Kings Top 20 prospects

By David A. Rainer

Kings Top 20 at a Glance

1. Denis Grebeshkov
2. Dustin Brown
3. Lauri Tukonen
4. Petr Kanko
5. Jeff Tambellini
6. Richard Petiot
7. Greg Hogeboom
8. Konstantin Pushkarev
9. Brian Boyle
10. Brady Murray
11. Jens Karlsson
12. Paul Baier
13. Noah Clarke
14. Tomas Zizka
15. Matta Zaba
16. Ryan Munce
17. Connor James
18. Marty Guerin
19. Adam Hauser
20. Ryan Flinn

Key: Current Rank (Previous Rank), Name (Position)
How Acquired, Age, Height, Weight

1. (1) Denis Grebeshkov (D)
1st Round, 18th 2002, 20, 6’1”, 195

Denis Grebeshkov sits atop the Kings Top 20 ranking for the second straight year. He signed a contract with Los Angeles prior to the 2003-04 season after a stellar career in the Russian Super League and international play where he led various Russian National Teams to gold medals in the World Juniors Championship.

Grebeshkov started the 2003-04 season with Manchester in the AHL learning the North American style of game and getting used to the smaller ice rinks. A wrist injury early in the season would slightly derail his progress. Eventually making it back onto the Manchester ice after missing nearly six weeks, Grebeshkov would provide the Monarchs with steady defense in 43 games with a +6 and posting nine points. Impressive enough to get a call-up to Los Angeles, he would play in only four games but more importantly, would get a taste of the speed and strength involved in the NHL.

Grebeshkov has done nothing to warrant his removal from the top spot in the rankings. The injury might have slowed his progress a bit, but nearly every player with the name “Los Angeles” scrawled across the front of his jersey was hit with the injury bug in 2003-04. Often described as the most difficult position to learn in the NHL, Grebeshkov is a stud puck-moving defenseman whom Kings Director of Amateur Scouting, Al Murray, has compared to Wade Redden or Daryl Sydor. Grebeshkov is poised to take on a premier role within the organization this coming season after looking solid in the 2004 Prospect Camp.

Why Could Be Higher: How much higher can he go?
Why Could Be Lower: Still adapting to the North American style.
NHL Projection: Top pair two-way defenseman

2. (2) Dustin Brown (RW)
1st Round, 13th 2003, 19, 6’0”, 200

As with Grebeshkov, Dustin Brown remains at the same rank. After being selected in the 2003 Entry Draft, Brown was one of the top performers during the 2003 Prospect Camp and preseason training. Coming out of junior hockey, Brown would make the huge jump to the NHL roster at the age of 18. However, inexperience and injuries limited his playing time to just 31 games and six points this past season.

Brown’s physical style of play and nose for the net gives the organization a legitimate scoring threat from anywhere within a ten foot radius of the net. But Brown is not limited to the net area as quick shot and strong play along the boards make him a menace from anywhere on the ice. Often drawing comparisons to Adam Deadmarsh, Brown is a top forward prospect who, although might not produce as many points as other forward prospects, adds the intangibles that might be lacking in higher scorers but are just as valuable.

Why Could Be Higher: Already has a year of NHL experience under his belt.
Why Could Be Lower: Injuries might have stunted his development.
NHL Projection: Top line physical right wing.

3. (NR) Lauri Tukonen (RW)
1st Round, 11th 2004, 17, 6’2, 198

A recent selection of the 2004 Entry Draft, Tukonen debuts at the No. 3 position in the Top 20 rankings. He joined Finland’s professional 2nd tier league at the age of 14 and their top league at the age of 16. Already a veteran of the international tournament schedule culminating in an 11-point performance during the 2004 U18 World Junior Championship, Tukonen has a mature body with developing explosive skills.

Tukonen spent the 2003-04 season with the Blues of the SM-Liiga – the top league in Finland – scoring six points in 35 games. Often playing with a physical edge, this scoring forward is at his best with the puck on his stick. Tukonen is still very young and will have plenty of time for his skills to catch up with the rest of his body. Right now, development is Tukonen’s biggest question mark. He is coming from a league with a recent history for producing some good forward prospects (Mikko Koivu, Jesse Niinimäki, Tuomo Ruutu) and will be left to develop at his own pace.

Why Could Be Higher: Playing against men at a very young age.
Why Could Be Lower: Still a bit of an unknown quantity.
NHL Projection: Second line right wing.

