Change in Kings top 20 a reflection of young NHL roster

By Andrew Knoll
Photo: After missing parts of the last two seasons to major surgeries, Andrei Loktonov has managed to remain relatively injury free for 2011-12. Loktionov will however need to gain greater upper-body strength to carve out a regular role in the NHL. (Photo courtesy of Chris Williams/Icon SMI)

While the Kings are still among the youngest rosters at the NHL level, a shift in their organizational outlook has caused their prospect system to go from top-ranked to also-ran in short order. Still, the Kings have a strong identity throughout their organization and as many talented players as most NHL organizations, headed by some of players who have already spent some quality time at the top level.

1. (3) Slava Voynov, D, 8B
Drafted 2nd round, 32nd overall, 2008

Voynov has established himself as an NHL defenseman very quickly. During Drew Doughty's holdout, he showed enough to jump to the head of a long, talented line of Kings defensive prospects. After the trade of Jack Johnson, he has demonstrated himself to be a capable top-four defenseman and power-play option. Touted as an offensive defenseman, his patience, passing and instincts certainly fit the bill. However, it has been Voynov's reliability and positioning that have kept in the L.A. lineup.

2. (4) Tyler Toffoli, RW, 8C
Drafted 2nd round, 47th overall, 2010

Toffoli turned in his second straight OHL campaign with 50 goals and 100 points, leading the Ottawa 67s into the Robertson Cup Playoffs where he has continued that brisk scoring pace. More notably, Toffoli impressed during rookie camp and offseason workouts with the Kings. He has a lethally accurate shot, a quick release and the hockey sense to find enough quiet ice to use both assets regularly. Toffoli may have had the best shot not only among Kings rookies but Kings players this offseason. While his speed remains a bit of a question mark, Toffoli has rounded out his game and possesses a scoring touch that cannot be coached.

3. (1) Andrei Loktionov, C, 7.5C
Drafted 5th round, 123rd overall, 2008

 

Loktionov had an encouraging year in one sense, he has stayed healthy and avoided any serious injury to either of his recently repaired shoulders. Outside of that, he did not have a smooth season, splitting time between Los Angeles and Manchester and seldom dominating at either level. His half season with the Kings was forgettable as he often disappeared and seldom made an impact on a game. Furthermore, it seems the Kings have fared better with stronger players like Dwight King and Jordan Nolan in the lineup. Loktionov's second stint in Manchester saw him score just six points in 17 games. He has retained his vision and hands but has yet to add the strength to make full use of them at the highest levels.

4. (9) Jake Muzzin, D, 7C
Signed as a free agent, January 2010

 

Muzzin has gradually evened out his play over his past two seasons in the AHL. With good size, a passion for physical play, strong checking ability, a shot that finds the net, and a pretty complete skill-set, Muzzin might be the most bankable Monarch in terms of an NHL future. He did not get a look on the Kings blue line this year, thanks in large part to their starting the season with seven serviceable defenseman and then tabbing top prospect Slava Voynov to fill in voids from injuries and trades.

5. (5) Derek Forbort, D, 7C
Drafted 1st round, 15th overall, 2010

Forbort has not burst out yet but he remains a promising prospect on the blue line. A back problem limited his participation and effectiveness in rookie camp. Injury also ended his World Junior Championship prematurely. His offensive totals were almost identical to last season. However, Forbort's size and athleticism make him an attractive young defender and his competitiveness has improved. Forbort has gotten stronger and nastier, excelling in one-on-one battles and ramping up the grit in his game.

6. (11) Linden Vey, RW, 7C
Drafted 4th round, 96th overall, 2009

Vey is the least undersized among a cachet of smallish, skilled forwards for the Kings. He earned a rare level of trust and responsibility for a Monarchs rookie this season, developing into arguably the Monarchs' most dangerous offensive weapon. The transitions of moving up and level going into a tighter-checking system have not slowed Vey's development. He can be a wizard with the puck, capable of dangling his man to death or making quick plays at high speeds. He has a solid chance of climbing the ranks of the organization at a brisk pace.

7. (16) Dwight King, LW, 6.5B
Drafted 4th round, 109th overall, 2007

 

King seemed like a solid bet to make the club out of camp, but a series of floundering experiments with veterans like Trent Hunter and Ethan Moreau left no room in the Kings' bottom six for the physical winger. King was recalled late in the year and never returned to Manchester. He scored in his first game of the season and soon found a niche in the Kings lineup, skating on the second line with Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. King's game in a word, solid. He is a complete player with a robust physique and the versatility to move between lines and units.

8. (NR) Jordan Nolan, F, 6.5B
Drafted 7th round, 186th overall, 2009

 

Nolan impressed onlookers throughout the summer and may be the Kings' most improved prospect this season. His hands have caught up to his feet and his body has filled out fabulously. Widely regarded as a five-year project, the budding power forward may be a bit ahead of schedule. He was recalled the same day as King and also scored in his opening game. Though he has played a smaller role than King, his impact on the L.A. fourth line has been palpable and he may emerge as the better long-term prospect of the two. Nolan blends, size speed and a tremendous motor with respectable hands and puck skills.

9. (8) Martin Jones, G, 6.5B
Signed as a free agent, October 2008

Jones made stride in terms of his poise, maturity, and confidence, projecting plenty to reach the next level and assume a leadership role in the AHL. The Monarchs had a tough start to the season defensively and Jones bore the brunt of their struggles. While his numbers turned out unspectacular as a result, Jones and Jeff Zatkoff have still formed a formidable goaltending tandem despite taking a statistical step back. Goalie coach Bill Ranford lauded Jones' work ethic as far as refining his technique and improving his conditioning. Jones should have an opportunity in the NHL before long and may develop into a 1A/1B type goalie or a backup.

