Jonathan Bernier leads youth movement for Los Angeles Kings

By Josh Deitell
Photo: Prospect Jonathan Bernier is one of several Kings prospects who will be looking to play fulltime in the NHL in 2010-11. (Photo Courtesy of www.lewistonhockey.com)

After making the playoffs for the first time in nearly a decade, things are finally starting to look up for the Kings organization. General manager Dean Lombardi and his scouting staff have preached patience in allowing the development of their prospects, and it seems that the time has finally come for many of the team’s recent picks to make their way onto the roster and phase out bridge players, who have existed more as warm bodies than key contributors. With a top goaltending prospect, one of the most balanced defensive prospect cores in the league, and plenty of character up front, the future looks bright in Los Angeles.

Top 20 at a glance:

1. (2) Jonathan Bernier, G, 8.0B
2. (1) Brayden Schenn, C, 8.0C
3. (NR) Derek Forbort, D, 7.5C
4. (6) Andrei Loktionov, C, 7.5C
5. (3) Thomas Hickey, D, 7.5C
6. (4) Vyacheslav Voynov, D, 7.5C
7. (5) Colten Teubert, D, 7.0C
8. (13) Kyle Clifford, LW, 7.0C
9. (12) Nicolas Deslauriers, D, 7.0C
10. (NR) Tyler Toffoli, RW, 7.0C
11. (8) Martin Jones, G, 7.0C
12. (10) Jeff Zatkoff, G, 7.0C
13. (17) Brandon Kozun, RW, 7.0D
14. (20) Jake Muzzin, D, 6.5C
15. (11) Alec Martinez, D, 6.0B
16. (NR) Jordan Weal, C, 6.5C
17. (7) Davis Drewiske, D, 6.0B
18. (16) Trevor Lewis, C, 6.0C
19. (NR) Bud Holloway, C, 6.0C
20. (NR) Maxim Kitsyn, LW, 7.0D

1. (2) Jonathan Bernier, G, 22
Drafted 1st round, 11th overall, 2006

Despite experiencing a few ups and downs since turning pro, Jonathan Bernier appears ready to make the Kings’ roster full time. Though his first full AHL season in 2008-09 was a success, the young goaltender saw marked improvement this past campaign. In the 58 games Bernier played in 2009-10, he led all goalies with a sparkling .936 save percentage and nine shutouts, ranked second with a 2.03 GAA, and placed third with 30 wins. At the conclusion of the season, he was awarded the Aldege Bastien Memorial Award, given to the AHL’s top goaltender. In the playoffs, he carried the Monarchs to the conference finals, leading the league in goals against, save percentage, and shutouts. In addition to his AHL success, Bernier suited up for the Kings. He did not disappoint in his time with the big club, winning all three of his starts, including an impressive 30-save shutout of the Nashville Predators.

The Kings can only keep Bernier out of the NHL for so long. Barring any unforeseen setbacks, he’ll be on the roster to start the upcoming season. The emergence of Jonathan Quick allows the Kings to continue to be patient with Bernier and not thrust him into the spotlight immediately, but it will be a battle for the starting goaltender job as Bernier attempts to wrestle away the top billing. He has the athletic ability, positioning, and quickness to be a top-10 starter in the NHL.

2. (1) Brayden Schenn, C, 19
Drafted 1st round, 5th overall, 2009

Schenn was all over the map this season. In what might be his final year with the Brandon Wheat Kings, he posted 34 goals, 65 assists, and 99 points in 59 games, career highs in all three offensive categories. Though he suited up for 11 less games with Brandon than during the 2008-09 campaign, it was not injuries that hampered him, but rather, greater opportunities. He joined the Canadian U-20 team for the World Junior Championships in Saskatchewan, posting eight points in six games and playing solid two-way hockey. He was unspectacular, but still managed to be an integral part of the team. On the 26th of November, 2009, due to some injuries on the Kings’ roster and his proximity to Vancouver, Schenn made his NHL debut, joining the team on a one-game tryout contract for their game against the Canucks. He played just over 12 minutes on the team’s second line. Among other accolades, Schenn also competed in the Subway Super Series, representing the WHL, and was named to the WHL (East) First All-Star Team.