4. (5) Petr Kanko (RW)
3rd Round, 66th 2002, 20, 5’10”, 199

This diminutive forward is built like a tank. Short and stocky, Kanko plays like how he looks –- fierce and fiery. He began the 2003-04 season by signing a contract with the Los Angeles Kings, but was returned to the OHL to finish his junior hockey eligibility. He starred with the Kitchener Rangers, scoring a career high 68 points in 55 games before being assigned to Manchester at the conclusion of Kitchener’s season. Kanko immediately picked up where he left off by scoring four points in six regular season games and four points in six post-season games with Manchester. His season was briefly interrupted by a seven-game stint with Team Czech Republic during the U20 World Junior Championship.

Kanko plays with an emotion and passion that ignites his team like a spark plug and frustrates the opposition. But he is more than an agitator. Kanko has tremendous offensive skills and great skating ability that can add some punch to the third line. You pretty much already know what you are getting from Kanko as a prospect. Right now, it is about continuing what he already is doing to be successful and adapting to the faster and more physical conditions of the NHL.

Why Could Be Higher: Prepared to have a break-out season.
Why Could Be Lower: Not a high offensive ceiling.
NHL Projection: Third line physical right wing

5. (6) Jeff Tambellini (LW)
1st Round, 27th 2003, 20, 5’11”, 185

Tambellini struggled this past season with the University of Michigan. His point totals dropped from his freshman year, as he never found his offensive groove. However, Tambellini did spend the season working on his defensive game and developed into a fairly well trusted two-way forward. Scored 27 points in 39 games for the Wolverines and five points in seven games for Team Canada’s silver medal winning U20 World Junior Championship team.

Tambellini was one of the best skaters in the entire 2003 draft. He has the skill set of a proto-typical play-making forward but has since been working on adding a defensive dimension to his game. He will return to Michigan this next season, healthy and ready to prove that his sophomore slump was just a fluke. Tambellini is the Kings highest rated left wing with a tremendous amount of offensive potential.

Why Could Be Higher: Huge offensive upside
Why Could Be Lower: 2003-04 was a minor set-back
NHL Projection: Second line scoring left wing

6. (11) Richard Petiot (D)
4th Round, 116th 2001, 21, 6’4”, 212

Petiot shoots up the rankings to the No. 6 position. He just finished his junior year with Colorado College while anchoring their blueline and will return for his last year of eligibility. Already one of the best stay-at-home defensemen in the NCAA, Petiot’s maturity makes him one of the more NHL-ready defensemen in the organization.

When asked by Hockey’s Future who Al Murray is most pleased with from a development standpoint, he mentions Petiot’s name. “If I had to single one out it would be Richard Petiot. We think he has really taken big strides. When he is on his game, he is one of the best defensemen in the college ranks. He’ll never be a point producer. You can compare his game to Aaron Miller. Richard has really taken huge steps.”

Petiot adds a physicality to the Kings defensive prospects, which has been sorely lacking in the last few years. He will spend next season with Colorado College and maybe a short stint with Manchester, but will soon be making positive contributions to the NHL team.

Why Could Be Higher: Stay-at-home defensemen are often under-rated.
Why Could Be Lower: Fairly one-dimensional.
NHL Projection: Second pair stay-at-home defenseman

7. (15) Greg Hogeboom (RW)
5th Round, 152nd 2002, 21, 6’0”, 200

Hogeboom is the fastest riser in this addition of the Top 20 Ranking, jumping eight spots. Hogeboom just finished his college hockey career with the University of Miami-Ohio as one of the best clutch performers in the history of Redhawk hockey. He scored 42 points in 42 games while leading the Redhawks to only their third NCAA tournament birth in team history. Hogeboom would finish amongst the leaders in several team career categories: tied for third in career powerplay goals with 25, tied for eighth in career goals with 65 and second in team history with 10 career game-winning goals.

After leaving college hockey, Hogeboom signed a two-year contract with the Los Angeles Kings who immediately assigned him to Manchester. He would see time in three games toward the end of the regular season, posting his first career professional point on an assist.

With great offensive skills and a defensive awareness, Hogeboom is one of the more well-rounded prospects in the Kings stable. He has good upside and his quality work ethic will make great strides in harnessing that potential.

Why Could Be Higher: Nearly ready to make the NHL roster.
Why Could Be Lower: Not as flashy of a scorer as other top prospects.
NHL Projection: Second or third line forward

8. (10) Konstantin Pushkarev (RW)
2nd Round, 44th 2003, 19, 6’0”, 172

Pushkarev received his first playing time in the Russian Super League, the highest professional league in Russia. He started the season on Omsk of the RSL, playing in five games and scoring one goal. But the rule change that was supposed to allow young prospects to play in the RSL was revoked and Pushkarev was caught in a numbers crunch, being shipped to Omsk’s farm team where he would spend the rest of the season.

