2010 started a new trend in drafting for the Los Angeles Kings. Instead of dealing with a heavy amount of picks and prospects, like the 10 selections they had in the 2009 and 2007 NHL Drafts, and the nine they had in 2008, the Kings started drafting fewer prospects. By virtue of success, and win-now trades, the Kings started depleting their cupboard and drafting opportunities in order to be a competitive team at the NHL level.
The 2011 draft class did not have a first round pick as a result of the Dustin Penner trade, but still managed had six other picks to try and do work with. Amazingly enough, in that small sample, the Kings selected three players who have turned into NHL caliber players, with two still waiting in the wings. Let’s review those six selections the Kings had in the 2011 NHL Entry draft
At the time the Kings pipeline looked stocked with goaltending talent, thus making the Christopher Gibson pick a bit odd. They had the highly rated Jonathan Bernier playing in the minors, along with proven AHL commodity Jeff Zatkoff. There was also a young J.F. Berube in the junior circuit, and Jonathan Quick playing well in the NHL. However, the Kings must have liked the tantalizing package of size and athleticism that the Finn brought to the table. Regardless, it seemed doomed from the start with the amount of depth the Kings had and in the system, and the then 20-year-old was not tendered an ELC and he returned to Finland to perform his mandatory 180 day minimum military service.
Upon his return to North America, Gibson was tendered an AHL contract with the Marlies, where he spent two years posting decent numbers before being picked up by the Islanders in a trade. The now 23-year-old made his NHL debut on January 2nd, appearing in relief against Pittsburgh. He made his first start on April 5th of this season. While it may not have been much of a positive start for Gibson, he has since turned into a decent depth goaltender at the AHL level.
Selected in the third round out of Oshawa, Andy Andreoff was slated to be a grind line, bottom-six center with an edge, but also some offensive upside. After his 2011 draft date, the scrappy forward posted a point-per-game season with the Generals, scoring 22 goals and 58 points in 57 games. From there he moved on to the then AHL affiliate of the Kings, the Manchester Monarchs. Over the next two seasons Andreoff would post 61 points in 145 AHL games, posting double digit goals both seasons.
He showed enough improvement from 2012-13 to 2013-14 that the Kings decided by virtue of his non-waiver exempt status to keep him with the big club. 2014-15 proved to be that of a learning season for the now 24-year-old as he was a healthy scratch for most of the year, appearing in just 18 games.
While the jury is still very much out on the overall effectiveness of Andreoff as an NHL player, 2015-16 gave him ample opportunity to prove he was in fact above replacement level. With 60 games registered, he scored ten points and eight goals. He showed significant improvement from Game 1 to Game 82 of the 2015-16 season, and also showed improved playmaking ability and the versatility to move to the wing. He will be up for a new contract with the Kings this offseason, and he may have done enough late in his season to warrant retention.
The fact that the Kings have received 180 total games from their two picks in the third round is impressive. Taken just one pick after Andy Andreoff was the young two-way center out of Denver, Nick Shore. Despite being a collegiate player, which sometimes means opting for a longer route, Shore played three seasons after his draft year, leading the Denver Pioneers in points the final two seasons with 41 and 34 respectively. On top of being the team’s top scorer, he was their top penalty killing center, and their offensive catalyst.
When he moved to the AHL in 2013-14, he showed the same combination of scoring and responsibility, earning 14 goals, 38 points, and a +18 rating in 68 games during his rookie pro season. In 2014-15 he upped the ante, and forced the Kings into giving him a roster spot. He was over a point-per-game in the AHL with 42 points in 38 games before moving up to the Kings for a 34-game stint to get his first taste of NHL action. That year, Shore was returned to the Monarchs where he scored 18 points in 19 playoff games en route to a Calder Cup championship with the Monarchs.
Like Andreoff, 2015-16 held a full time spot in the NHL for Shore. However, it too was a season mired in a steep learning curve. While Shore was one of the best players based on analytics in the NHL, and one of the most proficient defensive players not only on the Kings but in the entire league, his limited offensive output frustrated fans and led to him being bypassed for Vincent Lecavalier and Andreoff/Trevor Lewis at the end of the year. Despite his scoring woes, Shore is still perhaps one of the most responsible centers the Kings have, and one of the better faceoff men on the team. He has been an altogether worthwhile defensive replacement for Mike Richards and Jarret Stoll, which many Kings fans feared.
