New challenges and new surroundings await many on Los Angeles Kings’ Fall 2014 Top 20

By Jason Lewis

Tanner Pearson recorded 12 points in 24 playoff games for the Los Angeles Kings en route to a Stanley Cup Championship. (courtesy of Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Tanner Pearson recorded 12 points in 24 playoff games for the Los Angeles Kings en route to a Stanley Cup Championship. (courtesy of Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

 

The Los Angeles Kings had a number of prospects step up and have statement years in 2013-14, but the Fall 2014 Top 20 list features a number of prospects who are going to be pushed by new challenges. Not only is there a new No. 1 prospect on the list, but nine players of the 20 are going to be potentially looking at their first full year in their respective leagues. The Kings also acquired a few new faces via draft and trade that are a welcomed addition to the list as well as the pipeline. With new surroundings, a big step up for many, and at least a few heading towards graduation, the list could look very different come next summer.

1. (5) Tanner Pearson, LW, 7.0B
Drafted 1st round, 30th overall in 2012

It is hard to imagine that Tanner Pearson is still considered a prospect given the accolades and experience he garnered in the 2013-14 postseason run by the Kings. While he may have aged mentally due to those games, he still has just 25 games of regular season experience in the NHL to go along with his 24 games of playoff experience. The versatile winger was a tremendous addition to the Kings’ roster come playoff time, and his speed and aggression made a noticeable impact. With 12 points in 24 playoff games, Pearson’s performance put him at center stage and it does not look like he will be leaving any time soon.

He has the hard-nosed attitude to win puck battles that the Kings love, but he also has blistering speed and a nose for the net. While previously thought of as a potential forward to fill out the Kings top nine, Pearson showed he has the skills to suit up and play top-six minutes. He did so alongside Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli in the 2013-14 playoffs, and it was one of the Kings’ most effective lines on many nights. It is undoubtedly that combination and Pearson’s coming of age that helped the Kings capture s a second Stanley Cup in three years. It will not be long until Pearson graduates, but for now he occupies the top spot on the list.

2. (3) Valentin Zykov, RW, 7.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 37th overall in 2013

Young Russian forward Valentin Zykov had another solid year with Baie-Comeau Drakkar of the QMJHL in 2013-14. He was not the 40 goal scorer he was in 2012-13, but Zykov still showed tremendous offensive skill by putting up a 63 point season in 53 games. He also went on a tear in the playoffs for a second straight year, scoring 22 points in 22 postseason games.

As stated above, Zykov was barely able to score half of his 40 goal total from a year ago. However, Baie-Comeau shifted around a great deal of personnel from 2012-13 to 2013-14 and Zykov was forced to adjust. He notched 40 assists, which beat his prior season’s total, and also was a team leading plus-32. His ability to not only be a high-caliber trigger man but also a playmaker furthers his potential NHL utility. With Zykov’s blend of aggression, skill, and intelligence, he remains one of the Kings most promising young players. He is entering the twilight of his junior career right now and it would not be surprising to see him have a dominant year in 2014-15.

3. (NR) Brayden McNabb, D, 7.5C
Acquired via trade from Buffalo Sabres, 2013

There is some uncertainty as to what Brayden McNabb can become both in general and in the Kings’system. Some say he is nothing more than a depth defenseman. Others think he has the potential to play on the second defense pairing. One thing is for certain; McNabb does have the type of pop in his game that makes him standout. The Kings acquired the rugged defenseman from Buffalo in a trade that sent Hudson Fasching and the turnaround prospect Nicolas Deslauriers to Buffalo.

McNabb is a big player at 6’4 who loves to throw the big open-ice hit and put up a booming slapshot. Where things can slip away from him is in the subtler mental part of the game. His foot speed needs work and he can find himself out of position at times with his overtly aggressive play. However, as Kings general manager Dean Lombardi stated when talking about Brayden McNabb shortly after the deal, “I’d rather try to tame a lion than paint stripes on a kitty cat.” With a slap shot that can hit 100+ miles per hour and a penchant for laying out open-ice hits the Kings have quite a lion to tame.