The farm team would prove no challenge to Pushkarev en route to 35 points, on 20 goals in 48 games. He would suffer a December knee injury that temporarily sidelined him, and forced him to miss the 2004 U20 World Junior Championship. But Pushkarev would show no ill effects of the injury and come back strong to tie his career high in points.

Pushkarev is a prototypical sniper and is quick on his skates. However, Pushkarev is wiry-thin which might be able to pass in the lower levels of Russian hockey, but not in the NHL. Pushkarev must add some muscle to his frame in order to stand up to increased competition. But one thing is for sure, the offensive skills are all there.

Why Could Be Higher: Just has not had the opportunity to prove himself yet.
Why Could Be Lower: Still untested.
NHL Projection: Second line scoring forward.

9. (9) Brian Boyle (C)
1st Round, 28th 2003, 19, 6’7”, 235

Boyle had a bit of a tumultuous season with Boston College. Coming out of high school and being selected in the first round of the deep 2003 Entry Draft, great expectations were put on this giant of a player. Beginning the 2003-04 NCAA season, Boyle found himself playing on an all-freshman fourth line and one of the power play units. Boyle started off slow, then began to struggle and was eventually a healthy scratch for several games down the stretch.

He would find his way back into the line-up and did see playing time during the NCAA tournament as well as in the Frozen Four. He finished the season with eight points on five goals (three on the power play) in 35 games. Still very young and entering only his second college hockey season, there is plenty of room for development for the 6’7” forward. Boyle has the rare combination of raw offensive skills and an NHL sized body that scouts salivate over. Performed well at the 2004 Prospect Camp. Boyle is a project that must be developed with patience.

Why Could Be Higher: Raw ability galore.
Why Could Be Lower: Not playing up to potential.
NHL Projection: Anywhere between a first and third line center.

10. (14) Brady Murray (C)
5th Round, 152nd 2003, 20, 5’9”, 180

College hockey has proved no match for Brady Murray. He immediately stepped into the University of North Dakota’s top scoring line and registered 46 points on 19 goals and four game-winning goals. He was named to the WCHA All-Rookie Team, as well as being named Rookie of the Year, and won a gold medal with Team USA at the U20 World Junior Championship.

Murray will return to North Dakota where he will look to improve on his already excellent freshman campaign. As a quick forward with tremendous skating and scoring skills, Murray will always put up nice offensive numbers. But will his small size detract from his explosiveness? Murray is in a very similar situation to when Mike Cammalleri played for Michigan –- smallish scoring forward playing for one of the top programs in the nation with an eye for bringing his offense to the NHL. He has already excelled against some of the top prospects in the games while participating in the last three Kings Prospect Camps.

Why Could Be Higher: Rare offensive skills.
Why Could Be Lower: Size might be an issue.
NHL Projection: Third line scoring forward

11. (13) Jens Karlsson (LW)
1st Round, 18th 2001, 21, 6’3”, 205

Each year Hockey’s Future writes that this will be the break-out season for Karlsson. Each year Karlsson is poised to bring his game to the next level and earn himself a spot on the better scoring lines for Frolunda of the Swedish Elite League. Each year we are left scratching our heads. Karlsson has remained on the checking fourth line for Frolunda since he arrived in the SEL. This past season, he got off to arguably his best start with 13 points in his first 33 games, putting him in the Top 10 in league scoring for drafted prospects in the SEL. However, as the season wore on and teams began to push for the playoffs, the fourth line saw less ice time and Karlsson’s numbers stagnated. He would finish the season with 16 points in 50 games.

True to form, once the playoffs began and the focus of the game turned to tighter defense and more physical play, Karlsson found himself in the spotlight. He would score more goals during the 10 playoff games he appeared in (4) than he did in the 50 regular season games (3). Karlsson’s game is better suited to the tight checking and physical style of the NHL. He is at his best in matches of strength and draws energy from the physical contact of the opposition. He moves up our rankings two spots where, at the age of 21, his body has matured and he might be ready to cross the pond to North America.

Why Could Be Higher: His game is de-emphasized in the SEL
Why Could Be Lower: Not living up to scoring potential.
NHL Projection: Third line grinding forward

12. (NR) Paul Baier (D)
3rd Round, 95th 2004, 19, 6’3” 212

Drafted out of high school in the third round, Baier might be the hidden gem of the 2004 Draft for the Los Angeles Kings. He physically dominated lesser competition while playing for Deerfield Academy, but will bring his game to the next level while playing for Brown University. Baier attended the 2004 Kings Prospect Camp where he impressed coach and fan alike during many of the training drills and the prospect scrimmage and debuts at No. 12 on the rankings as a result.