10. (15) Nick Shore, C, 6.5B
Drafted 3rd round, 82nd overall, 2011

Shore had an outstanding season on paper but his near point-per-game totals did not tell the entire story. Injuries in the Denver lineup increased his minutes, diversified his role and accelerated his progression. Shore projects as a very steady two-way player who is also skilled and reliable enough to slide up onto a scoring line. Smart, quick, sound in the faceoff circle and capable of getting shots off in traffic, Shore may be a prospect who could assume the role Jarret Stoll currently plays with the Kings.

11. (12) Chris Gibson, G, 7C
Drafted 2nd round, 49th overall, 2011

Gibson was a goalie that put up fantastic numbers under duress last year. This season, he has had better offensive support that has come as a result of a higher willingness to take risks in front of Gibson. As a result, his record and team have improved considerably while his production has suffered. While Gibson remains raw in many areas of the game, he possesses tools that cannot be coached. A receptive, upbeat student of his position and a tremendously athletic netminder, Gibson has a strong shot at an NHL future. For now, he will need to continue to play in stable situations where he can develop good habits, go through plenty of repetition and develop strong play recognition.

12. (NR) Michael Mersch, LW, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 110th overall, 2011

Mersch has become a force up front for Wisconsin, continuing to increase his strength, confidence and role with the club. The sophomore has become a riser within his program and the Kings' organization alike. A physical forward with a projectable frame and decent hands, Mersch has also proven himself to be defensively responsible and capable of elevating his game in big spots.

13. (10) Thomas Hickey, D, 6.5C
Drafted 1st round, 4th overall, 2007

Hickey may face an uncertain future with the Kings organization as a result of their strong defensive depth. He has also lost time due to injury and changed the path of his development from the track he was on five years ago when the Kings took him fourth overall. The offensive explosion is never going to come as he has put up 49 points in 151 games over the past two seasons. That said, Hickey has redefined his game. He has become a positionally sound defender with outstanding defensive instincts and the passing ability to improve his club's breakouts. His hard work paid off in the form of a team-leading plus-16 rating and an appearance in the AHL All-Star Game. Hickey likely has an NHL future as a second/third pairing tweener, but the Kings' high investment in him may never yield dividends for them.

14. (NR) Michael Schumacher, LW, 6.5C
Drafted 7th round, 200th overall, 2011

Schumacher splashed onto the North American hockey scene scoring 51 points in 65 games as an OHL rookie. He has grown to 6'5 and 210 pounds with improving coordination and speed. Like most big forwards, Schmucaher is a long-term project.

15. (7) Nicolas Deslauriers, D, 7D
Drafted 3rd round, 84th overall, 2009

Deslauriers showed loads of promise as fast, fluid, and extremely mobile defenseman. However, this season represented something of a step back, as the young blueliner suffered even more than most Monarchs from injuries, instability, and improvisation in the Manchester lineup. He now finds himself lost in a crowd of young rearguards in the L.A. organization. He scored an underwhelming 13 points and finished a team-worst minus-15 on the season. While Deslauriers still has time to get his game together, he has gone from riser to faller in the course of one campaign.

16. (18) Jordan Weal, C, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 70th overall, 2010

Weal continued to be a dominant player at the junior level for the WHL's Regina Pats this season. His 116-point campaign brought him to 314 points over the past three seasons. Weal plays a daring style with loads of intensity and no shortage of skill. It remains to be seen whether or not his style of play can survive a transition to the world's greatest stage. He played a pair of AHL games this season and a couple of campaigns at that level may reveal much more about his long-term pro prognosis.

17. (20) Jeff Zatkoff, G, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 74th overall, 2006

Zatkoff may not project the heir of a promising goalie prospect but he continued to earn the results of one at the AHL level this season. He helped stabilize a wayward defense early in the year. After some doubted he should be re-signed or played in the same sort of tandem situation he was with Martin Jones last year, Zatkoff posted leaner numbers than this season. He also garnered a slight majority of available appearances. Zatkoff may wind up an NHL backup, if nothing else he has shown he can be consistently effective at the AHL level.

18. (13) Brandon Kozun, RW, 7D
Drafted 6th round, 179th overall, 2009

Kozun has a high level of confidence and competitiveness, a player that despises losing and has long since gotten over any residual effects of the "undersized" label. He led the Monarchs in scoring this season, although his totals were only jumped out relative to his less skilled teammates. Kozun has a serious motor and formidable hands but is legitimately small. His 5'8 listing may be generous and he is also slight of frame despite solid pound-for-pound strength and outstanding conditioning. His NHL future remains uncertain but he has established himself firmly at the minor pro level.

19. (17) Andy Andreoff, LW, 6C
Drafted 3rd round, 80th overall, 2011

Andreoff earned a reputation as a hard player to play against, the sort that the Kings covet. Since being drafted, however, his form has been mixed and his production tailed off in a year when one could have reasonably expected it would increase markedly. Andreoff remains a stout player with some offensive ability that could one day develop into a solid checker at the NHL level.

20. (14) Maxim Kitsyn, LW, 7D
Drafted 6th round, 158th overall, 2010

 

Kitsyn is a smooth, skilled forward with projectable size that has shown flashes of brilliance against his peers. That said, his future in North America is a bit of a question mark. He dabbled on the continent with a stint in the OHL last year in which he performed rather effectively being thrown into the mix of a very competitive team. That said, he has struggled playing against Russian pros. With another year of seasoning and conditioning as well as an expanded role, Kitsyn took a noticeable step backward in the KHL this year.