Relatively few Los Angeles Kings prospects can be found in the NCAA ranks this year in comparison to past seasons. Of the seven prospects, two have been integral parts to the exceptional beginning of the Miami University RedHawks season. But none of the seven prospects are the sure impact players like Michael Cammalleri and Jack Johnson of past years. All are vying for a position in the organizational depth chart upon graduation.
The RedHawks of 2007-08 are staking their claim as one of the best college hockey teams since the merger of Division I and Division II hockey. The team leads all college hockey with the highest goals-for average and lowest goals-against average, resulting in an enormous goal differential. More than the 11-1 domination of Canisius or the 9-2 shellacking of Northern Michigan, the Red Hawks have been bringing it defensively every night, giving up two goals or less for their first 16 games. This supremacy on the defensive side has a pair of Kings prospects at the heart of it.
As starter in net, Jeff Zatkoff continues to resemble a brick wall, giving up only 1.63 goals per game on a .932 save percentage. Zatkoff is in his third season with Miami and has improved markedly with each season, immensely cutting down on rebound opportunities. The experience gained as the RedHawks stampede through the college schedule and into the NCAA tournament will only make Zatkoff a more competitive and developed player upon graduation and a viable candidate to compete for NHL playing time immediately.
While the Kings are well represented in net for Miami, the organization also lays claim to the top defenseman on the squad in Alec Martinez. His seven goals and 18 points through 24 games lead all Miami defensemen, and a plus/minus of +20 is tied for second on the team. He has been reliable on the ice in all situations, scoring four goals and eight points on the power play and a goal and assist shorthanded. Along with Zatkoff, Martinez is also a junior and will benefit from a full four years with Miami and emerge as a strong candidate to contribute immediately upon graduation.
After Zatkoff and Martinez, the Kings NCAA players are more project than prospect. Josh Meyers is a nice power-play specialist who has also been relied upon shorthanded as well. He already possesses a nice shot from the point but needs to round out his defensive game and improve on his skating technique to step up at the next level. His 13 points through the first 20 games for Minnesota-Duluth is tops on the team for defensemen. Also at Minnesota-Duluth is winger Mike Curry who, in his last season with the Bulldogs, is a long shot at best to earn a contract with the Kings upon graduation. Curry has never been more than a role player in college, scoring only two points this season, and does not bring much untapped potential for the next level.
Josh Turnbull is in his freshman season with a very young Wisconsin team and has been steady with nine points on three goals and six assists. The team as a whole has been meandering around the .500 mark while Turnbull has been learning the ropes and filling a need on the wing. Nine points is a steady start to a career. He will have another three seasons to come into his own before the Kings will need to make a contractual decision on him. Likewise, Martin Nolet is in only his second season with the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and has contributed sparingly to the scoresheet. But unlike Turnbull, Nolet’s name will be made more on solid defensive play than finding the back of the net.
One player the Kings will need to make a decision on at the end of the season is Paul Baier. Long removed from his status as a raw but immensely talented defensemen when drafted, Baier has not developed as anticipated while with Brown University and has plummeted in relevance to the organizational depth chart for defensemen. With only four points through the first 16 games, Baier is in danger of finishing the season with a lower point total than in his freshman season (10), for the third year in a row. As a whole, Baier has struggled stay in the front of the minds of the organization already stacked with defensemen in the minor leagues.