He plays a “combination” style of game –- physical enough to stand up to anyone while also possessing the offensive skills to produce where needed. Baier has good size at 6’3″ 212 pounds. At only 19 years of age, his body will continue to fill out and, taken in conjunction with his already impressive skill set, might develop into one of the better two-way prospects to come down the Kings pipeline in some time.

Why Could Be Higher: Tons of potential if he develops.
Why Could Be Lower: Untested against top competition.
NHL Projection: Third pair two-way defenseman

13. (16) Noah Clarke (LW)
9th Round, 250th 1999, 25, 5’9”, 193

Noah Clarke has come from nowhere to become one of the top fan favorites of Kings prospects. Unceremoniously drafted in the ninth round of the 1999 Entry Draft, Clarke spent his first three season with Colorado College in relative anonymity. He broke onto national prominence and the front of the minds of Kings fans when he matched up with Hobey Baker winner Petr Sejna on Colorado College’s top line his senior season. He would score 70 points in 42 games, including a nation leading 49 assists. Upon graduation, he would sign with the Los Angeles Kings where he was assigned to Manchester.

While at Manchester during the 2003-04 season, Clarke would put up a solid 51 points in 71 games while winning the Fastest Skater award during the AHL All-Star competition. The Southern California native would make headlines when called up for a two game stint with the Los Angeles Kings where he would register his first career point, an assist.

Clarke is an all-around talent. He skates well, with good passing skills, vision and work ethic. It is probably because of his small size and work ethic that has allowed Clarke to fly beneath the radar most of his career. He does not have a high ceiling, but he is on the cusp of making the NHL roster on a regular basis.

Why Could Be Higher: Has overachieved everywhere he has gotten a chance.
Why Could Be Lower: Not much NHL potential.
NHL Projection: Third line scoring forward

14. (17) Tomas Zizka (D)
6th Round, 163rd 1998, 24, 6’2”, 206

Zizka was drafted way back in 1998 and has followed a long path to make it to the NHL. He began his career playing for Zlin of Czech Repulbic before coming over to Manchester. He would toil away in Manchester for two years before he got his chance with the Los Angeles Kings. At this point in his career, he has logged the frequent flier miles between Manchester and Los Angeles because of injuries to the NHL roster.

Zizka has played in 25 NHL games, registering a solid 8 points. He is a mobile defenseman who has developed into a quality depth player. He has jumped three spots in the rankings largely due to his nearness to making the NHL roster on a permanent basis.

Why Could Be Higher: Ready to contribute immediately.
Why Could Be Lower: Might not develop past a depth defenseman.
NHL Projection: Third pair mobile defenseman

15. (NR) Matt Zaba (G)
8th Round, 231st 2003, 21, 6’1”, 170

An illness to Colorado College’s starting goaltender thrust Matt Zaba into the starting role during the 2003-04 season. The team would not miss a beat as Zaba came out blazing with a 1.71 goals against average and a .929 save percentage. He would finish the season again in the back-up role, but with increased confidence in himself and from the coaching staff. As a result, Zaba might play an even larger role with Colorado College next season and assume the starting role in the 2005-05 season.

Zaba is one of a series of late round gems that Dave Taylor is becoming famous for. He is an older college player and will be able to develop on his own schedule for the next couple of seasons with Colorado College. Right now, he does not project much further than a quality NHL back-up goaltender. Goalies selected in eighth round only have about a 10 percent chance of appearing in more than 200 NHL games. If his freshman season is indicative of things to come, Zaba might just buck that trend.

Why Could Be Higher: Already a proven college goaltender on a top program.
Why Could Be Lower: Not considered a franchise type.
NHL Projection: Solid back-up goaltender

16. (NR) Ryan Munce (G)
3rd Round, 82nd 2003, 19, 6’0” 175

The Kings top two goaltender prospects, as ordered by this ranking, are in a virtual tie. The gap between Zaba at No. 15 and Munce at No. 16 is so small that reasonable people can make reasonable arguments for either of them being the best in the system.

Munce is coming off an up and down season with Sarnia. Munce was the starter all year for Sarnia, often appearing in three games in three nights. He played for the OHL All-Stars in the Canada/Russia Re/Max Challenge and shutout out Team Russia in his only start. He would face a ton of shots while back-stopping Sarnia, often facing 40-50 shots per night. This would be reflected in his poor goals against average yet solid save percentage.