4. (6) Nikolai Prokhorkin, LW, 7.5D
Drafted 4th round, 121st overall in 2012

NIkolai Prokhorkin’s ascension and success at the top level of Russian hockey is an incredibly promising step in his progression. Not only was the young Russian playing against grown men and ex-NHLers in the KHL, he was leading his team in points. With a year left on his contract with CSKA Moscow, both CSKA Moscow and the Kings approached Prokhorkin this offseason to sign a contract. In a somewhat frustrating turn of event for Kings fans, Prokhorkin signed a one-year extension with Moscow that will keep him with the club until at least 2016.

Aside from all of that, Prokhorkin has proven he can play. However different the KHL’s play may be from North American leagues a player does not lead the league in rookie scoring or their team in total points without having the goal-scoring touch. He plays an aggressive style and has a great deal of creativity and offensive savvy. His size and strength continues to improve as he ages, as does his thinking of the game. The only thing the Kings have to do at this point is bide their time and get him to North America when possible.

5. (NR) Adrian Kempe, C, 7.0C
Drafted 1st round, 29th overall in 2014

Swedish native Adrian Kempe was predicted to go anywhere from the low teens to the late twenties in a number of mock drafts. The Kings were able to snap him up late in the first round with the 29th overall pick. Kempe has all the attributes of a player in the mold of those frequently drafted by the Kings. He is a wrecking ball of a forward with great size, strength, and a solid work ethic. His mean style of play and willingness to hit everything that moves already looks projectable into the Kings system. He also has a decent sense of offensive ability to go along with his gritty skill set. Kempe will not score many flashy goals, but he puts himself in the right spot in front of the net to score. He plays a full 200-foot game as well, which is rare for a prospect at this stage in their development. At 17 years old, Kempe is  trying to put together another decent season in the SHL. Few his age compete at that high a level, making it interesting to see how his sophomore season treats him.

6. (NR) Roland McKeown, D, 7.5D
Drafted 2nd round, 50th overall in 2014

The Kings traded up in the draft to select Roland McKeown, so it is clear they were targeting the young man out of Listowel, Ontario. McKeown is noted as a defenseman who is solid in every facet of the game, including his mental make-up. He can skate, he is adept in both offensive and defensive scenarios, has a great shot, and thinks the game very well. He arguably has the best all-around skill set of any of the Kings defensive prospects but is still very raw at this point. To go along with his great set of tools, McKeown is coming off a great junior season with Kingston and a bronze medal-winning U18-World Junior Championship with Team Canada, where he served as captain.

7. (9) Derek Forbort, D, 7.0D
Drafted 1st round, 15th overall in 2010

Forbort has had a slow and steady development path that is perhaps a little too slow for some, but he has still come a long way. Never really a true standout, Forbort has now finished a full season in the AHL. With 17 points and one goal in 74 games in his rookie season, his 2013-14 statistics are not far from his career average. Forbort plays a steady and composed game and that directly translates to the stat column. He doesn’t give up much defensively, and though he could afford to chip in more offensively in general he is slowly turning into a decently well-rounded defenseman. As a former first-round pick one could certainly have expected more from the University of North Dakota alum. However, that is not fair to the low-risk and methodical game that the defenseman has played and excelled at for several years now. His offensive game has essentially stagnated, and he really needs to take another step in that area to vault himself into the NHL.

8. (11) Jordan Weal, C, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 70th overall in 2010

Weal is coming off a tremendous season in the AHL, where he was nearly a point-per-game player. His 70 points were the team high for the Manchester Monarchs and near the top of the entire league. While it was questioned whether or not Weal’s offensive game could translate to the AHL from the CHL, he has started to look more and more comfortable as he has matured. He also coupled a strong offensive season with a plus-28 rating. The scrappy 5’10 centerman has battled his way into relevance among the King prospect pool and it might not be long until he is given a shot at the NHL. While he still needs to work on his faceoffs and defensive zone work, Weal has come a long way in very little time in proving he is not just a one-dimensional CHL forward. 

9. (13) Nick Shore, C, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 82nd overall in 2011

Nick Shore felt the pressure early on in his rookie AHL season, showing some nervousness, slow feet, and slow thinking. However, as the season wore on and he adjusted to the uptempo speed and aggression of the AHL, he became a valuable all-situations center for Manchester. He was arguably the Monarchs best two-way centerman by the end of 2013-14 and received the majority of the team’s big faceoffs. Former coach Mark Morris was very trusting of Shore towards the end of the year, which was a nod to how well the 21 year old had adapted over the year. Due to his excellent defensive zone play, faceoff ability, and cognitive game, Shore has a very projectable NHL skill set among bottom-line centers. His sophomore season in the AHL will be an important one, as he has to contribute more offensively to be considered an every-day NHL player.