Schenn is the most complete forward prospect in the Kings’ organization, bringing a blend of skill and grit along with a consistent effort on a game-by-game basis. One of the final cuts last year, Schenn will be given a long look in training camp, but because he’s only 19, the team’s options limited, as he cannot be sent to the AHL until next season. Whether it will be better for Schenn to join the Kings this year in a supporting role or be sent back to Brandon to play in every situation as the team’s captain is a decision the Kings’ brass will have to make within the next few weeks.

3. (NR) Derek Forbort, D, 18
Drafted 1st round, 15th overall, 2010

Widely considered the top NHL prospect from a talented 2010 USNTDP class, Forbort has the tools and potential to be an impact two-way defender in the NHL. He brings a rare combination of size and mobility to the table. On top of having one of the most efficient skating strides in his draft class, Forbort’s 6’5 frame allows him to physically dominate his opposition. Currently short of 200 lbs, Forbort also has plenty of room to bulk up. Drawing comparisons to Jay Bouwmeester, Forbort plays a solid game at both ends of the rink. He’s a
ble to headman the puck with intelligent breakout passes or rush it with speed, and also possesses good passing ability in the offensive zone to go along with a powerful slap shot, making him a viable power play option. Defensively, Forbort plays a positional game, relying on his stick rather than physicality, but he does have the build to become a bruiser with the right coaching. Over 26 games with the NTDP in 2009-10 playing against USHL competition, Forbort had four goals and ten assists and accumulated 26 penalty minutes.

Though he’s still considered a long-term project, Forbort’s upside is sky-high. He has the size, skill, and strength that scouts look for in a top-pairing NHL defenseman, it’s just a matter of putting everything together as he continues to progress to higher levels of play. After impressing with the NTDP, his next big test will be with the North Dakota Fighting Sioux, where he’ll start his college career next season.

4. (6) Andrei Loktionov, C, 20
Drafted 5th round, 123rd overall, 2008

After posting 66 points in 51 games for the Windsor Spitfires in 2008-09, Loktionov looked poised to assume a key offensive role for the Monarchs in 2009-10, but there were some concerns about whether he could handle the physicality of AHL hockey. He quelled his doubters with an impressive start to the season, assuming a top-six role from the start. Despite his inexperience, he immediately illustrated his creativity with the puck, as well as his reliability as a two-way player. His breakout culminated in a call up to the Kings’ roster, where he was given the opportunity to play as the team’s number two center on November 25th against the Oilers. Unfortunately, his big-stage debut was cut short by a dislocated shoulder, and he was placed on injured reserve the next day. He didn’t play again until March 26th, when he returned to the Monarchs lineup to finish out the season. Overall, Loktionov posted 24 points in 29 games, good for .83 points per game – the best clip on the Monarchs. He also finished tied for third on the team with nine points in 16 playoff games.

An intelligent and responsible player, Loktionov has all the makings of a top-six NHL forward. He does have to improve his conditioning though as there is concern he can’t handle the more rigorous schedule and style of game. He’ll challenge for a roster spot on one of the Kings top three lines this season, but may be returned to Manchester to show that he can be an impact player for an entire campaign.

5. (3) Thomas Hickey, 21
Drafted 1st round, 4th overall, 2007

Once a premier defensive prospect with great offensive potential, Hickey still has plenty of NHL potential, but it is now or never for the oft-injured blueliner. The Kings will not give up on the former fourth overall pick so easily, but being that he was so highly drafted, there is a lot of pressure on the Calgary-born defenseman to perform. To date, Hickey has not played a healthy extended stretch of games for the Monarchs. After joining the team to close out the 2008-09 season, Hickey was penciled in for a key role this past year. He underwhelmed to start the year and it was discovered in November that he had been attempting to play through a shoulder injury that he suffered before the season. Consequently, he was shut down for most of the campaign to undergo and recover from surgery. He returned for the last four games of the Monarchs season before spraining his ankle the day before the playoffs, and sat out until the Eastern Conference finals. When he did play, he gave the team a dynamic presence on the back end, able to rush the puck up ice with speed or make crisp breakout passes. Hickey is a quarterback both on the powerplay and at even strength. In 30 regular season and playoff games over the last two seasons, Hickey has potted two goals and added 14 assists for 16 total points.

