The Los Angeles Kings recent slide has overshadowed what has been a great season to-date. The Kings started the season playing over their heads and are currently playing below their ability. That is not unusual- teams go through slumps. The part that may be somewhat distressing is that when the Kings could use a spark from the farm system, some peek at a great prospect that will reinvigorate players and fans alike, the best the Kings could do…
No offense to Len Barrie. He plays hard and with grit and he is an excellent minor league hockey player, but he would likely not crack 75% of the NHL teams fourth line. It was this move that lead to a look at the system. The fact, while hard to swallow, is that the Kings do not have an impact player that is even remotely ready to play in the NHL.
The Kings seem to be on either side of the prospect fence. They have prospects like Pavel Rosa and Jason Podollan who posses promise but a call-up would likely expose the holes in their games and impede on any potential movement in regards to expansion. Both of these guys, along with Donald MacLean, Nathan Lafayette and Rich Brennan can prosper in the minors, making themselves more appealing to Columbus or Minnesota.
The other end of the spectrum is full of promising players that are too young to make an impact this season. Players like Justin Papineau, Joe Rullier, Andrei Shefer, Brian McGrattan, Kip Brennan, Jason Crain, Scott Barney, Alexey Volkov and Corey Campbell all have NHL potential but are several years away. Rullier is looking like a Rob Blake clone, Papineau has offensive potential despite his meager frame, Scott Barney is nursing an injury that has doctors stumped and may end his career, Jason Crain is struggling at Ohio State but is highly regarded by NHL scouts, Shefer is putting up numbers but couldn’t make Russia’s WJC team, Brennan and McGrattan are physical players and the goalies are both potential NHL netminders. The problem is that the Kings will need more of these guys to hit rather than miss or the farm system will remain in shambles. The days of reaching for picks are coming to an end because these guys are all the Kings have for the future right now.
Somewhere between these two groups lie players Eric Belanger and Richard Seeley. Seeley is a solid defenseman but of all the Kings strengths, defense is their deepest area. As for Belanger, he seems to be adjusting to the AHL, but he cannot be counted on- he has never been able to stay healthy.
This situation is further exasperated by the Kings solid play. As the record improves, draft position lowers- a trade all Kings fans and players would gladly make. The bottom line is this- the Kings need to keep an eye on the future. A good indicator of their success will be what they have at Lowell. If you see players like Bill Huard, Rich Brennan and Nathan Lafayette there in two years and none of the players in juniors, than the Kings will be in trouble. If we are all having arguments of when to bring Papineau, Shefer and Rullier up to team with guys like Scott Barney, then the Kings will have escaped what is becoming the most barren farm system in the NHL.