A great number of Kings prospects have made the jump from major junior hockey to the professional ranks, leaving only nine players skating in Canada’s top developmental leagues. Drew Doughty left the OHL behind at the age of 18 after making the Los Angeles roster in training camp, followed by Oscar Moller and Wayne Simmonds, while others like Jonathan Bernier joined Manchester of the AHL.
Of the nine still in major junior hockey, four were honored in being named to their respective rosters for the recent ADT Canada/Russia Challenge. Most notable Thomas Hickey who led the way for the WHL squad with four assists in two games. Prior to the tournament, Hickey was named captain of the team and paired with fellow Kings prospect Colten Teubert, who contributed two assists as well, as arguably the best defensive pairing in the tournament.
Their success this season does not begin nor end with the Canada/Russia Challenge. Each has been honored by their respective WHL teams in being named to leadership roles – Hickey as the captain for the Seattle Thunderbirds and Teubert as an alternate captain for the Regina Pats. Hickey entered the season needing to work on specific aspects of his game to help him make the next step in his development. Focusing more on better positioning and strength than scoring, Hickey is eighth among all WHL defensemen with a plus/minus of +13 on a team that is minus overall. Hickey is demonstrating that he can excel in any situation, whether it be quarterbacking the power play as he did in the Canada/Russia Challenge or simply not allowing the opposition any scoring opportunities as he has been doing with Seattle. This, after all, is more important to his long-term development than lighting up the scoreboard while struggling to keep a plus/minus on the positive side.
In a reverse image of Hickey, Teubert entered the season already established as a physical shutdown defenseman with little offense to speak of. To say that he has found an offensive game would be an understatement. Not yet at the midpoint in the season, Teubert has already set a new career high in goals and will be doing the same with assists and points very shortly. Like Hickey, he has posted a phenomenal plus/minus of +15, anchoring the entire Regina defense corps, and becoming a more well-rounded defenseman. It is fitting that Teubert and Hickey were paired up in the Canada/Russia Challenge as the two are expected to grow together and eventually be paired up in Los Angeles very soon.
Also developing in the WHL are a pair of big, physical forwards who are not guaranteed a position in the Kings farm system. Dwight King has moved up the ranks on the Lethbridge squad to become the alternate captain and the go-to guy on their special teams and second line now that Zach Boychuk (CAR) has returned from the NHL. King is solidly built with a nose for the net and can be a valuable addition to Manchester at the conclusion of the season. Geordie Wudrick provides more of a physical game than King and has been used as a grinding option on the left wing, banging home rebounds off shots from the point or digging out pucks in the corners. He is not showing as much offense as was expected of him entering the season, instead matching up against the opposition’s top forwards. His game might be valuable to the overall success of a team, but his game is easy to find in a prospect. He will need to show more on the offensive side of the rink to allow him to stand out over those who excel at merely grinding.
Signed to an entry level contract during training camp as an non-drafted 18 year under the rarely used section 8.9(b)(ii) of the collective bargaining agreement, which allows teams to sign a player otherwise still subject to the Entry Draft if that player was passed over in the Entry Draft and signed to a tryout contract in training camp, Martin Jones appears to be an enormous steal for the Kings. The early returns on their newest prospect reveal Jones to be at the top of the WHL in both wins and goals-against average and third in save percentage. There does not appear to be any let-up in Jones’ progress as he is already in his third full season with the Calgary Hitmen and the clear no. 1 netminder for arguably the best team in the entire WHL. With a tried record of success, at least two more years of major junior eligibility, and a packed Kings farm system in terms of goaltenders, Jones need only refine his game with Calgary and wait for the goaltending pipeline to clear out before moving on to the professional ranks.
At the same time, Linden Rowat will be battling Jones for a goaltender position in the Kings loaded farm system in the next year or two. Rowat is steady if unspectacular in net, continually improving on his goals-against average and save percentage each year for Regina. But with so many goaltenders under contract for Los Angeles and not enough roster positions available in the system, there is a significant question as to where Rowat will land when the season concludes. While he has improved since being drafted, has he improved enough for the Kings to trade away other goaltender prospects to make room for Rowat? The second half of the season will be extremely important for Rowat to show enough to earn an entry-level contract.
Shifting to the OHL, another pair of Kings’ prospects skated in the Canada/Russia Challenge, but this time on opposing sides. Andrei Loktionov took time away from his schedule with the Windsor Spitfires to skate for Russia during the tournament, but did not register a point. Meanwhile, his time with Windsor has been fruitful as he is in the top ten of rookie scorers for the league and his team has been on a hot streak since opening night. Unfortunately, a recent injury will knock Loktionov out of action for a few weeks. Presuming no complications in the recovery period, Loktionov will finish up his freshman season with the Spitfires as the second line center. He will need to re-dedicate himself to the defensive side of the rink as this aspect of his game continues to plague him and will be a hurdle to make the Kings under the current coaching regime.
Bryan Cameron has stepped up his play this season for the Belleville Bulls, particularly in finding the back of the net. Third in the league in goal scoring behind only phenoms John Tavares and Taylor Hall, Cameron has grown steadily in each season with the Bulls and is the lead candidate at forward in major juniors to sign an entry-level contract with the Kings at the conclusion of the season. His hard work and penchant for the net led to being named to the Canada/Russia Challenge roster for the OHL where he was held scoreless in his only appearance. If Cameron continues the development of his goal scoring, he will likely find himself in Manchester to finish out the season and may provide the secondary scoring that is necessary for a team to flourish in the AHL playoffs.
The Kings knew exactly what to expect from Matt Fillier when first drafted and little has changed since. Still in the QMJHL, but now with the Montreal Juniors, Fillier is a physical, grinding forward who doubles as a middle-weight enforcer. Though his fighting major penalties are down, Fillier is still recognized as someone who will not hesitate to stand up for his teammates. With so many prospects currently under contract and filling the professional ranks, there is little need for Fillier in the system. However, as the more highly touted prospects move their way up to Los Angeles, Fillier might contribute as a depth forward for Manchester. In the meantime, what we an expect from Fillier for the remainder of the season is solid defense with an occasional fight.