Kings Top 20 prospects, Spring 2008

By David A. Rainer

Top 20 at a glance

1. (2) Jonathan Bernier, G
2. (4) Thomas Hickey, D
3. (12) Ted Purcell, RW
4. (5) Trevor Lewis, C
5. (8) Oscar Moller, RW
6. (6) Brian Boyle, C
7. (NR) Wayne Simmonds, RW
8. (13) Peter Harrold, D
9. (NR) Matt Moulson, LW
10. (14) Jeff Zatkoff, G
11. (7) Lauri Tukonen, RW
12. (16) Jonathan Quick, G
13. (18) David Meckler, C
14. (10) Scott Parse, LW
15. (15) Patrik Hersley, D
16. (NR) Bud Holloway, C
17. (9) Marc-Andre Cliche, RW
18. (NR) Alec Martinez, D
19. (NR) Joe Piskula, D
20. (NR) Daniel Taylor, G

With the graduation of top prospects Patrick O’Sullivan and Jack Johnson, and surprising development out of a number of recent draftees and free agent signings, the order of these rankings shuffles like a deck of cards.  Many prospects reveal themselves as kings or jokers, but one remains the ace in the hand.  Despite the lackluster play in Manchester, several prospects have shown to be more than capable of holding their own in the NHL while Oscar Moller and Wayne Simmonds are beginning to show their top-six forward potential.

1. (2) Jonathan Bernier, G

Bernier began the season with Los Angeles after more than earning himself a chance at showing what he can do on the big stage.  After a phenomenal NHL debut, Bernier was thrown to the wolves in the next three games as the team in front of him disappeared defensively.  Bernier was returned to Lewiston of the QMJHL where he struggled early in the season.  He has stabilized his performance in the later portion of the season despite a goals-against average near 3.00.

His performance in Los Angeles and early in Lewiston might initially be cause for alarm.  But when looking at each situation more closely, it’s more of a mild concern.  The Los Angeles defense had not figured out how to play together the first couple of weeks to the season.  And when Bernier joined his Lewiston team, he was overly active in net, seemingly out to prove that he did not belong in major juniors.  Eventually, Bernier returned to his sound technique and cool demeanor, remaining one of best goaltender prospects in the world not currently playing in a professional league.  Depending upon how far Lewiston goes in the QMJHL playoffs, Bernier might see some spot duty in Manchester before the season is complete.

2. (4) Thomas Hickey, D

At this time last year, Hickey was finishing his season with Seattle of the WHL and preparing for the NHL Entry Draft.  Hickey was surprisingly selected by the Kings and headlines a diverse group of defensive prospects.  His production has not reached the levels of last season, but he has assumed more of a leadership role, both with Seattle and on the international scene.  Being named to the U-20 WJC squad is an enormous step forward for Hickey where his solid defensive play on the blueline helped bring home the gold for Team Canada.  If his development this season results in a more well-rounded player, Hickey will benefit in the long-run.  But he still needs to hit the weight room and increase his strength and stamina if he wants to forgo his last season of major junior eligibility and join Los Angeles next season.

3. (12) Ted Purcell, RW

One of the fastest risers on this list is this 2007 free-agent signee out of the University of Maine.  There was not a lot known about Purcell when he inked his contract with the Kings.  Purcell was a tall kid with good hands, but he was also a late bloomer who went largely unnoticed.  Purcell was assigned to Manchester after a great showing in preseason and proceeded to dominate the AHL.  He has led the AHL in scoring most of the season, only giving up the lead late as he began to receive short call-ups to Los Angeles.  Even though he is currently with Los Angeles, he continues to lead all AHL rookies in scoring by an enormous margin, including fellow King prospect Brian Boyle who is second in the league in rookie scoring.  Purcell has not looked out of place in the few games he has played with Los Angeles.  Poised to break out with significant NHL production next season, Purcell will play out the remainder of the season between Los Angeles and Manchester.

