The Los Angeles Kings were light on picks after investing heavily into the roster that won them a Stanley Cup this past season. Still, they managed to snag some versatile forwards at the 2012 NHL Draft, as well as some intriguing talent on the blue line, almost all of which flew under the radar.
With respectable organizational depth, a young pro roster, a solid cap situation and major success in their recent past, the Kings could afford to gamble a bit with a reduced number of picks concentrated mostly in the late rounds.
Pearson went from being passed over repeatedly in the past two drafts to being selected as a 2012 first-round pick. His newfound attractiveness came after a monster season in which he recorded 91 points in 60 games. He also competed for Canada at the World Juniors. His hockey sense, tenacity and versatility make him a player with multiple development paths open to him.
He played for the Barrie program that produced Kings grinder, Kyle Clifford, after he grew up in Kitchener where he was a stick boy for the Rangers with a firsthand look at the Kings' Mike Richards. Strengthening his Kings ties, a meeting with head scout Mike Futa contributed significantly to Pearson’s decision to go choose the OHL over the NCAA.
Pearson can play anywhere up front and, despite being listed commonly as a left winger, he scored more points on the right wing this season. Although the Kings’ NHL roster seems relatively set with only one unrestricted free agent remaining from their Stanley Cup-winning club, Pearson will be eligible to play in the AHL where he could help the Manchester Monarchs immediately.
He said his vision was his strongest asset and while he was a two-way playmaker at the junior level, he said he would be willing to adjust his role as necessary. He likened himself to Richards in the sense that he was also a player with skill that was undaunted by physical contact and dangerous areas of the ice.
Prokhorkin was HF’s third-ranked available Russian prospect, making him a nice value at No. 121. The big forward is a playmaker by trade but he also excels in puck battles. Listed as a left winger, he spent much of the season playing center alongside MHL top scorer Nikita Gusev.
Prokhorkin hails from Chelyabinsk, the same hometown as Kings defenseman Slava Voynov. Although he does not speak English yet, Prokhorkin seems to be a lively personality excited about his arrival in “Hollywood” and the Pacific Coast-lined city of Los Angeles.
Prokhorkin said his goal was to try and make the Kings out of camp. He does not have a strong commitment for 2012-2013 in Russia. He was selected 58th overall by the London Knights in the 2012 CHL Import Draft. Injuries lowered his profile, but if he can stay healthy and fill out his frame, then he could develop into a contributor for the Kings.
Colin Miller, D – Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)
Fifth round, 151st overall
6-0, 175 lbs.
Another player that had been passed over previously, Miller impressed the Kings in their development and rookie camps last season as well as in his time with the Soo Greyhounds. Like several defenseman who have stepped in and played roles at various levels for the Kings, Miller can best be described as dependable.
He has a strong first pass, makes smart decisions, skates well, positions himself effectively and has grown in his confidence with the puck over the past season. Miller should be another sound two-way defenseman, the type that has received plenty of looks from the Kings at the AHL level. He will require sufficient time to find his niche and develop physically.
Hyka played his first season in North America last in 2011-12, busting out with 64 points in 50 games. He described himself as a classic European-trained player, with a skill-based game that still needed a bit of improvement on the physical side. He made progress last season, acclimating to the North American game and improving his English. While he said he was taken aback by the smaller ice, greater speed and physical style, the shift did not hurt his production in the least bit.
Next season, Hyka will return to a Gatineau club that should be near the top of the QMJHL. He could be an explosive scorer in the Q as he tries to renovate his game and ease his way into an NHL future. Hyka hails from Mlada Boleslav, the same town as Coyotes leading goal-scorer Radim Vrbata, whom Hyka considered a strong example for aspiring Czech pros.
Paul Ladue, D – Lincoln Stars (USHL)
Sixth round, 181st overall
6-1, 186 lbs.
Like Pearson, LaDue was in his third year of draft eligibility. Unlike Pearson, there was little certainty that LaDue would be selected despite some breakthroughs at the USHL level last season. Kings scout Tony Gasparini attended the same high school as LaDue and had a hand in calling LaDue to the club’s attention.
LaDue's skills are developing at a decent rate, leaving him to focus on gaining strength and maximizing his speed. He will likely spend one more year in the USHL and then move onto the University of North Dakota. The North Dakota product has said it was a lifelong dream to play for the Fighting Sioux, meaning his arrival at even the minor pro level could be off into the future.
Nick Ebert, D – Windsor Spitfires (OHL)
Seventh round, 211th overall
5-11, 200 lbs.
Ebert may be a first-round talent selected with the Mr. Nobody pick. At 15, he made the leap to the USHL and spent the past two seasons with the OHL powerhouse Windsor Spitfires. Ebert projects as a competitive puck-carrying defenseman with a cannon from the point. His mobility, hard shot and individual will have drawn comparisons to former King Jack Johnson.
In his rookie season, he showed tremendous promise skating with Ryan Ellis. As a sophomore, Ellis had moved on and Ebert’s total production was unchanged in a year where he might have been expected to explode. The main issue was consistency in the quality and intensity of effort from Ebert. At times, he relished the opportunity to battle one-on-one, at others he seemed disengaged.
No player fell further in the draft than Ebert, which made him an unusually talented option with the draft’s final selection. Like Jordan Nolan, Ebert may be reaching an impasse in his young career. If he can dedicate himself to the game the way Nolan did, he could emerge as the steal of the 2012 draft.
Written by Andrew Knoll