Small group of players populate NCAA prospect pool for Los Angeles Kings

By Josh Deitell
Photo: Derek Forbort is the latest in a long line of talented young defenseman drafted by the Los Angeles Kings. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

Despite focusing their draft efforts on the CHL and developing a reputation for pulling players out of college hockey to send them to Canadian junior hockey in recent years, the Kings have five prospects that played college hockey this past season. The gem of the group is US NTDP grad Derek Forbort. He has had a successful freshman season for the North Dakota Fighting Sioux, who are currently preparing for a Frozen Four matchup with Michigan on Thursday night. The Kings are also major supporters of St. Cloud’s program, with three Huskies in the system.

While Los Angeles has drafted college players sparingly, they’ve been even more averse to selecting Europeans, save for those who have shown a willingness to immediately cross the pond. The team has drafted just four players out of European leagues during Dean Lombardi’s six drafts with the team, three of whom were immediately signed and re-assigned to North American teams. Recent Russian picks Maxim Kitsyn and Andrei Loktionov were inked to play Canadian junior hockey, while Slava Voynov has been in the AHL since the age of 18.

NCAA

Derek Forbort, D, 19
Acquired: 1st round, 15th overall, 2010

Despite the occasional freshman struggles, Forbort has altogether had a quality season for North Dakota, gradually rounding out his play and gaining more responsibility with each passing game. On the year, Forbort posted 15 assists in 37 games.

Though physically able to match up with college players from the onset, the 6’5, 200 pound defenseman had trouble with his positioning, having largely depended on his skating ability and wingspan at lower levels. With coaching and experience, Forbort has been better able to read and react to the higher quality of competition and has also shown improvement in winning board battles and clearing the crease, though he still doesn’t use his size as he could and needs to put on mass. Thus far in the postseason, the Sioux’s pairing of Forbort and Ben Blood has been successful in playing a simple, defense-first game; though Forbort has posted no points he’s a plus-eight through six playoff games, and the Sioux are poised for a Frozen Four matchup this week.

Next season, Forbort should see a great deal more responsibility with the Sioux as well as the US U20 team at the WJCs, likely seeing ice time in all situations for both squads. He’ll have the opportunity to take a large step forward after what has been a quietly solid but guarded developmental year.

Kevin Gravel, D, 19
Acquired: 5th round, 148th overall, 2010

Gravel, who was drafted in the fifth round after posting six points in 53 USHL games with Sioux City, continued to play his poised and sound brand of hockey with St. Cloud this season. As a freshman, he posted six points and took just two minor penalties in 36 games. While the season was disappointing for St. Cloud, as they failed to reach the NCAA tournament after making it to the regional final a year previous, short of developing an unexpected offensive game, Gravel’s season could not have gone much better.

It does not appear that Gravel will become a dominant defenseman at any level, but he is a safe bet to be a quality professional hockey player down the line thanks to his discipline and defensive awareness. He should continue to play a defense-first role for the Huskies for the next few years, possibly playing out all four years of college eligibility with the Kings’ depth on the back end.


Garrett Roe, C, 23
Acquired: 7th round, 183rd overall, 2008

The combination of losing running mate Ryan Lasch to graduation and St. Cloud’s slow start to the season makes it easy to understand why Roe took a step back this season in production, posting 36 points in 38 games and failing to break the point-per-game mark for the first time in his four years of college hockey. Still, the diminutive forward maintained the same pesky, fearless style of play that endeared him to Huskies fans in the course of his WCHA career. Roe left his mark on the school, and leaves ranked first all-time amongst Huskies in assists (111), seventh in goals (65), and third in points (176).

Roe faces an uphill battle, particularly with the Kings organization, who at the minor league level already employ a bevy of undersized forwards. It’s difficult to count Roe out however, being that his game does not solely revolve around offense. His agitating, high-energy style may help him secure a third or fourth line role at the professional level, where he’ll have to prove himself able to play an all-around game in order to progress.


Nic Dowd, RW, 20
Acquired: 7th round, 198th overall, 2009

Dowd has taken a more unconventional route to college hockey than most. After starting his hockey career in hometown Huntsville, Alabama, Dowd eventually moved on to Culver Academy in Indiana to play high school hockey before making his way to Washington, where he played Junior A for the Wenatchee Wild of the NAHL and caught the attention of St. Cloud. The skinny agitator got off to a slow start with the Huskies, posting just four points in his first 17 games, but found his footing in December when he started to assert himself physically, leading to a six-game point streak during which he scored three goals and added eight assists. He finished the year with five goals and 13 assists in 36 games.

Dowd has a promising future as a two-way player. It remains to be seen whether he’ll develop into a top-flight scorer at the collegiate level, but he’s only just starting to put muscle on his frame and tap into his potential. He’s the type of player that is able to contribute with his hitting and sound defensive play, even when he’s not scoring, which makes him a much safer bet to succeed at the professional level. He looks to be at least two more years of college hockey away from signing a contract, and could very well play out his eligibility.


Joshua Turnbull, LW, 22
Acquired: 5th round, 137th overall, 2007

With Wisconsin losing six of its top seven scorers in the past offseason, the Badgers entered the season looking for contribution from the more established players on the roster who had yet to really make their mark. Turnbull emerged after a disappointing junior season and responded to the challenge by finishing fourth in scoring amongst forwards on the roster with 20 points, 13 of them goals, in 38 games. After three years of inconsistent play, Turnbull was finally able to get comfortable playing his high-energy style and showed off a good goal-scoring touch while spending a majority of the season skating on the Badgers’ top line.

Turnbull may have earned himself a professional contract with his performance this year, but because it’s his first year of real success at a high level of play, it likely won’t be an NHL deal. If he decides to continue to pursue a hockey career, expect him to sign a minor pro or European deal and attempt to work his way towards an entry-level deal with an NHL club down the line. If he can build on his senior season, he has the chance to be a successful professional.