4. (5) Trevor Lewis, C

Unlike Purcell, Lewis has not shown the offensive numbers in Manchester that had been hoped for from someone with as much skill as him.  His skating skills, both straight-line speed and maneuverability, have been more than noticeable and his ability to create an effective cycle will play perfectly into the NHL game.  Lewis is only 21 years of age and in his first professional season, so there is plenty of time for his strength and scoring game to come around.  He will likely finish off the season with Manchester and will have to develop his game further before being considered for playing time in Los Angeles.  Lewis has a higher ceiling than other prospects on this list and so remains near the top with the expectation that eventually the offensive skills will come around to reveal a solid second line center.

5. (8) Oscar Moller, RW

The record-setting pace that Moller was on to begin the season has slowed since returning from the U-20 WJC, where he scored five points in six games.  At one point, Moller led the WHL in both goals and points before cooling off.  He is still on target to eclipse his totals from last season, but the 50-goal, 100-point season he was on pace for is a thing of the past.  Moller is still an offensive talent, with natural scoring ability, gritty leadership skills and second line potential.  He still has another season of major junior eligibility when he will build on the tremendous step forward he has made in his development this season.  With Moller displaying top potential, Hickey leading a deep group of defensemen and Wayne Simmonds making strides, the CHL appears to have been a gold mine for Dean Lombardi at the 2007 Entry Draft.

6. (6) Brian Boyle, C

The experiment to turn Brian Boyle into a defenseman appears to be over.  Boyle began the season on the blueline for Manchester but struggled greatly to pick up the nuances of defensive positioning and skating.  While he had no troubles finding the back of the net, especially on the power play where he resumed his traditional center position, Boyle was a liability defensively as quicker and more skilled forwards routinely had the extra gear to get past him for break-away scoring opportunities.

With a move back to his natural position, Boyle enjoyed a renaissance of sorts.  The goals began to come in bunches and Manchester would reap the benefits in the standings as a result.  While the experiment was not a success in itself, it did contribute to a better understanding of the defensive role a center plays on the team –- a role that Boyle needed to learn to earn his ice time in the NHL.  Consequently, Boyle enjoyed his first taste of Los Angeles and exceeded all expectations with three points in his first two games and more than proving that he can be a steady second line center or spectacular third line center with the defensive skills to go up against the opposition’s top scoring line.

While he might be the most NHL ready of any prospect on this list, he does not have the top offensive potential that others have.  Even with that said, his soft hands and good coordination for a man his size provide him enough potential to be a success wherever he ultimately ends up in the Los Angeles lineup.

7. (NR) Wayne Simmonds, RW

Similar to Purcell, when Simmonds joined the Kings, there was little known about him outside of the organization.  So far off the charts was the selection of Simmonds during the 2007 Entry Draft that he did not appear in any pre-draft media information.  But Lombardi saw enough ability in him to take a chance in the second round and it appears to have been a stroke of genius.  Raw and gritty, there were several aspects to his game that needed to be worked on.  Skating first with Owen Sound and then Sault Ste. Marie after a midseason trade, Simmonds has begun the process of smoothing out the rough edges to his game.  He has become one of the best scorers in the OHL and earned himself a spot on Team Canada for the U-20 WJC tournament.  As a result, he jumps up these rankings and projects as a hard-nosed scorer from the second or third line but still needs to bulk up his rail-thin frame.

8. (13) Peter Harrold, D

Harrold continues to sit on the cusp of making the NHL squad full time.  He has excelled in Manchester this season, second among all defensemen in scoring, and was a midseason call-up to Los Angeles for a handful of games.  The veteran depth on the blueline in Los Angeles forced Harrold back to the minor leagues.  However, he stands to gain the most at the trade deadline as three veteran defensemen are rumored to be on the trading block and Harrold is the lead contender to fill the roster spot.  Harrold gains slightly in these rankings as it appears he is ready for the full-time duty of the NHL and has the possibility of eventually filling a second pairing assignment.

9. (NR) Matt Moulson, LW

Another rapid riser in the rankings is Moulson who found great chemistry with Purcell and Gabe Gauthier in Manchester and translated the scoring success into playing time in Los Angeles.  Always a steady scorer, Moulson has exploded of sorts this season and found himself as an early call-up to Los Angeles where he showed the ability to score regularly from a third line role.  At 24 years of age, there is not much untapped potential left in Moulson, but he has steadily improved everywhere he has gone and would be a great addition to the overall depth of the roster in Los Angeles.  A regular next to Boyle on the third line would not be out of the question beginning next season.

