Los Angeles Kings Depth Analysis, Fall 2011

By Josh Deitell
Photo: Christopher Gibson is the only Kings goaltending prospect who is currently playing in Major Junior. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)


After years of roster flux, the Kings look to have finally found some consistency with their lineup. Only 23 different skaters have suited up for the team this season and they’ve delegated all their goaltending to the duo of Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier. Last year, the Kings introduced Alec Martinez, Kyle Clifford, Trevor Lewis, and Bernier to the full-time roster. The only rookie to skate for the team thus far this year is Slava Voynov, and he only saw time because of an injury to Drew Doughty. This emphasis on regularity, largely for the sake of forming chemistry, means that opportunities for young players might be more limited, but with the team struggling to score goals out of the gate and players performing well for Manchester that look ready for NHL action, a roster shake-up in the near future is not out of the question.

Left Wing

Though they lack top talent on the left wing, what was once a major weakness for the Kings now shows some quality depth.

Dwight King is the top left wing prospect playing at the AHL level this season. Coming off a breakout campaign, the hard-nosed forward is expected to play a big role for the Monarchs this year, despite his slow start.

Other Monarchs on the left side are grinders Richard Clune, Ray Kaunisto, and David Meckler. The three 24-year-olds are playing depth roles for the Monarchs this season, though with the struggles of some of the new additions have been afforded quality minutes for the time being and have posted their fair share of points.

Bud Holloway was months away from challenging for a roster spot with the Kings this season when he decided, for the sake of job security, to sign a one-year deal with Skellefteå of the SEL. He’s transitioned to European hockey without a hitch and is currently leading his team in scoring. If he chooses to give the NHL another shot, he could challenge for a depth roster spot with the Kings next season.

Maxim Kitsyn is the most intriguing left winger in the system. A big, strong front-of-net presence who plays in the mold of Tomas Holmstrom, Kitsyn looked to be developing into a quality complementary top-six forward last year over a brief audition with Mississauga of the OHL. His development has hit a snag in his return to Russia as he’s playing meager minutes on a struggling team. The Kings will be looking to get him back across the pond as soon as possible, but he is under contract with Metallurg through next season.

Michael Schumacher, the Kings seventh round pick from 2011, made the decision to come across the pond this past summer from Sweden and has impressed with Soo of the OHL. The 6’5, 203 pound forward still has room to add bulk and plays a power forward game that is already translating well to North American play.

The Kings have a pair of prospects playing NCAA hockey this season. Freshman Joel Lowry is impressing early with Cornell. The ultra-competitive two-way forward played through an ankle injury most all of last season in the BCHL, but is now healthy and ready to be a major contributor. Sophomore power forward Michael Mersch is fashioning himself as a player to watch for Wisconsin. The knock on him is his skating, but his footwork looks better after a summer of concentrated training.

Center

Though Anze Kopitar and Mike Richards will likely lock down the top two center roles for years to come, there is still plenty of promising talent in the pipeline to support them.

Andrei Loktionov is one of the few elite offensive talents in the organization. His skill with the puck is second to only Kopitar, but he’s slightly undersized and has suffered shoulder injuries in each of his first two professional seasons. He’s not far off from full-time NHL action, but needs to be played with offensively-inclined linemates to succeed.

Listed at 6’3, 227 lbs, Jordan Nolan is one of the bigger and stronger prospects in the system. His hitting and fighting abilities have been known for some time, but he showed offensive potential in his last year of junior that he’s just starting to tap into at the professional level.

While he hasn’t been able to carve out a consistent roster spot for the Monarchs, Robert Czarnik has latched on with the AHL squad. A shifty two-way forward with quick hands, he’ll need some time to adjust to bigger and stronger competition, but should be in line for more regular ice-time as the season goes on.

Last but not least of the Monarchs forwards is Justin Azevedo. His offensive talent at the AHL level is unquestioned, but due to his size and brittleness it’s doubtful that he’ll ever make the jump to the NHL full-time.

Andy Andreoff is one of the few gritty forwards in the system with offensive upside. Playing as an overager for Oshawa of the OHL, Andreoff is bigger and stronger than most of his competition. The idea is that he should be able to dominate at that level before moving up to the pro ranks next season.

Undersized but highly-skilled Jordan Weal has dominated the WHL with two straight seasons of over 96 points, but at 19 is still too young to make the jump to the AHL. It was expected that Regina would look to trade him to a contending team this season as part of their rebuild, but they’ve surprisingly started this season as one of the league’s hottest teams. They may elect to keep him around and try to keep it going.

Nick Shore is the lone center in the organization playing college hockey. An intelligent two-way forward with a rapidly developing offensive game, he’s poised to break out this year for Denver and should see even more responsibility next season with a few of the team’s top forwards likely signing pro contracts. Like all the Kings’ NCAA prospects, he’s a project.

Right Wing

The shallowest of the three forward positions, the Kings have several right wingers with high caliber offensive upside.