Coming into the last year of his entry-level deal, Hickey needs to stay healthy this season and establish himself as a responsible two-way player. There’s an off chance that he secures a roster spot with the Kings this year as a bottom pairing defenseman who can run the second unit powerplay, but it’s more likely that Hickey spends most of this season with Manchester to show the team that he can withstand the rigors of professional hockey.

6. (4) Vyacheslav Voynov, D, 20
Drafted 2nd round 32nd overall, 2008

Voynov has always been a bit ahead of the curve, playing in Russia’s top league at the age of 16, and two years ago began his AHL career as one of the youngest players in the league at 18. Despite now only being 20 years of age, he already has four seasons of professional experience under his belt, but has yet to crack the NHL roster for a single game. He scored at nearly the same rate last season, but the issue with Voynov’s development is not so much that his play has regressed. It has more to do with the possibility of his returning to Russia should he not make the Kings NHL roster this upcoming season. Whether that’s short or long term isn’t certain, but having bided his time in the minors and with a contract that expires at the end of this season, it has to be a concern for the Kings. With no transfer agreement in place between Russia and the NHL, the Kings could risk losing Voynov if he is assigned to the minor-leagues.

As it stands, Voynov does not look quite ready to play for the Kings fulltime. His offensive abilities are valuable, but he still has the tendency to get lost in his own zone and get outworked along the boards. He has the potential to be a second pairing defenseman who can quarterback a powerplay, but whether the Kings are ready to throw him to the wolves in an NHL game is questionable. It may take a couple more years of refining his defensive game, in either the AHL or KHL, before Voynov can establish himself as a reliable NHL player.

7. (5) Colten Teubert, D, 20
Drafted 1st round 13th overall, 2008

It’s telling that Teubert has yet to suit up for an AHL game, much less an NHL contest, while other 2008 first round picks Erik Karlsson, Luca Sbisa, Michael Del Zotto, and John Carlson, all drafted after Teubert, look to have secured positions of responsibility with their respective teams for the upcoming season. By comparison, Teubert looks to be starting the year in the ECHL as the premier defenseman on the Ontario Reign.

Perhaps it’s a little unfair to compare to Teubert to his peers: when looking at him as a standalone entity, things seem much less bleak. The mean-spirited blueliner is still only 20 years old, and has been one of Team Canada’s most reliable defenders at the World Junior Championships, suiting up for the team in 2009 and 2010. He was a leader for the Pats over the last two seasons and took over the captaincy in 2009-10, and despite his rough style of game was among their more offensively
productive players over the past two seasons.

While expecting Teubert to be a top-pairing defenseman is an exercise in disappointment, he still has the potential to be a capable NHL player. A middle-pairing defender who can contribute at both ends of the rink and provide a physical presence is a more realistic goal for him, but considering the languidness with which the Kings have handled his development thus far, he appears to be a few years away from making an impact at the NHL level.

8. (13) Kyle Clifford, LW, 19
Drafted 2nd round 35th overall, 2009

When the Kings drafted Clifford in the second round of the 2009 NHL Draft, the reaction was similar to when the team picked Wayne Simmonds in the same round two years earlier: that it was a reach. Clifford, ranked 182nd by Central Scouting in their final rankings during his draft year, was known more for his rough-and-tumble play than his ability to contribute offensively, but after scoring 16 goals in 60 games 2008-09 after scoring just one in 2007-08, the winger caught the attention of the Kings scouting staff. Fast forward one year: Clifford is currently coming off a breakout OHL season and looking to challenge for a roster spot with the Kings for the upcoming campaign at the tender age of 19. His improvement in a short span has been astounding: in 58 games during the 2009-10 year, Clifford potted 28 goals and added 29 assists for 57 points, setting career highs in all three offensive categories. He was also a dependable contributor for the Colts in the playoffs, totaling 14 points in 17 games.

