Kings Top 20 prospects

By David A. Rainer

Kings Top 20 at a Glance

1. (2) Dustin Brown, RW
2. (3) Tim Gleason, D
3. (4) Mike Cammalleri, C
4. (1) Denis Grebeshkov, D
5. (NR) Anze Kopitar, C
6. (5) Lauri Tukonen, RW
7. (7) Jeff Tambellini, LW
8. (8) Richard Petiot, D
9. (12) Brian Boyle, C
10. (9) Konstantin Pushkarev, RW
11. (11) Yanick Lehoux, C
12. (6) Petr Kanko, RW
13. (15) Paul Baier, D
14. (10) Greg Hogeboom, RW
15. (NR) Dany Roussin, LW
16. (14) Noah Clarke, LW
17. (17) Martin Guerin, RW
18. (13) Brady Murray, C
19. (NR) Ned Lukacevic, LW
20. (20) Matt Zaba, G

1. (2) Dustin Brown, RW
1st Round, #13 overall, 2003

At the tender age of 19, Dustin Brown entered his first AHL rink after spending the entire 2003-04 season with the Los Angeles Kings. By the end of the 2004-05 season, he would show the world that the AHL is clearly no match for him. Thirteenth in the league in both assists and points and named to the all-star team, Brown was a consistent threat both as a scorer and as a gritty winger for Manchester at even strength and on the power play. His five goals and seven points in the playoffs were tops on a team that included goal scoring champion Mike Cammalleri.

Brown continues to develop on a steady path since being drafted in 2003. Already a physical player with a tremendous goal scoring touch, Brown is getting bigger and tougher while increasing his stamina in preparation for the upcoming NHL season. With little else to prove in the minors, Brown is poised to land a permanent roster spot on the Los Angeles Kings and, as a result, he leap-frogs to the top of the Kings prospect ranking.

Why Could Be Higher: Can’t get much higher
Why Could Be Lower: Not an elite scoring machine
NHL Projection: Gritty first line forward


2. (3) Tim Gleason, D
Trade with Ottawa, 2003

As with Brown, Gleason has already spent the majority of a season in the NHL. With the exception of an injury and a brief stint in the AHL, Gleason spent most of his time on the Los Angeles Kings roster in 2003-04 and performed admirably. Steady on the blue line with a developing offensive game, Gleason proved to be a much needed dose of youth to a solid but aging defensive corps that includes Mattias Norstrom and Aaron Miller.

Gleason scored ten goals and 24 points in 67 games for Manchester last season. Proving to be the top defensive prospect on the highly talented roster, he again makes a compelling argument that he should be on the starting roster for the Los Angeles Kings in 2005-06. Barring injury, Gleason is prepared to do just that. Not much of a scoring threat and not overly physical, he reads the ice well and makes accurate decisions to control the opposition and keep the play in front of him.

Why Could Be Higher: Ready to anchor the Kings blue line
Why Could Be Lower: Not a true No. 1 defenseman
NHL Projection: Second-fourth defenseman

3. (4) Mike Cammalleri, C
2nd Round, #49 overall, 2001

There is nowhere else for Cammalleri to go but the NHL. Nothing left to be gained by playing another season in the AHL, if Cammalleri is returned to Manchester this season, it can only be for reasons other than physical development. After winning the scoring title last season with 46 goals, second in the league with 109 points, an all-star berth, and an AHL career average of more than a point per game, Cammalleri is ready for a serious look at a full-time spot on an NHL roster.

Cammalleri already has 59 NHL games under his belt and several of his 14 goals have been of the highlight reel variety. He has demonstrated an ability to score from nearly any angle and in any awkward or off-balanced position. His size has always led scouts to question his true position and his use to an NHL team that typically relies on larger bodies. Contemplating a move to a winger position where his size is not as emphasized, Cammalleri is not committed to staying at the center spot. The comparisons to fellow former University of Michigan forward Mike Comrie will finally be put to the test this training camp as Cammalleri must impress early and often.

Why Could Be Higher: Loads of offense
Why Could Be Lower: Size will always be a question
NHL Projection: Second line forward

4. (1) Denis Grebeshkov, D
1st Round, #18 overall, 2002

Grebeshkov entered the season with a slipping grip on the No. 1 position in the Kings prospect ranking. And although he had a fine offensive season, turnovers and questionable defensive play raised some eyebrows. Fourth in the league amongst defensemen in scoring with 49 points and first in assists with 44, Grebeshkov displayed a refined offensive game from the blue line, distributing up-ice opportunities to the forwards or throwing the puck into scoring zones for the playmakers to finish.