10. (14) Jeff Zatkoff, G

The primary cog in the Miami University engine this season has been Jeff Zatkoff and his stellar play in net.  Ranked as the top collegiate team for most of the season, Miami has relied heavily on Zatkoff and he has responded with a career high in starts and on pace to break career bests in goals-against average and save percentage.  He has solid if unspectacular skills and will be a great addition to the depth in goaltending that the Kings are beginning to gather in the minor leagues.  With Zatkoff expected to join the minor league system after graduation in 2009, the competition between he and Bernier might push each other to excel.  Bernier remains as the potential franchise goaltender, but Zatkoff could also emerge as a No. 2 goaltender in a tandem setting with Bernier or a top-notch backup.

11. (7) Lauri Tukonen, RW

Although he has shown some development, Tukonen drops some in these rankings.  His offensive skills have come into question and he is no longer viewed as a potential first or second line forward.  But he still has some physical redeeming qualities that makes him a viable candidate to play regularly in the NHL.  Nagging injuries and slow development have taken their toll on this former first-round draft choice to the point one might wonder if there is a resiliency issue with the young Finn.  Given the chance to play on a top line in Manchester, he has shown flashes of ability.  But he needs to show week to week consistency and the ability to sustain physical play without breaking down.  The remainder of this season will be pivotal for Tukonen as his entry-level contract is quickly coming up and the organization will need to make a decision.

12. (16) Jonathan Quick, G

While Bernier has received the bulk of the attention for goaltenders, Quick has quietly made the transition from college hockey to the professional ranks.  Quick began the season as the starter in net for the Reading Royals, the Kings believing it better for his development that he play every night in the ECHL than playing sporadically in the AHL.  Quick has been in the top half of the league for goaltenders in terms of wins and, save percentage and goals-against average.  Quick is even leading all goaltenders in scoring after being credited with a goal early in the season.

With injuries and poor play among some of the goaltenders in the system for the Kings, Quick has successfully negotiated his way up the ladder to make his debut in both the AHL and the NHL this season.  He was solid in three starts for Manchester and gave up two goals in his first start and first win with Los Angeles.  The goaltending outlook in the minors for the Kings is as clear as mud, especially with Bernier and Zatkoff expected to join the professional ranks in the next year or two.  Quick will need to make the most of his time playing nightly in Reading to establish himself as the lead contender to start in Manchester next season.  His athleticism will carry him far and possibly into the backup role in Los Angeles very soon.

13. (18) David Meckler, C

Meckler has stepped right into the secondary scoring role for Manchester this season.  After establishing himself as a leading goal-scorer in major juniors, Meckler has shown a propensity for finding the back of the net in the AHL, grinding out goals and finishing with loose pucks around the net.  The success of Boyle in Los Angeles may mean that Meckler takes on an even larger role in Manchester.  After a year or two honing his skills, he might find himself following in Boyle’s footsteps right to Los Angeles as a third or fourth line forward.  Meckler’s ability to thrive in a physical setting makes him an ideal candidate for the NHL despite a lower development ceiling.  With a little more experience against stronger competition, he might develop into a Ruslan Fedotenko type or maybe a slower version of Niklas Hagman.

14. (10) Scott Parse, LW

Until Jan. 23, Parse had played only a single competitive game of hockey in more than eight months due to recovery from injuries.  The rust has proved difficult to shake off, resulting in being assigned to Reading to play his way back into game shape.  With promotions to Los Angeles depriving Manchester of much of its scoring power, Parse will have a golden opportunity to rejoin Manchester and assert himself as a top left wing prospect in the Kings organization once again.  His stay in Reading is expected to be a short one as there will be an open battle for roster spots throughout the organizational depth charts as the season winds down.  Despite injuries this season, Parse remains a well-rounded forward prospect that simply needs experience against better competition to take the final step in his development.

