Though the Manchester Monarchs are the 2014-15 AHL champions, the Los Angeles Kings are on the links, and the 2015 NHL entry draft is coming soon. The Kings have seen outstanding performances from a number of their young prospects this year, and it is showing in the way of Memorial Cup performances and AHL heroics. Meanwhile, the Kings have started to hit a potential point of transition, where young prospects may need to rise to the occasion soon. With a sort of mini-rebuild seemingly on the horizon, the Kings are going to need to get down to business with strong drafting in order to stave off any sustained dip in results. They have ironically picked a decent year to get into the top 15, as the 2015 draft looks to be one of the strongest in a decade.
With an idea of retooling and refocusing, this could be the start of a message-sending kind of summer for Los Angeles.
Top 10 Prospects
Skill seems to be the one aspect of the Kings system that is somewhat void. They have plenty of players who bring size, grit, toughness, and defensive responsibility, but they are definitely light on the highlight reel skill and speed. Outside of Spencer Watson and Colin Miller, few players in the Kings have a dynamic offensive game. At best they have a group of complementary scorers who would flourish in a score by committee scenario. Fortunately, that is how the Kings operate. Nevertheless, it would help the Kings system in the future if they could acquire a player with legitimate top six upside. Marian Gaborik, Dustin Brown, and Jeff Carter are not getting any younger. Despite all three being signed long term, there will be a time when their role and production will need to be replaced from within.
The Kings have an exceptional amount of meat and potatoes players. If not having a blue chip prospect is a weakness, having an outstanding amount of role players is the strength. While few could be considered surefire top six players, they have several burgeoning top nine complementary players. Michael Mersch, Jordan Weal, Nic Dowd, and Derek Forbort have been brought along very nicely, and may be useful and important NHL role players in the near future.
A lot of credit has to be given to the Kings development staff as well. While they have not had the luxury of having high picks, they have brought along their mid-round picks very well. Only one of the aforementioned group hails from the first round of his respective draft year. They also have players like Nick Ebert, Zach Leslie, and Jonny Brodzinski, all of whom were considered somewhat boom or bust picks at the time of their draft but have honed in and evened out their games recently.
It has been something that has been apparent in the last several years, but the Kings lack a true blue chip prospect. It is the difficulty that successful teams face on a regular basis. With so many picks coming in the later rounds it is hard to build up talent that you could say is legitimately in the top six of forwards or the top four amongst defensemen. Development-wise, the Kings have done well in turning later picks like Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson into top six wingers, but that still does not supplant the simple fact that the Kings do not have a lot of high end prospects in the system.
On a position to position bases, the left wing group is exceptionally thin with the Kings. While they have multiple players who can play either left or right wing, they have just three players who are natural left wings: Matt Mistele, Joel Lowry, and Maxim Kitsyn. Some bolstering of the left side will have to be addressed soon.
The Los Angeles Kings have been one of the more involved scouting teams in the OHL over the past several years, and it shows when you review their selections. Last season the Kings selected seven players from the CHL and all of them were from the Ontario Hockey League. The year prior to that in 2013 they selected five CHL players, three from the OHL. In 2012 it was also three out of four. Safe to say, the Kings have connections and loyalty to the OHL. They have built up plenty of core members from that league as well. Drew Doughty, Tyler Toffoli, Kyle Clifford, Jordan Nolan, and Tanner Pearson all hail from teams within Ontario.
Aside from that pretty obvious pattern, the Kings have a pretty standard way of going about the draft. Safe picks early, boom or bust late, and overall they love to see players who are big movers in terms of growth. Players like Colin Miller, Nick Shore, and Zac Leslie showed very good season to season growth, and to the Kings that shows a dedication to getting better. Recent picks like Mike Amadio and Matt Mistele are also good examples of that. Even if the pick seems a bit off the board, the idea that a player shows progress and a willingness to improve seems to be a staple to the Kings draft mentality.
Hockey’s Future Staff Mock Draft Results:
13. Travis Konecny, C/W, Ottawa 67’s (OHL)
Konecny is exactly what the Kings need. A great all-around winger/center with a high-end offensive game. He has leadership qualities, a full 200-foot game, and will be a nice addition to LA’s developing speed game. Aside from his on-ice ability, Konecny has a few things going for him that make him a fit with L.A. He would instantly be one of the most offensively gifted forwards in their pipeline, he can play all three forward positions, and comes from a system in Ottawa where the Kings recently had success drafting Tyler Toffoli and Alex Lintuniemi. He was a pretty big mover from the mid-term to final rankings, which is also something that the Kings have honed in on in the past. They love growth. With an aging Gaborik and Dustin Brown, and a departing Justin Williams, it is not out of the question to see him as a top six player in L.A. in a few years time. His lack of size is made up for with his tenacity and skating ability. He has that L.A. Kings brand to him despite being on the smaller side of things.