4th round, 110th overall: Michael Mersch, LW, Wisconsin Badgers (NCAA)
NHL Games Played: 17
The Kings took burly winger Michael Mersch in the later rounds of 2011 after a promising rookie season with the University of Wisconsin. Little did the hockey world know that Mersch would take off in the following three years at Wisconsin, scoring a total of 101 points and 59 goals in the next 111 NCAA games he would play in the WCHA and Big 10. Michael Mersch was one of the most threatening NCAA players in his junior and senior years, earning a spot on the NCAA All-American second team in 2013-15. He also won the WCHA championship in 2012-2013.
While his 2014-15 rookie AHL campaign got off to a bit of a slow start, the big winger absolutely caught fire in the latter half of the season and the playoffs, scoring the majority of his 45 points that season in the second half of the year. He also scored 22 points in the Monarchs 19-game championship run. More consistent scoring has followed Mersch as the team moved from Manchester to Ontario, California and his 43 points in 52 games during the 2015-16 AHL regular season speaks to that.
He earned a 17-game call up to the Kings in the middle months of the 2015-16 season, where it was apparent that there was still some work to be done for the young forward. Nevertheless, he has risen through the Kings system very well and has developed into a nice asset for Dean Lombardi.
5th round, 140th overall: Joel Lowry, Victoria Grizzlies (BCHL)
NHL Games Played: 0
Drafted out of the British Columbia Junior A circuit, Calgary native Joel Lowry took a strange and challenging route in his development. Lowry, son of former NHL forward Dave Lowry and brother to current Winnipeg Jets player Adam Lowry, committed to Cornell University for four years. During his collegiate career at one of the United States’ most prestigious schools, Lowry posted modest numbers (22, 23, and 24 points) in his first three seasons. Unfortunately in 2014-15, the winger suffered a very significant back injury that saw him lose almost his entire senior year, and cost him almost a full year of development as he recovered.
2015-16 was a new start for Lowry as he turned a new page in his career, joining the AHL’s Ontario Reign. While he was a healthy scratch for the majority of the first half of the season with the Reign, Lowry slowly improved under coach Mike Stothers. A trust was developed with the 6’1” forward, and he also started to show a nasty and aggressive mean streak that his former NHL enforcer coach had to appreciate. Given his slow start, Lowry’s 11-point campaign in 41 games during the 2015-16 regular season is an altogether good step in his career, and an impressive return to health and form.
7th round, 200th overall: Michael Schumacher, Frölunda Jrs. (Sweden)
NHL Games Played: 0
The Kings could not help themselves with the raw package of size and skill that was Michael Schumacher. Drafted out of Frölunda HC’s junior program , the big Swedish winger crossed the Atlantic to play with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL in 2011-12. There, he posted back-to-back 50-point seasons and got fans relatively excited that he could develop into a potential power forward. However, the Kings were less than convinced despite his point totals, and never tendered him a contract.
Since then, Schumacher has stayed in the Colorado Avalanche system on amateur contracts with Lake Erie and San Antonio. He also had a stint in the CHL with the Denver Cutthroats. While he still continues to score, his defensive game and skating continue to be the liabilities that hold him back from any sort of NHL contract.
Watch the video below of a pair of Kings’ 2011 draftees, Christopher Gibson and Nick Shore, from the 2011 NHL Combine.
Prospect notables + Prospect of the Month
As of right now, the Kings have all of their pro prospects in the AHL still going. The Ontario Reign have taken the first series of their playoff run against the San Jose Barracuda three games to one and overcame new in-state rivals the San Diego Gulls four games to one in the second round to reach the Western Conference Finals. Among the noteworthy performers in the first series were Kevin Gravel, Nic Dowd, young Michael Amadio, Andrew Crescenzi, Justin Auger and Prospect of the Month Adrian Kempe.
Kempe has looked outstanding in the opening games of the Calder Cup playoffs. Due to injury, the young Swede has been taken off of wing duty and placed at center. His speed down the middle drove San Jose defensemen mad, and he also potted two goals in the later stages of the series. Other than scoring, Kempe has been a strong back checker at center, and after a rough first night in the circles had a strong second game. Coach Stothers noted that he might just be one of those big moment-type players, and that would certainly go a long way in helping the Reign attain back-to-back championships.