The fall Top 20 list for the Los Angeles Kings saw the rise of some question marks about players like Jordan Weal, Nikolai Prokhorkin, and Jonny Brodzinski. Could they excel in new surroundings? Could they follow up strong years with better ones? How will they progress from the previous season?
As several leagues around the world finish up their seasons and head for the playoffs, the AHL and NHL are starting down the stretch. Many questions at this point have been asked and answered, and the LA Kings prospects have definitely come to play in 2013-14. Several new faces have vaulted into place on the list with outstanding seasons, while others have been bumped out completely. The Kings continue to excel in the NCAA realm and currently have the best AHL team in the league. Several players are on the cusp of NHL careers, while others are several months away from starting their pro careers. There is a mixture of style, size, and skill on this list. Make no mistake, the Kings have done strong work in using deep draft picks and excellent development to make their system formidable yet again.
1. (1) Tyler Toffoli, RW/C, 8.0B
Drafted 2nd round, 47th overall, 2010
He remains atop the Kings rankings from the fall list. At one point early on in the season, he was in conversations for the Calder Trophy as he had the highest point percentage amongst any rookie in the NHL. However, the right winger has had his struggles at times this season despite an impressive 19 points in 39 games. A stretch of 12 games in late December and early January saw Toffoli demoted to the AHL where he continued to be a dominant force. His ice time has been subject to extreme fluctuation under Darryl Sutter, who is notoriously hard on young players. The Scarborough, Ontario native has seen his utilization go from 16-plus minute games on the top lines to five to eight minutes a night on the fourth line on a moment’s notice. Despite this, he still looks like a true NHL winger and was among the call-ups to the Kings coming out of the Olympic break.
2. (7) Martin Jones, G, 7.5C
Signed as a free agent, October 2008
Jones sent out shockwaves in the NHL ranks in December, as the young goaltender tied the NHL record for the best start of a career by a goaltender. The unprecedented 8-0-0 run by Jones vaulted him into the limelight rather quickly, and he slowed a touch thereafter. Improvements have been noticeable in his approach to the game, his reads, angles, and the consistency. The latter was arguably the biggest knock on the calm butterfly goaltender, but throughout this season at both the NHL and AHL level, he has put up stellar numbers. With a .928 save percentage in 22 games in the AHL and a .940 save percentage in 14 games in the NHL, Jones has muscled his way into what looks like a full-time NHL backup role having been recalled to the Kings.
3. (3) Valentin Zykov, LW, 7.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 37th overall, 2013
The young Russian is having a bit of a down year in 2013-14 compared to his torrid 40-goal season with Baie-Comeau last year. He is still holding a solid pace with 56 points in 46 games, but his 20 goals do not look like they will come close to last season. Despite that though, Zykov has progressed in many other areas this season. He has represented his country on the national stage in both the 2014 World Junior Championships and the 2013 Subway Super Series.
4. (4) Linden Vey, C, 7.0C
Drafted 4th round, 96th overall, 2009
Vey is one of the big three for the LA Kings in terms of NHL-ready prospects and has been for some time. The crafty center man finally got his first taste of NHL action this season and impressed many with his stick skills and vision. However, after the shine wore of in his initial call up it was obvious that the 22-year-old could use a little more seasoning. He was sent back down to the Monarchs in December. His five assists in 15 games at the NHL, including one fantastic dangle and dish against Vancouver, were impressive, but such is the life of a prospect on the cusp. The good thing though is that Vey has not slowed down in the AHL either. He is scoring at over a point-per-game pace with 35 points in 31 games this season in the AHL. Vey was also recalled to Los Angeles late in the Olympic break.
5. (2) Tanner Pearson, LW, 6.5B
Drafted 1st round, 30th overall, 2012
While Pearson is still a strong talent in the Kings system, the left wing looked a tad shaky in his first NHL regular season call-up. Despite potting his first goal, Pearson had some trouble remaining noticeable on the ice. However, that is to be expected of any young prospect stepping into the NHL. That being said, Pearson has again been strong in the AHL with 32 points in 41 games including a second-ranked total of 17 goals. While viewing Pearson play it is hard not to think of him as being a top-six option in the Kings system, but with his skill set, he may settle into a more top-six/top-nine role. It is hard to know at this point just where Pearson could settle in, but he will have an opportunity with Toffoli and Vey to finally establish a role in LA.
