It will be hard for some of the Los Angeles Kings prospects to top their respective 2014-15 seasons. There was a Calder Cup Championship, a Memorial Cup Championship, a Slovak Extraliga title, and a number of other MVP-worthy and team-leading performances spread across the pipeline.
2015-16 brings new challenges and new surroundings for many. From title defenses to bounce back years, there are plenty of stories to follow in 2015-16. With the stage set and the time quickly approaching for hockey, here is the 2015-16 LA Kings prospects preview.
The Swede’s big move from Europe to North America came in the midst of a powerful run by the Manchester Monarchs in the 2015 AHL Calder Cup Playoffs. It did not disappoint. The 18-year old showed tremendous speed and puck skill on his way to scoring eight goals in 17 high-intensity playoff games. Now he has to show that he can do it with regularity in the AHL regular season, which does not always run so high on adrenaline.
That being said, he looks like the most complete player the Kings pipeline currently has. With every successful game the hype will continue to grow for the Kings’ top prospect in the AHL. He has the speed, the size, the skill, and will hopefully continue to show the scoring and 200-foot game to vault him to the next level in the very near future.
Michael Mersch, RW, Ontario Reign (AHL)
The former Wisconsin Badger had an eye-opening second half to his rookie season and 2015 Calder Cup playoffs. He definitely put himself on the map as a potential power forward threat on the Kings roster in the near future. He plays a game that fits the Kings style very well, and has the size and attitude to go with it. At 22 years old, he is a bit more mature than some of his colleagues, which only helps his case for an NHL cup of coffee soon. Los Angeles loves to incubate their prospects, but if there is any sort of roster upheaval or injury to the Kings forward group, Mersch could be the first guy on the call-up list. At worst he figures to be a Dwight King style player who could bounce between top and bottom six with relative ease given the style of “get to the dirty areas” hockey that he plays.
Patrik Bartosak, G, Ontario Reign (AHL)
J.F. Berube had himself pretty squarely planted in the Manchester starting spot last season, but Bartosak was no slouch as his backup. In 28 games the Czech native posted a .919 save percentage and a 2.23 goals against. That was actually better than the .913 save percentage posted by the 24-year old Berube over 52 games in 2014-15. Bartosak also took over in the Calder Cup playoffs when Berube went down with an ankle injury, playing in three games during the finals and posting a .930 save percentage.
While it seems unfair to toss Berube to the wayside, this may be the year of Bartosak. All signs point to there being a split start situation in Ontario this year between the two. The 22-year old out of Koprivince, Czech Republic, may have the leg up given he will start the year with Berube on the mend. He also has some explosive athleticism that allows him to make saves other goalies cannot. Look for Bartosak to make a big push this year in supplanting himself as the Reign’s number one.
Amadio put the Battalion on his back offensively last season. He led North Bay with 71 points during the regular season, and also put up a point per game in their 15-game playoff run. With some of the more prominent junior prospects in the Kings system jumping up to the pros, the 19-year old now establishes himself as the top junior prospect in the Kings system. It will be hard to build on the outstanding year he had in 2014-15, but it is not out of the question.
The Troops face a difficult task remaining competitive this season, as seven of their top ten scorers have moved on from the OHL. This includes Nick Paul (OTT), who was on par with Amadio’s contributions from last season. However, the Battalion surprised a lot of people last year by competing for a division title, and if the Kings’ 2014 third-round selection has another big year it could help the cause.
Bounceback Junior Prospect
Jake Marchment, C, Erie Otters (OHL)
Marchment was recognized for the wrong reasons last season. On top of heaving a pretty rough season in Belleville, one which saw him get traded to Erie, he was part of a pretty ugly public dust-up over his inappropriate behavior on social media.
A new year brings new opportunity to focus on just hockey for the 20-year old. With a new team to start the year with, Marchment can attempt to build on a very strong post-season with Erie in 2014-15. He saw a decrease in most of his production levels from 2013-14 to 2014-15, and hopefully can get back on track and push those numbers north of his career highs set two years ago.
New Team for 2015-16
Matt Mistele, W, Oshawa Generals (OHL)
The 19-year-old moved from Plymouth to Oshawa at the OHL trade deadline in an effort for the Generals to improve their depth. The move seemed to pay off, as Oshawa had a strong OHL playoff run, and went on to win the Memorial Cup for 2015.