However, the offensive totals appeared more a mirage than an oasis. Grebeshkov suffered from a lack of mental focus and stamina, resulting in lost pucks, bad positioning and problematic passes. While his enormous potential still cannot be questioned, and the belief that Grebeshkov’s struggles can be corrected as a result of experience and conditioning, Grebeshkov drops from the No. 1 position in the Kings rankings. However, a single solid season coupled with the expected graduations of Cammalleri, Gleason and Brown, Grebeshkov’s loss of the top spot might only be temporary.

Why Could Be Higher: High untapped potential
Why Could Be Lower: Turnovers can be death for a defenseman
NHL Projection: Top pair defenseman

5. (NR) Anze Kopitar, C
1st Round, #11 overall, 2005

For the third consecutive year, one of the highest rated players in the draft fell to the Kings who have not drafted in a top ten position since 1997. After Dustin Brown fell to the Kings in 2003 and Tukonen landed in their laps in 2004, consensus top six pick Anze Kopitar dropped to the No. 11 spot in the 2005 draft. The highly skilled centerman from the small Balkan country of Slovenia, Kopitar debuts on the Kings prospect ranking at the No. 5 position and has been compared to Mats Sundin by the International Scouting Service.

Kopitar finished first with 49 points and second with 28 goals in the under-20 junior hockey league in Sweden. Having played so well, Kopitar saw action in five games in the SEL at the young age of 17. Kopitar has above average size for a forward and one of the best scoring touches in the 2005 draft class. Kopitar really began to open eyes when he represented Slovenia in the 2005 World Juniors tournament where he scored 10 goals and 13 points in five games. Shortly after drafting the young superstar, the Kings signed Kopitar to a three-year entry-level contract but will allow him to remain in Sweden for the 2005-06 season.

Why Could Be Higher: Can finish with the best of them
Why Could Be Lower: Needs to prove himself against top competition
NHL Projection: First line forward

6. (5) Lauri Tukonen, RW
1st Round, #11 overall, 2004

Considered by most to be one of the most mature and NHL ready prospects in the 2004 draft despite being the youngest player taken, Tukonen has found steady ice time on the third and fourth lines for Espoo of the SM-Liiga in Finland. Despite the influx of NHL talent to Europe during the work stoppage, Tukonen maintained his ice time and increased his goal (5) and point (10) totals. Solidly built and a physical, grinding goal scorer, Tukonen’s style is well adapted to the NHL.

The Los Angeles Kings recently signed Tukonen to an entry-level contract and have brought him to North America where he will showcase his talent in the upcoming Pacific Division Rookie Tournament in San Jose. Tukonen will join the Kings for their September training camp with every opportunity to make the NHL roster. If he does not make the team, Tukonen will be delighting Manchester fans for the 2005-06 season.

Why Could Be Higher: Rare combination of size and skill
Why Could Be Lower: Not a high ceiling
NHL Projection: Gritty second line forward

7. (7) Jeff Tambellini, LW
1st Round, #27 overall, 2003

Tambellini joins numerous other recently-signed elite prospects in Manchester. Suffering through some inconsistencies and a wrist injury that hampered his play more than he would let be known, Tambellini did more than jump back to form in 2004-05. With 57 points in 42 games, Tambellini surpassed previous career highs in assists and points in leading the University of Michigan to the CCHA conference tournament title and MVP honors.

Following a tradition amongst Wolverine forwards of leaving college after their junior year, Tambellini signed an entry level contract with the Kings and will be brought to training camp in September. His excellent speed and shot are already NHL caliber. If the Kings should find themselves beset by injuries once again, Tambellini might be one of the first players called up to the NHL as slick skating can be a breathe of fresh air in the middle of a marathon season.

Why Could Be Higher: Speed will carry him far
Why Could Be Lower: Needs to prove himself in the professional ranks
NHL Projection: Speedy second line forward

8. (8) Richard Petiot, D
4th Round, #116 overall, 2001

Richard Petiot completed his college eligibility, has signed with the Kings and will be brought to training camp to compete for the sixth or seventh defensive spot. After suffering through several different injuries, Petiot missed 17 games to his senior campaign and never fully regained form. But with adversity, he showed an ability to toughen up and compete despite being limited by his injuries. He would finish the season with eight points in 25 games and continued to display physical play with good skating ability.