6. (NR) Nikolai Prokhorkin, LW, 7.0C
Drafted 4th round, 121st overall, 2012
Prokhorkin was an unranked player on the fall list, purely due to the uncertain nature of the KHL and the development of young players in the KHL. While no doubt was ever placed on the skill set of Prokhorkin, no one could predict that type of utilization or success he would have in Russia’s highest competitive league. The 20-year-old Russian rookie has 35 points in 48 games in the KHL with CSKA Moscow, which is 20th overall in the league and most among any player of his age. Also despite playing on the big ice surfaces of Europe, he has been more than willing to play the body, fight on the half wall, and muck it up in front of the net. All of these aforementioned skills bode well for his North American future, whenever that may be.
7. (6) Kevin Gravel, D, 7.0C
Drafted 5th round, 148th overall, 2010
With another strong year at St. Cloud State underway, where he has found the score sheet more frequently, he stands as the top King defenseman on the list. Gravel has always been a solid defensive-minded defenseman, however in his senior year he has an unprecedented 16 points, surpassing his 2012-13 total (12) with 12 fewer games played. The responsible play of the Michigan native has always been a staple to his game, and he has led the shorthanded unit of St. Cloud again this year. He has also remained as disciplined as they come, with just one minor penalty taken in 30 games.
8. (12) Hudson Fasching, RW, 7.0D
Drafted 4th round, 118th overall, 2013
The freshman has a near point-per-game pace in his first year at the University of Minnesota. He is currently tied for third on the Golden Gophers with 25 points, and his line with Kyle Rau (FLA) and Sam Warning is helping the team stay atop the Big Ten with a 10-2-2 conference record. Despite having several solid linemates, Fasching has not been a passenger. His style, which mixes the body of a power forward with the hands of a finisher, is translating better than many expected. Fasching also brings a quality of intelligence and leadership to his game, the latter of which will likely be put into the limelight as he hits his junior or senior year. The combination of an already impressive physical skill set and a successful freshman season are helping Fasching move up on the list of King top prospects.
9. (5) Derek Forbort, D, 7.0D
Drafted 1st round, 15th overall, 2010
The adjustment to the AHL has been hit and miss for Derek Forbort. He still is a strong skater and intelligent defenseman, however the adjustment to the next level of speed and ability has posed problems to the former first-round pick. His consistency has been up and down but that is to be expected for a player taking his first step into professional hockey. He has developed a strong pairing with veteran Andrew Campbell, and that has saved Forbort at times from having worse nights. The comfort level will come with more games under his belt, but for now it looks like the offensive upside may be a little less than anticipated from him.
10. (16) Nicolas Deslauriers, LW, 7.0D
Drafted 3rd round, 84th overall, 2009
Deslauriers has made a career-changing move from defense to left wing and it is paying off in spades. Not only has this taken defensive stress off the La Salle, Quebec native, it has opened up his offensive abilities. The former defenseman leads the Monarchs with 18 goals. His big-bodied and aggressive style looks promising now as a left winger in a system that is rather depleted in that area. Deslauriers still needs to work on his defensive game and positioning in the defensive zone, but the move Mark Morris has made is reinventing his career and potential NHL future. With a stacked blue line depth chart, the Kings can now start to consider Deslauriers as a potential option as a top-nine winger.
11. (NR) Jordan Weal, C, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 70th overall, 2010
Jordan Weal was ultimately in the 21st spot in the fall rankings for the Kings, but he has had a huge sophomore season to boost him just outside the top-10. The former Regina Pat is scoring at a near point-per-game pace and leads the Monarchs with 50 points through 58 games. He has emerged as one of leaders on Mark Morris’ squad with his work ethic, attitude, and production. With the absences of major pieces like Toffoli, Pearson, and Vey being peppered throughout the season, Weal became the team’s primary center and power play quarterback on more than one occasion. He was up to the task regularly. He still stands behind a more physically developed but raw player in Deslauriers, but his skill and intelligence is moving him up the list quickly.
12. (10) Michael Mersch, RW, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 110th overall, 2011
Mersch has been a steady performer for the University of Wisconsin since his sophomore year, and his final year has been no different. Again the big power forward is an offensive leader with the Badgers, being tied for the team lead with 30 points in 30 games. He is also the leading goal scorer in the Big Ten with 11 during conference play. He has been a steady developer for the Kings, showing no signs of downturn or struggle throughout his collegiate career. No matter the outcome of the 2013-14 season for the Badgers, Mersch is in a great position heading into his rookie season in the AHL. He has been a consistent and mature collegiate player and his style will translate well to the pro level. He falls in the rankings only because of outstanding performances by several players in front of him
13. (9) Andy Andreoff, C, 6.0B
Drafted 3rd round, 80th overall, 2011
Andreoff, like most other King center prospects, remains in a holding pattern due to the log jam of up the middle at the NHL level above them. He has continued to be a strong agitating forward with a nice offensive upside, so it is hard to not believe that the former Oshawa General will not get a shot at the NHL in the next year or so. Due to this holding pattern and the progression of several other prospects, Andreoff has slipped in the rankings. That being said he still has one of the more easily adaptable and NHL-ready skill sets for his role of choice.