Clifford’s rapid development makes it difficult to predict his ceiling. Should he continue to improve and refine his all-around game, Clifford does have the potential to be a good middle-six winger, capable of creating space and chipping in offensively. Should he make the Kings this year, it will likely be as a fourth liner, primarily to provide energy and physicality. That would require a great training camp on his part, as he could just as easily end up back in Barrie for one more season.

9. (12) Nicolas Deslauriers, D, 19
Drafted 3rd round, 84th overall, 2009

One of the more unsung prospects in the Kings organization, Deslauriers never seems to get mentioned along with the team’s other top prospects, but has consistently shown he deserves acclaim. One of the fastest skaters in the Kings pipeline, Deslauriers’ agility makes him valuable both in rushing the puck up the ice and in recovering defensively to prevent scoring opportunities. Deslauriers was one of the most exciting defensemen in the QMJHL this year, scoring nine goals and adding 36 assists for 45 points in 65 games. What’s promising about the young defenseman is his commitment to rounding out his defensive game and becoming more adept at utilizing his body. At the team’s recent rookie camp, he showed off his fast skating and confidently threw his weight around. He also displayed dazzling positional work.

Still only 19 years old, Deslauriers will undoubtedly play for Gatineau this season, where he’ll be a key contributor. He’s still a couple years away, but he’s consistently improved since being selected and has the potential to be a valuable NHL defenseman.

10. (NR) Tyler Toffoli, RW, 18
Drafted 2nd round, 47th overall, 2010

The Kings did well in solidifying their prospect depth at both wings in this past draft, and Toffoli is their biggest addition in that regard, instantly becoming the team’s top RW prospect. With a nose for the net and great hands, Toffoli wreaks havoc with his great net-front presence and ability to fire off one-timers. His game is similar to that of former King Luc Robitaille: oft-criticized as being a mediocre skater, Toffoli manages to find open ice in the offensive zone at the right time and has deadly finishing ability. Projected by many pundits and scouting services as a first rounder, Toffoli dropped to the middle of the second, likely over concerns regarding his foot speed and all-around game.

Potting 37 goals in 65 games in the OHL last season, he has the goal-scoring prowess to contribute on as a top-six forward, but if he wants to be more than a triggerman in the NHL, he needs to work on his skating and all-around game. His high-end upside is a two-way, top-six sniper, but even should his overall game stagnate, he has the offensive skill to carve out a niche role as a powerplay specialist.

11. (8) Martin Jones, G, 20
Signed as free agent, 2008

A standout goaltender for the Calgary Hitmen, Martin Jones is coming off a stellar WHL career where over the past two seasons he compiled a record of 81-16-5. He finished the 2009-10 year with a 36-11-1 record, 2.21 goals-against-average, and .919 save percentage in 48 games. In the playoffs, Jones backstopped his team to the WHL championship and a Memorial Cup berth, allowing only seven goals in the WHL final en route to being named the playoff MVP. At the conclusion of the season, he was named the recipient of the Del Wilson Trophy, awarded to the WHL’s top goaltender during the regular season, and was also awarded the Hap Emms Memorial Trophy, given to the top goaltender in the Memorial Cup. The highlight of his season was replacing Jake Allen (STL) for Team Canada in the gold medal game of the World Junior Championships. Though he was in net for John Carlson’s game-winning goal in overtime, the experience of playing in such a high-pressure situation will prove invaluable, and it’s a positive sign that Canada was confident enough in his abilities to put him in at that time.

Jones looks to be a free-agent steal for the Kings. He’ll be making his professional debut for the organization this upcoming season. Considering the way the team forced Jeff Zatkoff to work his way up to the Monarchs from the ECHL’s Ontario Reign, Jones is likely to start the 2010-11 season there – this is unless Zatkoff majorly underwhelms, as he’s first in line to take over the Monarchs’ starting role. It’s realistic to expect Jones to play occasionally with the Monarchs as the season goes on and to challenge for the starting role as early as spring. He safely projects as a borderline NHL starter, but could have higher upside depending on how well he adapts to the professional game.

