Los Angeles Kings college pipeline still strong but Europe less so

By Jason Lewis
Matt Roy - Los Angeles Kings

Photo: Kings prospect Matt Roy’s growth over the course of his sophomore season has helped make the Michigan Tech Huskies one of the nation’s stingiest defensive squads (courtesy of Dave Reginek/Getty Images)

 

 

 

The Los Angeles Kings have always had a tie to collegiate hockey. The pipeline in the pro ranks includes former NCAA talents like Michael Mersch, Kevin Gravel, Derek Forbort, Nic Dowd, Joel Lowry, Nick Shore and Johnny Brodzinski. Now, the Kings are looking at a much thinner and less diverse group of NCAA prospects.

Nevertheless, they are running the gamut of player development phases with the three defensemen they have playing in the collegiate ranks. One is an exciting prospect who may be in need of a pro elevation soon, while the other two are going in different directions in finding their roles on their respective teams. It is a small group of NCAA prospects, but as always, they are notable in their own way.

As far as Europe goes, the foreign ranks have always been one of frustration for the Kings. While Adrian Kempe and Anze Kopitar immediately come to mind as strong picks from the European realm, the draft history of the Kings Euro prospects is riddled with names like Constantin Braun, Michael Schumacher, and Tomas Hyka – longshots who never worked out for the Kings. While some of their current prospects may fall into a category share with the aforementioned, there is at least one prominent prospect in the mix who is struggling to find his way in a high level professional league.

‏Read on as we update the seasons of Kings prospects both close to home and playing in foreign lands.

NCAA

Paul LaDue, D, University of North Dakota (NCHC)
‏Drafted 6th round, 181st overall, in 2012

‏LaDue vaulted himself into relevance last season with an outstanding year at the University of North Dakota. This was after a startlingly impressive freshman season in 2013-14. However, the two-way defenseman has stagnated a bit in 2015-16, which is not all that uncommon for players who have capped out at their respective competition level. The Kings attempted to sign LaDue, a 23-year old junior, after the 2014-15 season but he opted to head back to college. That may have proven to be a questionable step in his development, as he has not been nearly as effective with UND this season. While still playing important minutes, there has been no level of competition increase for him, thus the challenge has been for LaDue to raise his level without a challenge.

‏This offseason will be interesting, as LaDue will again have the option to turn pro. All things considered that may be the best thing for him.

Steven Johnson, D, University of Minnesota (Big Ten)
‏Drafted 4th round, 120th overall, in 2014

‏When Johnson was drafted in 2014, Kings U.S. Amateur scout Tony Gasparini expressed concern for Johnson’s decision to head to Minnesota instead of remaining in Omaha in the USHL due to the Gophers’ stacked depth chart. That concern proved to be warranted as Johnson played just 11 games with usage that rarely went north of third-pairing. This season, Johnson has been used more consistently but still looks like a player that is very much in a feeling-out stage of his NCAA career. It is a young blueline group in Minnesota this year, with only three upperclassmen out of their seven defensemen. Johnson is looking to grow into his role, and we should get a better feel for him in his upcoming junior and senior seasons. He still is a very toolsy puck mover who may be on the slower side of development things for various reasons.  

Matt Roy, W/D, Michigan Tech (WCHA)
‏Drafted 7th round, 194th overall, in 2015

‏Having a breakout year manning the right point for the Huskies is 7th round pick Matt Roy. After a 2014-15 season that saw him go goalless, Roy has stepped up and earned himself playing time on a fairly competitive Michigan Tech blueline. He has notched seven goals and 20 points in his sophomore season. Roy has also received power play time for Mel Pearson on the Huskies’ second unit. Paired up pretty regularly with junior Shane Hanna, Roy has started to make a mark on the roster. Michigan Tech is currently ranked at 12th on the USCHO polls, and have compiled a fantastic 23-8-5 record on the year gaining a number one seed for the WCHA Tournament.

Roy’s point shot and puck moving on the blue line has been paramount for a team that seems to be getting scoring from everywhere. Roy has logged 78 shots in 36 games this season, so he definitely loves to put pucks on net. Roy currently leads all defenders on the Huskies in both points and goals. He should be an intriguing pick to watch in the high-pressure games ahead as well as into his junior season.

