Rebels.

Alex Roach, D, Calgary Hitmen
Acquired: Free Agent signing in 2011

While there was significant hype for the big Calgary defenseman after a massive 2012-13 campaign, the shine has come off a little bit. Roach started the season with the Manchester Monarchs of the AHL but was quickly sent to the ECHL when he found himself in the press box more often than on ice. While he did record three points in three games with the Ontario Reign, Roach was sent back to WHL and an already stacked Hitmen squad. He has four assist in seven games since returning to junior.

Roach had a little bit of trouble getting into the swing of things as an injury hampered his training over the summer and before camp. While it seems like a demotion on the surface, the return of Roach to junior is probably best. The defenseman can eat huge minutes for Calgary, gain a little more confidence and ability in his defensive game, and mature as a whole in his final year of junior play.

OHL

Justin Auger, RW, Guelph Storm
Acquired: 4th round (103rd overall) in 2013

Auger was unfortunately sidelined to start the year with a bout of mononucleosis, which can be an incredibly debilitating illness for an athlete. He has recently jumped back in the action for Guelph and is trying to get his feet moving after missing an entire month of the season. Through his first nine games of the season, he has four goals and two assist.

It will be interesting to see how Auger bounces back after a less than ideal start. At 6’7, there is a lot to like physically about Auger, and hopefully he can improve his offensive numbers for a second straight season.

Zachary Leslie, D, Guelph Storm
Acquired: 6th round (178th overall) in 2013

Another Guelph Storm draftee, Zac Leslie, was off to a hot start with the team with nine points and a plus-11 rating through the team’s first ten games. However, a lower-body injury put Leslie on the shelf for about three weeks. He has added four assists and a minus-two rating in six games since returning to the lineup.

With his smooth style, Leslie was a standout in Kings’ camp and really caught the eye of former King defenseman and now assistant general manager to the team Rob Blake. In his third year with Guelph, Leslie was on pace to top last year’s 40-point effort before his injury. He still could do so, but he will really have to work hard to get back up to speed having missed eight games.

Dominik Kubalík, LW, Sudbury Wolves
Acquired: 7th round (191st overall) in 2013

The feisty Czech got off to a tremendously hot start with the Wolves but has slowed considerably over the last month of the season. The high-energy winger kicked off the year with a four-point effort in his second game of the season, and followed it up with two more multi-point efforts in the next five games. However, since scoring 10 points in his first seven games Kubalik has had just three points in his last 16.

While Kubalik has an offensive knack, until he gets into the dirty areas of the ice more frequently he will be prone to hot and cold spells. The 18-year-old did this dance last year as well. He had just eight points in 28 games to start the season before ripping off seven in five games and 16 in the next 21. Consistency should be a focus for Kubalik moving forward, as he has proven he has the offensive skills but he needs to learn how to assert himself more frequently.

Nick Ebert, D, Windsor Spitfires
Acquired: 7th round (211th overall) in 2012

After a disappointing 2012-13 season with Windsor, Ebert has turned it around to start 2013-14. The offensive-minded defenseman has put up 17 points in his first 22 games, which is on pace to best any OHL totals he has had in his career. Most importantly, Ebert has earned a plus-19 rating and shown a notable improvement in his defensive zone play. Last year’s minus-39 was a troublesome stat for Ebert and the Spitfires. Ebert spent some time with the Ontario Reign of the ECHL at the end of 2012-13 and it is possible that the young defenseman learned a thing or two and built up some confidence coming into this year. It has been a different start to the year for both Ebert and the Spitifres and hopefully the good form can continue.

Kurtis MacDermid, D, Owen Sound Attack
Acquired: Free Agent signing in 2012

Kurtis MacDermid, the Attack’s tough guy on the blue line, is proving that he has more to offer than just fights and big hits. With nine points in 22 games, MacDermid has already surpassed last season’s point totals. However, with the 6’1 defenseman you are not counting on his offense. What you are counting on is a character defenseman who plays responsible and will also come to the aid of his teammates. With 10 fights in the entirety of last season, MacDermid already has dropped the gloves four times this season. On one occasion, in a game between Sudbury and Owen Sound, MacDermid came to the defense of a teammate after a high hit by Connor Crisp (MTL), which is always good to see. However, on another occasion during a 7-1 beat down by the Guelph Storm, MacDermid received a match penalty on a cross-checking and instigator call late in the game. As a rough and tumble player, MacDermid will have to learn to tread the line between helping and hurting his team.

QMJHL

Valentin Zykov, RW, Baie-Comeau Drakkar
Acquired: 2nd round (37th overall) in 2013

In the high-flying QMJHL, Valentin Zykov is off to a great start. While you would think 29 points in 23 games would be at least tops amongst his team, it is not. This is the Q, a wide open and high-scoring league. Still, Zykov sits third on his team in points and has been a key set up man for the team’s leading goal scorer and Montreal Canadiens prospect Jérémy Grégoire. Zykov is currently on pace to beat his 75-point rookie season. The biggest thing with Zykov is that he is not a player that rides the coattails of his linemates or teammates. Zykov is a worker who will fish pucks out in the corners and get down in the trenches in an attempt to get the offense going.

In a nod to how well the young Russian has played, he was again added to the Russian squad for the Subway Super Series, which began on November 18. After one goal, one assist in two games during last year’s tournament, Zykov registered another two points this year, both assists, during Russia’s 0-2 start against Team QMJHL.

Non-junior Notables

Hudson Fasching, RW, University of Minnesota (Big Ten)
Acquired: 4th round (118th overall) in 2013

Fasching was considered a very raw but naturally talented player who would need time to develop. If the start he is currently having is any indication of the raw talent, then this could be a tremendous steal. As a freshman at University of Minnesota, Fasching has been a monster to start the season. He is second on the team in scoring and has 14 points in 11 games. Maybe the most important thing for the big-bodied Fasching is that despite being a freshman he has not ridden the coattails of his more experienced junior line mates Kyle Rau (FLA) and Sam Warning. He has been making plays happen all on his own rather than relying on those two. The three are off to a fantastic start as the Golden Gophers top line and Fasching is certainly making a name for himself early on in his collegiate career.

Nikolai Prokhorkin, LW, CSKA Moscow (KHL)
Acquired: 4th round (121st overall) in 2012

Considering the lack of playing time and production Nikolai Prokhorkin saw in 2012-13 with CSKA Moscow, it was hard to predict he would have the start to the year he is currently having. The young Russian winger has 22 points in 29 games, leading his club in scoring. He is currently 27th in league points and fifth in the league in goals with 14. The highly skilled 20-year-old is under contract through 2014-15, and at this point, he looks like one of the best young prospects not currently playing in North America.

Tyler Toffoli, RW, Los Angeles Kings (NHL)
Acquired: 2nd round (47th overall) in 2010

The Kings top prospect for several seasons running has now started to break the NHL/AHL barrier. After a monstrous 2012-13 season and a solid start to 2013-14, Toffoli made the jump back up the NHL from the Manchester Monarchs of the AHL. With the tough task of filling in for the injured King goal scorer Jeff Carter, Toffoli has had points in six of his first nine NHL games. He currently has four assist and four goals, including three game winners. He has looked like the natural goal scorer that we have talked about for several years now and is showing no signs of slowing down. At this rate, even with the return of Jeff Carter from injury, Tyler Toffoli is making a case to be an NHL player full time.

Follow Jason Lewis on Twitter: @SirJDL