12. (10) Jeff Zatkoff, G, 23
Drafted 3rd round, 74th overall, 2006

With Jonathan Bernier emerging as the Kings top goalie, there is little room in the spotlight for the other goaltender prospects in the organization. With that in mind, it’s no surprise that Zatkoff’s name has lost a
bit of luster. Still, when given the opportunity, he plays good hockey. In his last college season with Miami University of Ohio, he went 27-8-1 with a 1.72 goals-against-average and a .933 save percentage in 36 games, and was a major factor in the Redhawks revival from a mediocre team to a perennial contender. He went on to start his professional career for the Ontario Reign in 2008-09. As their main starter, he played in 37 games, posting a 17-15-3 record and backstopping the expansion squad to the top of the Pacific division. The 2009-10 season was a bit of a difficult one for Zatkoff, as despite finishing the year with an above .500 10-9-0 record, he was never really able to get into a groove, ceding a majority of the starts to Bernier while being relegated to the backup role.

The issue with Zatkoff remains to be opportunity. The Monarchs have yet to give him the opportunity, but with Bernier looking to ascend to the Kings roster this season, the starting job in Manchester is up for grabs. He’ll be competing with WHL-grad Martin Jones for the role, but his seniority and professional experience should give him the edge early on. After this season, it will be easier to project Zatkoff’s potential, but as it stands, he still looks to have the upside of a borderline NHL starting goaltender.

13. (17) Brandon Kozun, RW, 20
Drafted 6th round, 179th overall, 2009

Year after year, Kozun keeps proving doubters wrong. After his breakout season in 2008-09, in which he scored 108 points in 72 games for Calgary, a fair share of pundits questioned whether he could maintain that pace during the 2009-10 season. Even most of his backers agreed the pint-sized forward needed to bring the same type of performance on a season-by-season basis to be considered a legitimate NHL prospect. Kozun not only matched his output with 107 points in 65 games this past year, but posted 30 points in 23 playoff games, illustrating he can elevate his game when it matters most. His blazing start to the season led to rampant interest from the American and Canadian WJC squads – born in Los Angeles but developed in Canada, Kozun was eligible to play for either team. All but guaranteed a spot on Team USA, Kozun instead decided to try to play his way onto the more selective Team Canada roster. He made the squad and was a quality contributor for the team, posting seven points in six games and playing hero with a shootout winner in Canada’s final round-robin game against the American team.

Despite all Kozun has proven, he still has more to show. This year, he’ll likely begin his professional career with the Monarchs. As much as it seems like a cliché, there is always the question as to whether undersized players can handle the rigors of professional hockey. Considering Kozun’s success so far, it would not be a surprise to see him establish himself as a key performer for Manchester this year. As far as an NHL future, he’ll either be a top-six player or bust.

14. (20) Jake Muzzin, D, 21
Signed as free agent, 2009

It is not every day that a team gets the opportunity to add the OHL defenseman of the year without giving up assets or spending a draft pick, but the Kings did just that when they signed Muzzin at the conclusion of this past season. Coming off an outstanding 2009-10 OHL year in which he scored 67 points in 64 games, he immediately made his professional debut for the Monarchs, playing in one regular season contest and suiting up for 13 games during the postseason. Muzzin looked very much the part of a rookie, at times looking lost against the superior competition, but his upside is appealing. Not only is Muzzin an offensive producer, he’s a massive, intimidating force. Despite his affinity for shooting and passing the puck, he’s not a one-dimensional player by any means. His ability to keep the front of the net clear is invaluable and he’s a menace along the boards who loves to hit.