Europe

Alexander Dergachyov, C, SKA St. Petersburg (KHL)
‏Drafted 3rd round, 74th overall, 2015

‏There are plenty of things to be excited about with the Kings 2015 third-round selection Alex Dergachyov. He is a hulking mass of a player, with brute force strength, a tremendous physical advantage, a passion for the game, and some fairly soft hands and puck possession skills. Unfortunately, being that he is playing in the KHL this season, Dergachyov has struggled to be much of an impact player in a league that is NOT a development league. SKA St. Petersburg is a team trying to field the best competitive roster they can, and a 19-year old center is going to have a tough time finding his game playing around 7-10 minutes a night on a KHL 4th line. That, however, is the reality of this year for the player hailing from Langepas, Western Siberia. Reports indicate that Dergachyov might receive a contract extension from SKA, perhaps leading to a tug-of-war between the Kings and the KHL.

Dominik Kubalik, LW, HC Plzen (Czech)
‏Drafted 7th round, 191st overall, 2013

‏Kubalik shares similarities with other European prospects of the Kings. He – from a purely evaluative standpoint – is having a marvelous season in his respective league. However, the future is more clouded than a rainy day in Vancouver. Playing for HC Plzen in the Czech league, the 20-year old winger finished 9th in league scoring with 40 points in 48 games. He also led the entire league in goals with 25.

‏Kubalik has acted as the bigger and more physical player on Plzen’s top line, which includes former Columbus Blue Jackets draftee (8th round, 231st overall, 2002) and veteran Czech league forward Jaroslav Kracík, and the diminutive, yet skilled, undrafted 20-year old Miroslav Indrák. Most of his goals have come from right in the slot, in high scoring areas, and by putting himself int he right areas at the right times. While this is all very positive stuff, the counterbalance is that the Czech league is not the most competitive league in the world, and it looks as though the Kings former draftee is not coming back. He has a contract with Plzen which will take him up until the end of 2016-17. Perhaps there is an out clause, or a sudden interest to come to North America, but either way Kubalik seems to be a good player, playing very well, who is now potentially out of reach for the Kings.

Nikolai Prokhorkin, LW, Salavat Yulaev Ufa (KHL)
‏Drafted 4th round, 121st overall, 2012

‏Prokhorkin would easily be in the top five of Kings prospects given that he has twice scored over 35 points in the KHL, which is the second best pro league in the world. His 2014-15 season was much more difficult after his breakout 20-year old season with CSKA Moskva, but with a new team in Salavat Yulaev, Prokhorkin has rekindled his form. Salavat are currently leading Avangard in the Eastern Conference semi-finals in the KHL playoffs, and are looking to pull off the upset against top seeded Avangard. Prokhorkin matched his former KHL high in goals, with 19 on the season. He also coupled that with 91 penalty minutes, and playing top line forward minutes of around 18-22 minutes a night.

‏With all the talent that would put him certainly into the NHL conversation immediately upon transferring to North America, Prokhorkin has unfortunately shot himself in the foot on numerous occasions. He has previously expressed no interest in playing in the AHL, and this trade deadline his apparent unavailability to come to North America nixed a trade that would have sent him from Los Angeles to Edmonton. At this point it seems that the massively talented winger is more than content playing in Russia for at least the immediate future. The Kings will lose his rights this off-season once July 1st hits having not signed him to an entry-level contract.

Patrik Bartosak, G, HC Vitkovice (Czech)
‏Drafted 5th round, 146th overall, 2013

‏After a promising start to his AHL career in 2014-15, the Czech goaltender got in legal issues in regards to domestic violence that saw him suspended from the team in November of 2015. While the investigation is pending, Bartosak was allowed to return to the Czech league with HC Vitkovice to play. He posted an unimpressive 3.04 goals against and .894 save percentage in 10 games. He was also at some point loaned to the Czech-2 side HC Sumperk for two games. While no details in his criminal case have been released since November, consider his future in the NHL and with the Kings highly unlikely.

Prospect of the Month

Michael Amadio - Los Angeles KingsHow do you not select Mike Amadio? While there is at least one other player in Matt Mistele who might deserve the honors on the month (okay, Spencer Watson also), but Amadio has had quite a run. North Bay’s number one center had 14 goals and 20 points in 12 games in February, including a historic five goal night against Kingston back on February 13th. He is now pressing on 50 goals (has 49 at the time of this article) which would be an amazing peak to reach. His 96 points is enough to lead North Bay and good for eighth in OHL scoring. Amadio was also the top player in the OHL Coaches’ Poll with seven top-three appearances and top billing in the categories of Smartest Player, Hardest Worker, Best Shot, and Best Defensive Forward. Not a bad season for the 3rd rounder, who also just signed a three-year ELC with the Kings last week.