2014-15 Season making all the difference for Los Angeles Kings’ prospect pool

By Jason Lewis

Photo: Kings prospect Colin Miller improved his stock with a standout rookie season in the AHL. (courtesy of Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire)

Photo: Kings prospect Colin Miller improved his stock with a standout second season in the AHL. (courtesy of Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire)

It is crazy what a difference a year can make for a hockey player. Hockey has ebbs and flows game to game, but sometimes year to year, as well. The Los Angeles Kings prospect pool has endured a lot of turnover in the last few seasons. As some old assets have come and gone, new faces have arrived and new players have risen.

2014-15 has been one of great import for the Kings pipeline, and due to that there are a number of big movers and formerly unranked prospects making strides. There are also some fallers in the mix to take note of. A lot of movement, a new number one, and a few surprises all await in the Spring top 20.

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

‏The new top prospect in the Kings pipeline has a few players nipping at his heels, but the consistency and adjustments he has made to his game over the course of his junior career continue to impress. While 2014-15 has yet to really get in swing for him due to a sports hernia injury, he is still managing a point per game pace in the small amount of games he has played. What separates Zykov from the players below him is the higher offensive upside. Zykov continues to shine as an offensive contributor as well as playing a physical game with good defensive habits. In essence, he is a solid all-around winger with an above average offensive game.

‏The deadline move from Baie-Comeau to struggling Gatineau has put a different kind of additional pressure on Zykov, but he seems to be performing well despite it. This isn’t exactly the swan song the young Russian had in mind for his final junior year, but he has done well given the circumstances and has a lot of promise heading for the pro game next year.

2. (5) Adrian Kempe, RW, 7.5C
‏Drafted 1st round, 29th overall, 2014

‏The big Swede comes in on the top 20 as a close second to Valentin Zykov. The two players are actually similar in various ways, being that they both play solid all-around games. However, Kempe is more oriented towards the defensive and physical game, whereas Zykov is a more offensively gifted player. Nonetheless, Kempe has taken strides this season in the SHL in showing that he is capable of handling offensive duties as well. He has taken small steps forward with MODO this year in the offensive department, and also had a very strong showing at the World Junior Championships with Sweden. His heavy game is one that is going to translate very well to the pro level, and it should not be long before he gets his shot. His role will increase with MODO as time wears on, and that is when we should truly be able to evaluate the offensive upside Kempe has.

3. (10) Nick Shore, C, 7.0C
‏Drafted 3rd round, 82nd overall, 2011

‏Nick Shore is a big mover on the list this year, and it really isn’t surprising when you take in the scope of his season. The young center was arguably the best player in the AHL through January, and was on pace to put up a 40-goal season with the Monarchs. With the Monarchs top line being completely dismantled, Shore paired up with Brian O’Neill and took the AHL by storm through the first half of the year. No surprise that the University of Denver grad has got his cup of coffee at the NHL already.

‏While previously the report on Shore was all about his strong face-offs and defensive zone play, he turned up the offensive gears in 2014-15. This has only increased the possible upside of the 22-year old, and is a big reason why he is one of the biggest movers from the fall list.

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

‏Slow and steady wins the race. Derek Forbort has made a name for himself in the AHL by following that path. Defense, by all accounts, is a difficult position to learn, and while Forbort has been slow in his progression he has also steadily trended upwards. Each season has seen an improvement in his thinking of the game as well as the physical aspects. The foot speed and play recognition continue to improve and that is giving him a real shot at an NHL bottom four job. He has been as rock solid as they come as one of the Monarchs top pairings this season.

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

‏It seems as though Weal is constantly overlooked in the Kings pipeline. Last year the trio of Linden Vey, Tanner Pearson, and Tyler Toffoli was all the rage, and now this year he has taken a back seat to Nick Shore. That being said, Weal continues to put in the work as one of the Monarchs most consistent forwards year in and year out. He is at it again in 2014-15 scoring at just under a point per game and doing a little bit of everything for Mike Stothers. When he will get his call remains to be seen, as the Kings system may be proving a little harsh on the dynamic and sometimes flashy center. Be that as it may, he has all the markings of a good NHL player, when it happens is still a question waiting to be answered.

6. (6) Roland McKeown, D, 7.0D
‏Drafted 2nd round, 50th overall, 2014

‏McKeown has had a rough 2014-15. The emphasis from the Kings has been for McKeown to work on his defensive game, and that task has proved troublesome for him in keeping up with the offense. Despite the struggles he has endured this year though, he remains a potentially game-breaking and dynamic defensemen. His hockey sense and puck-moving ability are still some of the best in the Kings system at the highest level. Whether he meets that ceiling or not is another question. He has been tasked with improving other aspects of his game currently, and there is still a long way to go for the natural talents of McKeown to reach their height.

7. (14) Nic Dowd, C, 6.5C
‏Drafted 7th round, 108th overall, 2009

‏Dowd has proven to be a valuable two-way center for the Monarchs in his rookie season. He has seemingly picked up where he left off in NCAA with St. Cloud State, bringing an aspect of simplicity and intelligence to the center ice position. With Shore morphing into a more prominent role, Dowd has picked up the slack as the team’s de facto penalty killing and third-line center. His hockey IQ has been a tremendous asset to the Monarchs, and he is playing a very mature and responsible brand of hockey for an AHL rookie.

8. (NR) Colin Miller, D, 6.5C
‏‏Drafted 5th round, 151st overall, 2012

‏The hard-shooting defenseman has made headlines this season. The former Soo Greyhound captain has taken a gigantic step forward from his rookie season in the AHL, and has had an all-star caliber sophomore season. His booming point shot and blistering speed have caught plenty of eyes as he has become one of the AHL’s more dominant offensive defenseman. With that in mind, Miller still has a lot to learn on the defensive side of the game and is far from a complete defensive player. Nevertheless, the evolution of Miller’s skating and offensive game have really put a jolt into his value within the Kings pipeline. As he continues to make strides in the defensive game his stock will rise even higher.