10. (12) Michael Mersch, RW, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 110th overall in 2011

The former University of Wisconsin winger is a wild card for the Monarchs in 2014-15. He looked fairly effective in his limited time with the team last year and is hoping to translate his 20-plus goal scoring form from the NCAA to the pros. Mersch was one of the key offensive players for the Wisconsin Badgers, showing silky smooth hands as well as battling into high-scoring areas. Having led the Badgers in goals the last two seasons, there is no question Mersch could score at the NCAA level. However, it remains to be seen if he can do it in the AHL. It may take him a year or more to get adjusted to the professional game but he has the tools to do so.

11. (NR) Nick Ebert, D, 7.0D
Drafted 7th round, 211th overall in 2012

Ebert remained off of previous Top 20 lists simply because it was not certain whether the puck-moving defenseman was a flash in the pan or if he was a legitimate talent among his peers. While he had a struggle-filled 2012-13 season, Ebert was phenomenal in 2013-14. He was a near point-per-game player during the regular season and also has a nice 20 game run in the playoffs with Guelph in which he had 16 points. That is without factoring in his Memorial Cup performance, where he had five points in four games. Ebert was a low-risk, high-reward player as a seventh round pick in 2012, but the Kings are starting to look smart for taking that risk. Ebert has been highly touted for his skating, vision, and very strong hockey sense, and all of that was at the forefront of his 2013-14 run. He is certainly entering the next phase of his career on a high note as he joins the Manchester Monarchs of the AHL for 2014-15.

12. (13) Andy Andreoff, C, 6.0B
Drafted 3rd round, 80th overall in 2011

 While Andy Andreoff has not yet touched NHL ice, he has done himself a favor by setting new highs in points and plus/minus in 2013-14 while remaining a pesky and aggravating player to play against. The Kings look for very specific types of players to fill out their bottom lines, and Andreoff seems to have some of the qualities that Darryl Sutter’s team covets. He is difficult to play against, is a physical player, likes to hit, and is defensively responsible in his own zone. While there is definitely room for overall improvement from Andreoff, he is not far off from getting a chance in the NHL. The 2014-15 season may present him with his shot, as his waiver exemption status has passed and there are a few question marks among some of the bottom line forwards of the Kings entering the season.

13. (15) Nic Dowd, C, 6.5C
Drafted in the 7th round, 198th overall in 2009

Nic Dowd has gone from big man on campus to just another prospect trying to make it in the AHL. While his  performances in the NCAA was impressive, he now must replicate that at the professional level. He is a responsible centerman who can put up some points, and that is always welcomed on an AHL and NHL roster. The question that now remains is how much can he contribute at the professional level? Dowd has enough defensive acumen and plays physically enough to possibly make it on the bottom lines, while there is the potential that he could eventually play on a higher line if he can find an extra gear in the pros.

14. (16) Zach Leslie, D, 7.0D
Drafted 6th round, 178th overall in 2013

Zach Leslie was again very solid for a second straight year in the OHL. The young puck moving defenseman has been a player the Kings have been quite high on since his 2013 draft selection, and his positive development arch since then has only furthered the excitement. He had 50 points with Guelph in 2013-14 but now faces an uncertain future. At 20 years of age, Leslie is eligible to move up to the AHL. However, if the Kings do not feel he is ready he may be returned to his junior squad for an overage season. With a skill set much like that of current King Alec Martinez, Leslie could fill a offensive niche at the back end for the Monarchs. Manchester had just one defenseman break the 30 point barrier last season, and none broke double digits in goals.

15. (18) Jonny Brodzinski – 6.5C
Drafted 5th round, 148th overall in 2013

Jonny Brodzinski has been big every year for St. Cloud State in terms of offensive numbers. With a 20 goal freshman and sophomore season, he has been one of the primary contributors in the goal column for the Huskies. Now that MVP Nic Dowd has left, Brodzinski stands as one of the lone members to carry the load of the offense. Regardless of the upcoming season, Brodzinski has been a nice late round surprise, as his great shot and puck skills have seen him rise quickly among the ranks of NCAA prospects. The positive development arch is nice to see, but it remains to be seen whether he can push even further beyond being just a 20-goal scorer in the NCAA. He has also put together a skill set including a full 200-foot game defensively and some physical play to go along with his offense.