Where Muzzin’s game needs work in particular is in his skating and positioning against the rush. He has good top-end speed, but he’s not particularly agile; this, combined with his difficulty in handling the puck at top flight, means that he more often than not has to depend on breakout passes, as opposed to moving the puck up ice himself. To add that dimension to his game would help his transition to professional hockey tremendously. He also struggled a bit in keeping up with Hershey’s quick forwards in the playoffs and illustrated some poor gap control. Fortunately, Muzzin’s issues are much more coachable than puck-sense and physicality, both of which he possesses in spades. His upside is a two-way defenseman who can play in all situations and his ceiling is somewhat uncapped: for him to end up a second-pairing NHL defenseman is not out of the realm of possibility.

15. (11) Alec Martinez, D, 23
Drafted 4th round, 95th overall, 2007

One of the elder defensemen in the youthful Monarchs unit, Martinez established himself as arguably the best defenseman on the team this year, contributing in all situations and out-producing his competition by a statistically wide margin. In 55 games, he scored seven goals and added 23 assists for 30 total points, good for fifth on the team amongst all players. Though his point total only tops teammate Slava Voynov’s 29-point mark by one, his production came in 24 fewer games. His plus-12 rating was tops on the team. He made his NHL debut this season as well, suiting up for four games with the Kings and going pointless. He looked a bit overwhelmed at times, especially along the boards, but showed some of the safe two-way play that’s desirable in a dependable bottom-pairing defenseman.

At this point, Martinez appears ready to make the jump. While he’s not prepared to play big minutes, he’d benefit from practicing with an NHL team on a consistent basis to get acclimated to the speed and physicality of NHL play. In a pinch, he could fill in at even strength, on the powerplay, or penalty kill. His upside does not seem to be much higher than a depth defenseman, but he already looks to be a valuable spare part.

16. (NR) Jordan Weal, C, 18
Drafted 3rd round, 70th overall, 2010

Playing alongside top prospect Jordan Eberle (EDM) in the WHL, Weal had an outstanding campaign in for the Regina Pats in 2009-10, posting 102 points in 72 games and leading the team with 67 assists. Weal creates most of his offense off puck possession. He has good skills along the boards and is an outstanding playmaker, patiently biding time until an opportunity comes up to set up a teammate and seizing the opening to create a scoring chance with a quick, accurate pass. His shot is not particularly hard, but he does a good job disguising it and getting it off quickly. Perhaps the strongest aspect of Weal’s game, and the one that may translate the best to professional hockey, is his tenacity on the forecheck. He’s an intelligent defender and an agile skater who picks his spots well and forces turnovers with intense pressure.

The next big test for Weal will be to prove that he can perform without Eberle, who will be playing for the Oilers this upcoming season. He’ll be the go-to player on the Pats in 2010-11, and it will be important for him to maintain his h
igh-level of play with increased responsibility on his shoulders. His ceiling is that of a top-six two-way forward, but he may be more suited for a third line role in the NHL.

17. (7) Davis Drewiske, D, 25
Signed as free agent, 2008

After suiting up for 17 games in 2008-09, Drewiske earned a roster spot out of training camp and stuck with the Kings for entire 2009-10 season, suiting up for 42 games and scoring eight points in that span. His 14 penalty minutes are indicative of his patient, calculated defensive game, which depends on finesse, body positioning along the boards, and stick work. For the first few months of the season, Drewiske was a solid bottom-pairing defender who played it safe in his own zone and rarely turned the puck over when given the opportunity to handle it. A shoulder injury in January knocked Drewiske out for 15 games, and when he returned, he never quite got things going again. His decision-making was questionable and he was consistently overpowered in his own zone. Ultimately, Drewiske was a healthy scratch for the Kings’ six playoff games.

Signed to a three-year extension last October, Drewiske should continue to play a depth role for the Kings for the near future. His long-term future with the team is questionable, as there are plenty of defensemen in the system with more specialized skill-sets, but he’s a useful piece to have for the time being and has proven himself to be an NHL-caliber player.