Munce is still very young, was drafted in the third round of a very deep draft and has all the tools to be a top goaltender. But he had a rollercoaster ride of a season in 2003-04 and is coming out of a league with a poor record for developing goaltenders. Munce is only No. 16 on the Kings Top 20 ranking, but one bounceback season might propel him into the Top 10.

Why Could Be Higher: 2003-04 is not as bad as it seems.
Why Could Be Lower: OHL goaltenders have statistically not done well in the NHL.
NHL Projection: Quality back-up goaltender, might become a starter

17. (20) Connor James (LW)
9th Round, 279th 2002, 21, 5’11”, 185

Connor James is one of only two Kings prospects who can claim to have won an NCAA National Championship (Adam Hauser being the other). A member of Denver University’s 2003-04 National Championship team, he assisted on the game-winning goal while playing with a broken fibula. During the year, James contributed 38 points in 40 games while being named to the All-Tournament Team and WCHA Student Athlete of the Year Award.

James finished his college eligibility in 2004 and will be competing for a roster spot within the Kings organization this offseason. He has tremendous speed and offensive capabilities with an improving defensive game. A threat both at even strength and on the penalty kill because of his break-away speed, an aspect that the Kings have been lacking within the organization beyond Ziggy Palffy.

Why Could Be Higher: Leadership skills to go with his offensive game.
Why Could Be Lower: Likely already hit his potential.
NHL Projection: Third or fourth line speedy winger

18. (NR) Marty Guerin (RW)
9th Round, 274th 2003, 21, 6’1”, 188

Guerin might possibly be the most overlooked prospect for the Los Angeles Kings. Selected in the ninth round, not much was expected of this scoring right wing, especially when playing on a University of Miami-Ohio team laden with seniors. But Guerin would see an opportunity playing with two top seniors on the first scoring line and would have one of the most productive freshman campaigns in the country.

But the offensive production is only one aspect of his game. Guerin is also an able defender who plays with a little bit of grit. Al Murray states of Guerin, “He just needs to remember he is a two-way hard nosed, hard working player.” Add a little bit of offense to that and Guerin is one well-rounded player who can compliment any of the four lines.

He might have been overlooked by each team in the draft (several times) and by most Kings fans, but no longer. With the explosive season he put on with fellow prospect Greg Hogeboom at Miami, Guerin has been placed squarely on the prospect map and makes his first appearance in the Top 20 at No. 18.

Why Could Be Higher: Many intangibles.
Why Could Be Lower: Likely already hit his potential.
NHL Projection: Fourth line grinder forward

19. (NR) Adam Hauser (G)
Signed as UFA 2004, 24, 6’1”, 195

Originally selected by the Edmonton Oilers in the third round, Adam Hauser signed with the ECHL Reading Royals prior to the 2003-04 season. Dominating in only a handful of games, Hauser received a quick call-up to Manchester where he would stay for the remainder of the season. Hauser did so well with Manchester that he earned himself a contract with the Los Angeles Kings during the 2004 offseason.

Hauser was the starting goaltender for the University of Minnesota during their 2001-02 National Championship. He is already a trusted starter in the AHL and is looking to take over the No. 1 spot in the organizational depth chart for goaltenders. At the rate the Kings have been piling up injuries these past two seasons, if Hauser repeats the outstanding numbers from last season –- 1.94 goals-against average and .926 save percentage –- it will only be a matter of time before he receives his first taste of action in the NHL.

Why Could Be Higher: Already putting up top numbers in the AHL.
Why Could Be Lower: Needs to prove that last year was not a fluke.
NHL Projection: Quality back-up goaltender

20. (NR) Ryan Flinn (LW)
Signed as UFA 2002, 24, 6’5”, 248

For those who have been waiting for a bona fide enforcer on the NHL roster, Ryan Flinn might just be the guy. Flinn has already seen action in 29 games over two seasons, but is probably remembered best for the two demonstrations of physical strength against Brad Brown and Scott Parker.

Racking up the fighting majors and penalty minutes, Flinn is a player who knows his role and plays it to perfection. He spent the greater part of the last three seasons working on the other aspects of his game so that he would not be a liability on the ice. After marked improvement, Flinn is ready to make a full-time contribution to the Los Angeles Kings and provide that added muscle that has been lacking for years. The trade of Kip Brennan to the Atlanta Thrashers has basically cleared the way for Flinn.

Why Could Be Higher: Plays a style that is currently lacking on the NHL roster.
Why Could Be Lower: Plays a style that has been de-emphasized in recent years.
NHL Projection: Top NHL enforcer

On the Bubble:

Scott Parse, Nathan Marsters, David Steckel, Ned Lukacevic, Daniel Taylor

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