Petiot attended the 2005 prospect development camp for the Kings and was arguably the best player on the ice for the scrimmage game which ended in a 3-2 defensive struggle. As with Gleason, the emergence of young defensemen is essential for the Kings’ future as Norstrom and Miller are not getting any younger. Petiot might be the surprise prospect of training camp and find himself on the opening night roster.

Why Could Be Higher: Top stay at home defenseman
Why Could Be Lower: Limited overall potential
NHL Projection: Second pair defenseman

9. (12) Brian Boyle, C
1st Round, #26 overall, 2003

After a disappointing freshman season, Brian Boyle bounced back with a tremendous sophomore season. Boyle started the season slow looking as if the lackadaisical play of his freshman year had returned. However, by the end of the season, Boyle was arguably the best player on the ice for Boston College. Boyle finished the year tied for first on the team with 19 goals. But with six goals and ten points in his final nine games, Boyle showed Kings fans his bright future and what should prove to be the building blocks for a break-out junior season. Boyle’s hot streak would lead Boston College to the Hockey East conference tournament championship and an MVP trophy.

Leaping three spots in this Kings prospect ranking, this season will be pivotal for Boyle as a prospect. Regression on his 2004-05 numbers might continue to relegate Boyle to the third line as chances slip past him. With the exception of Yanick Lehoux, Boyle might be the most volatile Kings prospect. Drafted in the first round, treated as a project and still learning how to play the game instead of excelling at the game, by this time next year Boyle might find himself either in the top five of Kings prospects or surpassed by more productive players.

Why Could Be Higher: Imagine a 6’7 scorer
Why Could Be Lower: Still needs a lot of development
NHL Projection: Second line center

10. (9) Konstantin Pushkarev, RW
2nd Round, #44 overall, 2003

Explosive with the puck and reckless, Pushkarev is a sniper in the making. He would score 52 points in 69 games after joining Calgary of the WHL in the offseason. But the real story is Pushkarev’s ability to take the puck coast to coast and finish the play at full speed. But this ability to take matters into his own hands can also backfire when he tries to do too much.

The Kings current crop of forward prospects fall into one of two categories: large and physical or small and speedy. Pushkarev is in the group of small, fast and skilled prospects but he still has a lot of development ahead of him if he wants to surpass Cammalleri or Tambellini on the depth charts. He has the potential to do so which might have been one of the reasons the Kings brought him over to North America so that they can have a tighter control on his development. Direct contact with the organization and attendance at the various developmental camps and events will hopefully harness his fantastic offensive upside while teaching him the finer points of the game.

Why Could Be Higher: Top offensive ability
Why Could Be Lower: Needs to refine other parts of his game
NHL Projection: Speedy First line forward

11. (11) Yanick Lehoux, C
3rd Round, #86 overall, 2000

Before suffering an injury that would knock him out of the remainder of the season, Yanick Lehoux led the AHL in goals, assists and points. For the first two seasons in Manchester, Lehoux suffered from inconsistent play and lack of developmental progress. However, the light seemed to switch on in Lehoux during the 2004-05 season. Suddenly, Lehoux was much more decisive as he relied heavily on his awesome offensive skills to become more involved in the play. No longer dumping the puck off, he pushed the puck up ice and finished in highlight reel fashion.

Unfortunately for all, Lehoux’s excellent season was cut short by injury. If not for the injury, the Kings would have a better gauge on the how far along Lehoux has come since he first signed out of the QMJHL. Instead, the status of Lehoux as a top prospect remains a bit of a question mark. He has since signed a contract to play in the Russian Super League this coming season.

Why Could Be Higher: Showed glimpses of stardom
Why Could Be Lower: Still unproven
NHL Projection: Second line center

12. (6) Petr Kanko, RW
3rd Round, #66 overall, 2002

Petr Kanko never really got going during the 2004-05 season. With so much offensive talent on the Manchester roster, Kanko was left to grind out opportunities on the third line. While this role is much more suitable to the type of role Kanko will play in the NHL, the opportunity to put the puck in the back of the net did not come very often for him. He remained his usual fiery self and often mixed things up with the opposition. But the offense did not come around for him. While the work stoppage will move some of the offensive talent up to the NHL club, the recent signings of Tambellini and Tukonen might keep Kanko on the third line once again. However, perhaps the quicker Kanko adapts to his role on the third line, the quicker he’ll find himself in an NHL rink.