18. (16) Trevor Lewis, C, 23
Drafted 1st round, 17th overall, 2006

Once one of the Kings’ top prospects, Lewis has fallen down the depth chart, but it’s important to remember he was considered a safe pick when he was drafted. Though he finished second in USHL scoring in his draft year, Lewis was billed as a two-way forward who, if his offensive game failed to develop, would still be a capable bottom six player. After a rookie year which saw him total 28 points in 76 games, it seemed that Lewis was destined for a future on the Kings’ lower lines, but a breakout 2008-09 campaign, in which he scored 20 goals and added 31 assists for 51 points to finish second on the Monarchs in scoring, renewed some hope in his ability to be an offensive contributor. Unfortunately, Lewis was unable to build on his successful 2008-09 season, as he suffered an upper body injury in November that knocked him out for most of the regular season. He returned for the last few games of the year and the playoffs and was a valuable contributor for the team during the postseason, posting nine points in 16 games while playing in all situations.

This next season looks to be the most important of Lewis’ career thus far as his contract will be expiring at the end of the year. Lewis may not have second-line upside, but despite all of his setbacks, he looks nearly NHL-ready. He made the Kings out of training camp last season and could do the same this year, but will be looking to stick around longer than October and earn himself a contract extension.

19. (NR) Bud Holloway, C, 22
Drafted 3rd round, 86th overall, 2006

Holloway was an unsung hero for the Monarchs this year. In just his second professional season, he led the team with 47 points in 75 games. A hard-worker and leader, Holloway provided the team with a valuable presence capable of playing in all situations. In addition to his solid regular season performance, Holloway tied the AHL playoff record for game-winning goals, with six of his seven markers being decisive. He added seven assists for 14 total points to lead the Monarchs in playoff scoring.

Holloway is a bit of tweener at this point, as though he has good offensive ability and a developing defensive game, he’s not quite outstanding in any area. He projects as a third or fourth line NHL forward, but it remains to be seen when or if he’ll get his shot with the Kings. A good training camp would do wonders for his chances to suit up for the big club this season. He’s a dark horse to make the Kings roster out of camp, but should get a few cups of coffee at some point this year if he doesn’t.

20. (NR) Maxim Kitsyn, LW, 18
Drafted 6th round, 158th overall, 2010

When Kitsyn made his KHL debut at the tender age of 16 and scored four goals in his first eight games, comparisons to Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin were invariably drawn. Kitsyn was proclaimed the next great Russian player and pegged for a top-three draft spot by pundits and scouting services. However, in 23 games to close out the season, Kitsyn potted only one more goal. While the hype train did not derail completely at the conclusion of his 2008-09 campaign, his 2009-10 season did not inspire much confidence. In 21 games this past season in the KHL, he scored one goal and added one assist for two points. However, Kitsyn did illustrate some promise in the MHL, the KHL’s equivalent to the American Hockey League. In 11 games for the Kuznetzk Bears, he posted 18 points, and followed that up by adding 21 points in 17 playoff games, finishing as the top playoff scorer in the league.

A power forward with all the stick skills one has come to expect from players coming out of Russian junior hockey, Kitsyn’s inability to produce at the KHL level despite being an offense-first player is concerning, but his commitment to coming across the pond inspires some hope. He will suit up for Mississauga of the OHL next season, after being drafted by them in the recent CHL import draft, and though he won’t be playing against men like in the KHL, he’ll get to develop his game against more manageable competition. His inability to speak much English is a major obstacle he must overcome, but if he can produce on the ice, it will not be a factor. He projects as a boom-or-bust top-six forward, but his potential will be a little clearer after he has a year of North American hockey under his belt.

Honorable Mentions:
Robert Czarnik, C, 6.0C
Czarnik really turned his game around after leaving the NCAA to join Plymouth this year. Next year he’ll have to prove he can play without Seguin.

Corey Elkins, C, 6.0C
Elkins had a nice rookie year with 21 goals and 22 assists in the AHL, as well as making his NHL debut, playing three games for the Kings.

Marc-Andre Cliche, RW, 6.0C
Cliché looks like he has the NHL upside of a decent PK and faceoff specialist who can put the puck in the net from time to time. He suited up for one game with the Kings this year.