Now Mistele will be part of a Generals team that is seeing some major potential turnover with overagers and prospects turning pro. That could mean an elevated role for the 2014 sixth-round selection. Oshawa probably will not be as good as the 2015 Memorial Cup winning team, but there is opportunity for players like Mistele to step up and prove their worth as the more senior members depart for the pros. He has a full season to do so, barring any trades of course.
Top Amateur Prospect
Paul LaDue, D, University of North Dakota (NCHC)
The 23-year old has come a long way from his USHL days with the Lincoln Stars, and he is becoming quite a defenseman with UND. Drafted in the 2012 sixth round, LaDue surprised many by earning a role on a stacked North Dakota blueline his freshman year. He has taken the opportunity and run with it. He has slowly but surely elevated from third pairing his freshman year, to second pairing his sophomore year, and should be playing a top role on the UND blueline for 2015-16. He plays a pretty complete game with good puck moving ability, which should interest the Kings greatly given what an important role it has with the team.
Unsigned for 2016-17
Paul LaDue, D, University of North Dakota (NCHC)
This is doubly scary for the Kings considering he is their best college talent right now, and arguably one of their better defensive prospects overall. The team made a big push to sign him and Jonny Brodzinski of St. Cloud State after the college season concluded, but came away with only 50 percent of the goal.
Drafted in 2012 and yet to be signed to an entry-level deal, LaDue could potentially go the route of other prominent collegiate athletes like Justin Schultz (EDM) and Mike Reilly (MIN) and deny the Kings’ advances in favor of free agency. If it is any consolation, the two parties seemed amicable over his decision to return to the University of North Dakota for his junior season. It may even be for the best considering the log jam that could be happening with Ontario this season. LaDue figures to be a top pair defenseman with UND in 2015-16, on top of taking on a more prominent leadership role with the squad. His unsigned status for the following year is a bit unnerving, but overall it may be for the best.
Bounceback Amateur Prospect
Steven Johnson, D, University of Minnesota (Big Ten)
Kings scout Tony Gasparini expressed a bit of concern back in a post-draft 2014 interview with Kings radio color commentator Darryl Evans about Steven Johnson. He mentioned that Johnson might benefit from an extra season thriving with the USHL’s Omaha Lancers, given his likely role on a deep Gophers team. In hindsight it looks like Gasparini was correct. Johnson saw a very limited role on the Golden Gophers’ blueline in 2014-15, appearing in just eleven games while playing low minutes.
The Kings were faced with this predicament before with Paul LaDue, who eventually returned to Lincoln of the USHL for one final year before embarking on his collegiate career. It was only after his extra USHL year that LaDue muscled his way onto the UND squad as a freshman on a stacked blueline. Johnson probably would have benefited from a similar route. Hard to say if he would have had the same success as LaDue, but last year certainly had to be frustrating for the 2014 fourth-round selection.
The 21-year old defenseman now has the opportunity to step up his role having put in time last year. Minnesota has a little bit more room on the blueline to work with, and his year of loyalty will potentially pay off as coach Don Lucia sets up his roster for the season. Look for a better 2015-16 with a more prominent role from Johnson.
Top European Prospect
Alex Dergachyov, C/W, SKA St. Petersburg (KHL)
With Slovakian standout Erik Cernak committing to the Erie Otters for the 2015-16 season, Alex Dergachyov becomes the top prospect – and currently the only Kings prospect – playing in Europe. Dergachyov has made his name in Russia’s developmental league, the MHL, as part of SKA St. Petersburg’s reserve team. The 18-year old posted 39 points in 45 games, and capped off his solid season with 18 points in 19 playoff games.
Having put in two years with the SKA St. Petersburg reserve squad, the big club has called. Dergachyov has already seen his season get underway with the KHL team, and the 18-year old will now be tasked with playing against grown men on a much bigger stage. Do not expect the same level of production from him in the KHL as we saw in the MHL – he has just one goal in the season’s early going. However, look for him to at least remain consistent as he gets used to playing against bigger, stronger, and more experienced opponents.