Talented but dimunitive Brandon Kozun is coming off a successful AHL rookie year and looking to establish himself as a consistent contributor for the Monarchs. He faces an uphill battle to reach the NHL at 5’8, 162 lbs, but has proven himself at every level thus far and has incredible skill and quickness.

Linden Vey led the WHL in scoring last season and turned his junior success into a pro contract. He’ll be looking to take on a major role for the Monarchs this year at some point, but will need some seasoning to adjust his game first. Expect some growing pains as he adjusts to the new system, which differs greatly from the high-flying offense employed in Medicine Hat.

Stefan Legein is a wildcard. Acquired as a favor to the Flyers, who were looking to clear a contract, Legein was once a promising agitator prospect with the Blue Jackets before walking away from the game, citing a lack of passion. He has since returned to AHL action but has been unable to find a role.

Tyler Toffoli is the top wing prospect in the organization. Coming off a season where he led the OHL in scoring, he’ll be looking to improve on his totals this year while also locking down a spot on Canada’s WJC squad. He’ll be eligible to join the Monarchs next season and should provide a much-needed infusion of talent to that roster. The knock on Toffoli is that he has slow feet, but his hands are NHL-caliber already.

One of the feistier players in the system, Nic Dowd is skating for St. Cloud in the WCHA as a sophomore. He has yet to display his offensive potential at the college level, but the Kings will be patient with him as his tenacity and work ethic make him a valuable player even if he’s not producing offense.

Defense

The Kings biggest strength is undoubtedly their blue line, from the NHL level down to their youngsters.

After showing consistent improvement for three full seasons with the Monarchs, Slava Voynov finally had his coming out party for the Kings this year and impressed in a big way. Though a defensive group rife with veteran talent makes it difficult to fit Voynov in, he turned heads with his performance and will be back in the NHL sooner rather than later.

Slow and steady has been the calling card for Thomas Hickey, who despite being drafted fourth overall in 2007 has not seen a game of NHL action. One of the last cuts in this year’s training camp, Hickey would likely have been afforded an NHL opportunity on a shallower team, but is stuck behind multiple prospects in the system. He’s still looking to establish his offensive game at the pro level, but he’s invaluable in the new NHL where swift-skating, two-way defensemen are at a premium.

Jake Muzzin looked serviceable enough in 11 games with the Kings last season, but has struggled to find his offensive side at the professional level. Last year, he was a physical defensive presence for the Monarchs, but this year the team will be looking to him to contribute more to the offense. He still looks like a possible second pairing NHL defenseman once he works out the kinks.

Nicolas Deslauriers is facing growing pains in his transition to the AHL. Coming from the QMJHL, a fairly wide-open league where Deslauriers has had trouble simplifying his game and has been a healthy scratch for most of the season thus far. The talent is undoubtedly there, but it will be some time before he’s playing major minutes.

The closest thing to a stalwart on the Monarchs roster, Andrew Campbell has spent three years refining his game, to the extent that he’s now a dependable defensive defenseman. Once guilty of constant blunders in positioning and giveaways, Campbell has increasingly been able to limit his mistakes and has improved his play along the boards and in front of the net.

Also suiting up regularly for the Monarchs are David Kolomatis and Patrick Mullen. Kolomatis is a secondary puck-mover who doesn’t get enough recognition for his talents, though he likely won’t ascend to the NHL. Mullen is a jack-of-all-trades who’s more valuable to the Monarchs than the Kings.

Derek Forbort is a promising two-way defenseman skating for North Dakota of the WCHA. He’s seen bigger minutes this season but his game has been all over the place. At times, he’s been the best player on the ice, and at others, the worst. Standing at 6’5, 200 lbs, the raw tools are there, but he’s still very much a project. He’s a safe bet to play a big role for USA WJC team this winter.

Kevin Gravel plays a similar game as Campbell for St. Cloud, though he may have a better crack at the NHL. The physical defenseman is still 19 but plays a mistake-free style with the mindset of a seasoned veteran.

Goaltending

By virtue of being built from the net out, goaltending is a major strength at all levels for the Kings.

Jonathan Bernier, while not much of a prospect at this point, is still biding his time waiting for an opportunity to really showcase his talents. A top performer at the QMJHL and AHL levels, Bernier has star potential but is stuck behind an equally talented goalie in Jonathan Quick.

Martin Jones had all but locked down the Monarchs starting gig last season, before struggles after the all-star break brought Jeff Zatkoff back into the picture. Jones is younger and was the better goaltender at lower levels, but Zatkoff has battled to keep his place in the lineup and has performed better than Jones for stretches. Look for the two to continue to push each other throughout this season.

Jean-Francois Berube made the jump to the pro ranks this season after an outstanding year with Montreal of the QMJHL. He’s just recovered from offseason hip surgery and is splitting the goaltending duties with top WHL goaltender Darcy Kuemper (MIN).

Christopher Gibson is the Kings only goaltending prospect in juniors. The Finnish import stole the Chicoutimi starting job midway through last season and posted numbers that ranked him top five in the QMJHL, but will need to show that he can maintain a high level of play for an entire campaign.

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