15. (15) Patrik Hersley, D

As one of several under-achieving defensemen starting the season in Manchester, Hersley saw himself demoted to Reading in order to find his game.  After a slow start in Reading, Hersley quickly picked up the pace, both in terms of points and quality of defensive play.  As a result, he was brought back up to Manchester and played a large role in the mid-season resurgence of the Monarchs.  He looks to have finally acclimated himself to the physical hockey played in North America and now needs to work on integrating his quality shot into his game.  As Harrold is likely to finish the remainder of the season in Los Angeles, Hersley might see spot action with the Kings as a try-out for more playing time next season, if not the top defenseman in Manchester next season.

16. (NR) Bud Holloway, C

A number of top prospects for the Kings are maturing in the CHL this season.  Holloway falls in line with trend as he has been a team leader for Seattle of the WHL alongside fellow Kings prospect Hickey.  He has surpassed production totals from last season in far fewer games without sacrificing his play in the defensive zone.  As the leading scorer for Seattle, Holloway has been playing with a target on his chest from the opposition but has risen to the challenge.  He was also considered at one point by Team Canada for the U-20 WJC.  As this is his last season of eligibility for major juniors, expect to see Holloway signed to an entry-level contract by the Kings and assigned to Manchester to finish out the season.

17. (9) Marc-Andre Cliche, RW

The Kings were expected a forward who could contribute the intangible qualities associated with strong defensive play when acquiring Cliche from the New York Rangers in a trade deadline deal last season. They have received just that.  However, the Kings were hoping for a little more offense out of the young winger than what they have received so far in his first professional season.  While he has been greatly limited this season due to injury, even when healthy, Cliche has not been much to look at offensively.  He has maintained his solid defensive play and work in the corners for Manchester throughout and, after recovering from injury, will likely be back in the AHL next season to round out the other aspects of his game.

18. (NR) Alec Martinez, D

College hockey has been less of a focus recently for the Kings during drafts.  But there is another college hockey player that has developed well this season in addition to Zatkoff.  Alec Martinez has firmly established himself as one of the highest scoring defensemen in college as well as a leader on the blueline for the Miami University RedHawks.  His progress this season adds yet another top defensive prospect to the Kings already robust pool.  Martinez has another year of eligibility for Miami, in which the defensive depth charts for the Kings minor league affiliates will thin out and the true NHL contenders will become much clearer.  His graduation will also coincide with the graduation of Zatkoff where their familiarity with each other may make the transition from college to professional hockey that much easier for both.

19. (NR) Joe Piskula, D

After signing with the Kings towards the end of last season, Piskula entered this season arguably second on the depth charts for defensive defensemen behind Richard Petiot.  However, Petiot has been slow to regain his old form after the debilitating knee injury of a year ago and Piskula jumped Petiot as the lead potential call-up to Los Angeles for a physical defenseman until Piskula suffered an injury of his own which robbed him of the month of January.  Now back, Piskula and Petiot are neck in neck to win the call-up to Los Angeles this season.  Piskula has the advantage of being a fresher body and has the skating skills to more than hold his own at the NHL level.

20. (NR) Daniel Taylor, G

In the race to develop their first homegrown long-time starting NHL goaltender for Los Angeles, Danny Taylor has come out of nowhere to be a viable candidate.  Solid while in major juniors, Taylor joined the Kings and struggled immensely to keep the puck out of the net in his first season in the ECHL.  He has since made the changes necessary to compete at higher levels of hockey and his performance with Manchester this season is a direct result.  In approximately half a season of play, Taylor finds himself near the top in goals-against average and save percentage.  He nearly set the Manchester record for consecutive shutout minutes when he posted three shutouts in a row in late January, only to be inexplicably sat down for the fourth game in place of Dan Cloutier.  Regardless, Taylor has forced his way into the conversation for future NHL goaltenders and onto the list of Kings top prospects.

Other Notables: Niclas Andersen – this physical defensive defenseman might be the Kings next hope to replace the departed Mattias Norstrom.  Bryan Cameron – the chaotic climb to the top by Belleville has revolved around the stellar scoring abilities of Cameron.  Dwight King – another CHL forward having a huge first season after being drafted.