16. (NR) Patrik Bartosak, G, 6.5D
Drafted 5th round, 146th overall in 2013

Patrik Bartosak looked good during his junior career, displaying bouts of game-stealing athleticism coupled with solid reads. He finished his junior career with some stellar numbers. He had a career .927 save percentage to go along with a 2.59 goals against average in 145 regular season starts in the WHL with Red Deer. He has also looked fairly strong in his limited appearances with the Manchester Monarchs. He has a challenge in front of him having to battle for ice time with J.F. Berube, who asserted himself as the full-time starter last season.  However, unlike Berube, Bartosak has that extra bit of athleticism that can steal for-sure goals and sometimes games. While he is only 6’1, which is not massive by goaltending standards, it is easy to overlook this once he gets dialed in. He will likely be heading towards a split-start job with Berube, but it is not out of the question that he emerges as a majority starter at some point.

17. (NR) Alex Lintuniemi, D, 7.0D
Drafted 2nd round, 60th overall in 2014

The no-flash game of Alex Lintuniemi will not turn a lot of heads, but the Finn definitely has the skill that a lot NHL teams look for on the backend. He took his knocks in his first OHL season with Ottawa, but he has been described by opposing players and scouts alike as a strong and difficult defender to deal with. He also has some very good hands which allow him to move the puck out of his zone quite well. He does not quite have the speed you would hope for from a puck-mover, but being that he is 18 years old and already 6’3 he may still be growing into his skating legs. The Kings certainly saw something they liked in Lintuniemi as they selected him ahead of many projections. He has a lot of tools at this point but is still a very raw prospect and might be a bit of a long term project like fellow Top 20 prospect Derek Forbort.

18. (20) Paul LaDue, D, 6.5D
Drafted 6th round, 181st overall in 2012

Paul LaDue fought his way into a starting job with the University of North Dakota, and now the challenge is to keep it. Just because the 21 year old won the job his freshman year, there are still plenty of other players who played limited minutes in 2013-14 waiting in the wings. That being said, the puck-moving defenseman out of Grand Forks, North Dakota put up a massive freshman season for his hometown college. He had 21 points in his 41 games, which was fourth among defenseman. He also was third on the team in powerplay goals with three. With Dillon Simpson leaving, the second-leading defensive scorer on the team, LaDue will have the opportunity to increase his role in 2014-15 if he continues his fine form. He is a solid puck-moving asset, and it is worth noting that LaDue has definitely grown physically since his USHL days, as he now stands at a solid 6’2”and 200 pounds.

19. (NR) Spencer Watson, RW, 7.0D
Drafted 7th round, 209th overall in 2014

Sometimes it is good to have variety among a group and Spencer Watson certainly brings that when you look at him compared to some of the other King prospects. While most of the Kings’ forward pipeline is filled with big and physical players or responsible two-way grinders, Watson’s brings pure, unadulterated offense. He has garnered some acclaim already in his young career for his excellent offensive instincts, puck-handling skills, and agile skating. While his 5’10 size is always a concern for an NHL projection, Watson does enough on the offensive side of the puck to make one overlook that at times. While there is not much to write home about in terms of his defensive play, Watson can be an absolute handful for defenseman to deal with. He was one of Kingston’s most effective forwards last season and it will be interesting to see how he performs with an increased role in 2014-15. 

20. (NR) Colin Miller, D, 6.5D
Drafted 5th round, 151st overall in 2012
 
Colin Miller had a learning year in his rookie season with the Monarchs. While there were ups and downs, he started the majority of games for Manchester on the bottom pairing while also contributing on the powerplay. He is as smooth a skater as they come and he definitely has learned to use that part of his game to his benefit at the AHL level. While he could stand to clean up his defensive zone play and jump into the offensive side of things a little bit, there is upside to Miller moving forward. His solid skating, shooting, and puck moving ability alone make him an intriguing player to watch coming into his sophomore season in 2014-15. He will also be part of a fairly offensive stunted blueline group as well, so the opportunity for an increase in minutes in offensive situations is certainly there.
 
Follow Jason Lewis on Twitter via @SirJDL