14. (13) Nick Shore, C, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 82nd overall, in 2011
Nick Shore performed very well out of camp but hit a bit of a wall once the rigorous pro season really got going. Just like Derek Forbort, Shore has been up and down and is still visibly adjusting to his role in the AHL along with the speed and physicality of the game. He has picked it up in the more recent months and has contributed 30 points in 50 games on the season. With Shore though it is not about offense, but more his face-offs and defensive game. Both aspects have remained very strong for the centerman.
15. (15) Nic Dowd, C, 6.5C
Drafted 7th round, 198th overall, 2009
Dowd has been under the radar in a lot of regards in his collegiate career. However, the last two years he has been a leader on St. Cloud State’s squad. After posting just under a point-per-game pace in 2012-13 he is at it again with another point-per-game season in 2013-14. His goal scoring totals have also risen to new career highs and that is definitely a good place to be as he finishes his senior year. An all-around solid center men, Dowd is currently tied for third in NCHC scoring and is hoping to lead St. Cloud state to another impressive Frozen Four run with fellow teammates and King prospects Jonny Brodzinski and Kevin Gravel.
16. (NR) Zachary Leslie, D, 6.5C
Drafted 6th round, 178th overall, 2013
Leslie has been monstrous on the back end for the Guelph Storm this season in the OHL. In fact, with 45 points Leslie is seventh in the entire OHL in scoring from defenseman. As a sixth-round selection in 2013, no one expected the Ottawa native to carry the mail quite the way he has. He also missed time this season due to shoulder surgery, so it has not exactly been an ideal season for the defenseman. His prominent role on the Storm blue line has drawn significant praise from both the Kings and former All-Star defenseman turned King’s Assistant GM Rob Blake.
17. (NR) Scott Sabourin, RW, 6.5C
Signed as a free agent, October 2013
As a free agent invitee to the Kings camp to start the season, Scott Sabourin did enough to warrant a contract from the Los Angeles Kings. He was arguably one of the most impressive forwards in camp with his big and physical style of hockey. He started the year slow with Manchester of the AHL, but has seemed to find his feet as the season has progressed. While still no offensive juggernaut, Sabourin is on pace to have a near 30-point season from the Manchester bottom lines.
18. (NR) Jonny Brodzinski, C, 6.5C
Drafted 5th round, 148th overall, 2013
With Dowd leading the Huskies in scoring with 33 points on the year, the 20-year-old sophomore is neck-and-neck with 33 points of his own. Brodzinski had an incredibly impressive freshman season where he had 22 goals and showed tremendous goal-scoring prowess. This year he has continued on with that pace. The Minnesota native has been a huge cog to the St. Cloud State offense and his stock is in a position to rise along with his rank.
19. (NR) Jean-Francois Berube, G, 6.0C
Drafted 4th round, 95th overall, 2009
With Jonathan Bernier moving on to greener pastures in Toronto, Ben Scrivens moving to Edmonton, and Jonathan Quick being injured and allowing Martin Jones to move up, Berube was launched into the role of a full-time starter in the AHL. Just a year removed from being a split starter with the Ontario Reign, the 2009 fourth-round pick is the everyday starter for a league leading Manchester Monarchs team at this point. He has respectable .914 save percentage and 2.43 goals against in 34 starts this season. He is carrying a 19-13-2 record in his rookie season and has been massive at times for the team.
20. (NR) Paul LaDue, D, 6.5D
Drafted 6th round, 181st overall, 2013
LaDue was one of several freshman defenseman vying for a place and playing time on the UND roster, and he has done well in taking a step above the competition. Mind you, his competition has been very strong as well with Keaton Thompson (ANH) and Gage Ausmus (SJS) nipping at his heels. His season with the University of North Dakota has gone well considering a somewhat disappointing 7-11-0 NCHC record from the team thus far. He currently stands at fourth on the team amongst defenseman in scoring with 14 points in 29 games. While they are not knockout numbers, they are solid enough for a little fish taking his first step into a much bigger pond.
Follow Jason Lewis on Twitter: @SirJDL