Jordan Weal leads gifted group of Los Angeles Kings junior prospects

By Josh Deitell
Photo: Jordan Weal is among the top offensive talents in the WHL this season. (Photo courtesy of www.whl.ca)

With a handful of prospects graduating from the CHL ranks to the professional level this season, the Kings are left with just six prospects spread evenly amongst the three leagues, a low number by past standards. Still, what the group lacks in quantity it makes up for in quality. Included are the OHL’s leading goal scorer, the WHL’s league leader in points, and one of the top defensemen in the QMJHL.

Also of note is top forward prospect Brayden Schenn, who is not quite ready to play in the NHL full-time but has proven himself a dominant WHL player. Schenn cannot be sent to the AHL this season due to age restrictions. The Kings recently returned him to the Brandon Wheat Kings where he will almost assuredly join Team Canada for the WJCs.


WHL

Jordan Weal, C, Regina Pats
Acquired: 3rd round (70th overall) in 2010
April 15th, 1992. Ht: 5’9, Wt: 165 lbs.

One of the bright spots on the Pats, who sit second-last in the WHL, has been Weal. Despite losing talented linemate Jordan Eberle (EDM), Weal is still putting up over a point per contest. Through 28 games this year, Weal has 35 points, tops on the Pats and 16th in the league. Regina has struggled to keep the puck out of their net, giving up a league-worst 129 goals on the year, but Weal is first amongst regular forwards on the team with a minus-three rating.

Weal has still been a valuable player because of his all-around ability. Even when he’s not producing offensively, his aggressive style makes him a weapon on the forecheck, where he creates opportunities with turnovers. The Pats’ lack of depth will continue to afford Weal plenty of ice time in all situations, allowing him to refine his overall game.

Linden Vey, RW, Medicine Hat Tigers
Acquired: 4th round (96th overall) in 2009
July 17th, 1991. Ht: 6’0, Wt: 181 lbs.

Vey has exceeded all expectations thus far this season and is playing the best hockey of his young career. After potting 24 goals per season in his last two years of junior (in 71 games in 2008-09 and 72 games in 2009-10), he already has 18 through 27 games this season. Overall, he leads the WHL in points with 48.

His efforts have not gone unnoticed. Though he’s a longshot to make the talent-packed squad, Team Canada invited Vey to their World Junior Championship selection camp in December. His two-way play makes him more versatile than some of the strictly offensive-minded forwards on the roster, and with a strong camp showing he might force his way onto the roster in a depth role; for the most part, the top-six spots are spoken for.

OHL

Tyler Toffoli, RW, Ottawa 67s
Acquired: 2nd round (47th overall) in 2010
April 24th, 1992. Ht: 6’0, Wt: 190 lbs.

Playing alongside Ryan Martindale and Shane Prince for the Ottawa 67s, Toffoli is one-third of the most potent line in the OHL. Though he’s oft criticized for his skating, he’s consistently been able to find holes in coverage and take advantage of his opportunities when the puck finds its way to him, playing a game comparable to that of former King Luc Robitaille. He currently leads the OHL in markers with 24 in 28 games, putting him on pace to shatter his career high of 37 goals in 65 games from last season.

Despite his impressive offensive production, Toffoli has had some trouble playing a complete game. He has the checking ability to be a two-way player and more than just a triggerman, but does not always involve himself in the play.

It is easier to massage out minor kinks than to instill the key offensive abilities, like positioning and finishing, which Toffoli possesses in spades. His puck skills around the net are already professional quality. A recent and surprising Canada World Junior camp snub has to hurt, but with some of the OHL’s top players participating in the tournament, Toffoli has a chance to run away with the league’s scoring crown.

Robert Czarnik, C/W, Plymouth Whalers
Acquired: 3rd round (63rd overall) in 2008
January 25th, 1990. Ht: 6’0, Wt: 178 lbs.

Like Weal with Eberle, Czarnik lost a talented linemate with which he had a lot of chemistry in Tyler Seguin (BOS). After getting cut by AHL-affiliate Manchester just before the start of the season, Czarnik returned to Plymouth as an overager and posted five points in his first game back. He went on to add seven more points in his next three games. For a time it appeared that Czarnik might be a contender for the OHL scoring crown this year. While Plymouth is still winning hockey games, Czarnik’s production has leveled off. He’s still producing, but not at the same outstanding clip. Through 19 games on the year he has 26 points, good for second on the Whalers but 48th in the league.

A creative forward who works well in a cycle, Czarnik plays a style of game suited to the Kings current offensive system. Limited to the bench and press box for much of his time at the University of Michigan, Czarnik is finally being afforded plenty of playing time and continues to develop into a quality two-way forward.

QMJHL

Nicolas Deslauriers, D, Gatineau Olympiques
Acquired: 3rd round (84th overall) in 2009
February 22nd, 1991. Ht: 6’0, Wt: 198 lbs.

An off-season trade from Rouyn-Noranda to Gatineau promised increased responsibilities for Deslauriers this year, and he responded to the challenge with flying colors, posting 18 points in 19 games and playing a strong enough all-around game that he was looking like a possible invite to Canada’s World Junior camp. However, in a chippy contest with Moncton, a questionable knee-on-knee hit left Deslauriers crawling on the ice with a partially torn LCL tendon and fractured tibial plateau. He likely won’t return until January, at the earliest.

Despite the injury, Deslauriers is still an NHL-caliber two-way defensive prospect. Whereas in the past, he depended on his foot s
peed to recover on defense, he’s continued to refine his positioning to the point where he often times is the one who covers for his partner. He’s of average size, but Deslauriers is capable of throwing highlight reel hits. While he’s a better player in his own zone, he’s also maintained his ability to rush the puck up ice and create offense. Amongst all the defensive prospects in the Kings system, Deslauriers is arguably the most well-rounded.

Jean-Francois Berube, G,  Montreal Juniors
Acquired: 4th round (95th overall) in 2010
July 13th, 1991; Ht: 6’1, Wt: 168 lbs.

After a slow start to the season, Bérubé has turned things around and is now playing like one of the top goalies in the Q. His 2.60 GAA is good for sixth in the league and his 15 wins (in 20 games played) rank him third. Bérubé was forced to split time last season with Jake Allen (STL) last season before Allen was traded mid-season, and has since taken over as Montreal’s undisputed number one goalie.

A traditional Quebec butterfly goalie, Bérubé is a little taller than Kings goaltender Jonathan Bernier but plays a similar style, depending on sound positioning and quickness. His lack of experience has left him a relatively unknown entity to this point, but he’s just starting to come into his own.