9. (4) Nikolai Prokhorkin, C/W, 7.5D
‏Drafted 4th round, 121st overall, 2012

‏In terms of natural talent, Prokhorkin remains one of the more scintillating Kings prospects. With that in mind, the young Russian has struggled in 2014-15. While last season the 21-year old scored at will amongst the top Russian teams, there are no secrets this year. He has had difficulties with being a target of other team’s top defenses, and has seen his production, ice time, and role with CSKA Moscow slip. As of late, Prokhorkin has been demoted to the lower division VHL in order to rekindle some fire. The nagging habit of getting caught floating in-game and his rumored off-ice concerns have put a bit of a damper on his future.

 10. (19) Paul LaDue, D, 7.0D
‏‏Drafted 6th round, 181st overall, 2012

‏The UND defenseman was a bit of a sleeper pick in 2012, going in the late sixth round. His development however has been fantastic. He is one of the more underrated blue liners on a stacked North Dakota defensive corps. LaDue has been a steady performer all season with North Dakota, and has made good strides in improving his skating and physical make-up. Due to his improved footwork, LaDue has looked better in transition and has been able to cover space more efficiently this year. He is only a sophomore, and is already looking like a potential steal as a sixth round pick.

11. (18) Alex Lintuniemi, D, 7.0D
Drafted 2nd round, 60th overall, 2014

The big Finn is another solid blueliner in what has become a rock solid defensive pipeline. Taken in the second round of 2014, Lintuniemi has been a handful for opposing forwards to deal with this year in the OHL. While his skating could still stand to improve, he has taken steps in various other areas of his game. His point totals are going to surpass that of last year by quite a bit. While nothing really jumps out about the 19-year old’s game other than his already NHL sized frame, he is good in several areas and is still growing.

12. (NR) Justin Auger, RW, 6.5C
‏Drafted 4th round, 103rd overall, 2013

‏The number one thing Justin Auger has needed to do to see his stock rise in the pipeline is use his naturally gifted size to his advantage. We have started to see that in 2014-15. Be it for defensive purposes or offensive purposes, Auger has started to put the 6’7 frame to work. His strength is evident when it comes to board work and front of the net battles. The Kings’ scheme thrives on size and playing a “heavy game”. While Auger lacks a real offensive punch, the sheer size and willingness to win battles gives him more than a fighter’s chance with the Kings.

13. (NR) Michael Amadio, C, 6.5D
Drafted 3rd round, 90th overall, 2013

North Bay has been on a roll this year and Amadio has been a huge part of it. He and linemate Nick Paul (OTT) have led the offensive charge for the Battalion with a combined 48 goals in 50 games. He is North Bay’s top center this season and this increase in role, offense, and overall play has seen his stock rise fast within the Kings pipeline.

14. (NR) J.F. Berube, G, 6.5D
‏Drafted 4th round, 95th overall, 2009

Berube is just another netminder in what has become a bit of a goalie factory in Manchester and LA. He has stepped in as the full-time starter this year with ease. He has seen quite the improvement in his numbers from this season to last season, and is one of the main reasons the Monarchs remain such a strong defensive team. His positioning and technical ability have been major keys in his improvement as he has matured.

15. (NR) Brian O’Neill, RW, 6.5D
Signed as free agent, 2012

It is hard not to like the hard working Brian O’Neill and what he has contributed to the Monarchs. He is having his best statistical year on record and is leading the team in points. It seems that everyone that is paired up with him thrives. His size is still a legitimate concern though at 5’9 and it may be the one thing that holds him out of an NHL lineup.

16. (11) Michael Mersch, RW, 6.5D
Drafted 4th round, 110th overall, 2011

Mersch has felt the growing pains of his rookie AHL season this year, although he has started to smooth out his play in the second half. He is still struggling to find the offensive impact he had in college, but he remains an intriguing 200-foot power forward and a potential bottom six forward with LA some day.

17. (15) Zac Leslie, D, 7.0D
‏Drafted 6th round, 178th overall, 2013

‏Leslie was on the cusp of making the AHL but was returned to juniors due to the log jam at defense. He has since had a commendable 2014-15. He has been paired up with young Noah Carroll, which has led to the pairing being a bit more exposed this year when Leslie joins the rush. He also still has the nasty habit of turning the puck over but it has been better this year than previous seasons.

18. (12) Nick Ebert, D, 7.0D‏
Drafted 7th round, 211 overall, 2012‏

Ebert is feeling the heat on a stacked Monarchs blue line this season. With an exceptional final year in juniors and a very strong training camp, Ebert has struggled to find himself consistently in the lineup. He is still learning to adjust to the speed and defensive game of the AHL, and how to impose his skating and puck moving ability at the next level. Chock this year up to part of the learning curve. Ebert still shows good promise, but will have to get over the difficult hump of CHL to AHL transition.

19. (16) Jonny Brodzinski,RW, 6.5D
‏Drafted 5th round, 148th overall, 2013

‏The Junior is having another strong outing for St. Cloud State, but it hasn’t been without its struggles. His play has picked up as of late but he has been far more streaky this season than last. He is still a gifted offensive contributor but has been up and down for the majority of 2014-15.

20. (NR) Matt Mistele, LW, 6.5D
‏Drafted 6th round, 180th overall, 2014

‏Mistele has been a good all-around player for Plymouth in the OHL, and he has carried that play over to Oshawa as well. He is carving out a nice offensive season for himself which is great to see after a down 2013-14. He has that chippy, low-flash brand of hockey that screams LA Kings.