Why Could Be Higher: 2005 was only a minor setback
Why Could Be Lower: Limited as a role player
NHL Projection: Gritty third line forward

13. (15) Paul Baier, D
3rd Round, #95 overall, 2004

Brown University received a solid freshman season from Paul Baier. Inserted on the third defensive pairing, he learned the college game with few mistakes. Ten points in 32 games is a bonus for Baier as playing time and production are often a rarity for 18-year-old freshman in college hockey. Graduations will move Baier up to the second defensive pairing where he will also see extensive time on the power play and the penalty kill. Baier might be compared to fellow Kings prospect Richard Petiot, but is not quite as physical. With the Kings top three defensive prospects all in the AHL or NHL, Baier leads a group of second tier prospects that will fill the Manchester roster in two or three years when the likes of Grebeshkov and Petiot eventually move on to the NHL.

Why Could Be Higher: Tons of skills and still young
Why Could Be Lower: Lacking experience
NHL Projection: Third-fifth defenseman

14. (10) Greg Hogeboom, RW
5th Round, #152 overall, 2002

Greg Hogeboom was limited to only 14 games during the 2004-05 season. This loss of nearly an entire year is crucial and the leading cause of Hogeboom’s drop in this ranking. Hogeboom was already going to need a full year or two in Manchester before he was ready to see the NHL. With the loss of an entire season, this pushes Hogeboom back in the depth charts and likely still years away from being a viable option for the Los Angeles Kings. However, it only takes one healthy season to forget lost opportunities. The 2005-06 season is one that fans of Greg Hogeboom should watch closely as it will foretell his future position within the organization — a good season will re-establish himself while a poor one may bury him behind new talent.

Why Could Be Higher: Well rounder forward
Why Could Be Lower: Lost a year of development
NHL Projection: Third line forward

15. (NR) Dany Roussin, LW
2nd Round, #50 overall, 2005

Taken in the second round of the 2005 entry draft, Dany Roussin was a re-entry when he failed to sign on time with Florida before the deadline. Roussin progressed rapidly after originally being drafted in 2003. He scored 59 and 54 goals in back-to-back seasons while playing alongside Sidney Crosby in Rimouski of the QMJHL. Known as one of the best finishers in the Q, Roussin was signed by the Kings shortly after the entry draft and will be assigned to Manchester.

Roussin is a bit of a wild card out of the second round for the Kings. There is little doubt that he can finish at the major junior level. But he did not begin to show this ability to score until being slotted on a line with Crosby. Roussin will need to prove that he can score with other linemates. Playing on a line with Tukonen in Manchester might prove extremely beneficial as Tukonen’s large body can clear space for the quick Roussin to find the back of the net.

Why Could Be Higher: Top scorer
Why Could Be Lower: Unproven without Sidney Crosby
NHL Projection: Second line forward

16. (14) Noah Clarke, LW
9th Round, #250 overall, 1999

Steady Noah Clarke had another quality season in Manchester last year. The influx of top talent into the AHL due to the work stoppage would push Clarke onto the third line. But he would still manage 45 points in an injury-shortened 61 games. It is believed that the new NHL rules will emphasize faster and more skilled players. If this holds true, Clarke may be just what the Kings are looking for as he is recognized as one of the best skaters in the AHL. For the time being, Clarke will need to start another season in Manchester waiting for his time to impress the Kings coaches enough to earn a long look in the NHL.

Why Could Be Higher: Immediately ready for the NHL
Why Could Be Lower: Not a high ceiling
NHL Projection: Third line forward

17. (17) Martin Guerin, RW
9th Round, #274 overall, 2004

Nagging injuries seems to be a theme amongst Kings prospects. Guerin did not escape the bug in 2004-05, yet returned in time to continue a solid sophomore campaign with the University of Miami. Guerin began the year as one of the hottest scoring forwards in all of hockey. But an injury would cause him to lose about one month of the season. He would never fully regain the momentum that he began the season with. However, he still put up respectable numbers with 15 goals and 34 points – one more than his freshman total despite playing in seven less games. Guerin continues to play a quality two-way game and might someday be a third or fourth line fixture on a future Kings team.

Why Could Be Higher: Well-rounded forward
Why Could Be Lower: Not a high ceiling
NHL Projection: Two-way third line forward

18. (13) Brady Murray, C
5th Round, #152 overall, 2003

The difference when injuries hit Brady Murray and when injuries hit the rest of the organization is that, standing at 5’9, his long-term durability immediately comes into question. Suffering from a knee injury and two shoulder injuries, Murray was limited to 20 points in 26 games played. Despite the severity of the injuries, Murray still gutted it out for 26 games and managed to remain productive. Whether just a stretch of bad luck or a real concern, the questions are at least legitimate and will likely remain for as long as Murray is a prospect. As a result, Murray slides down the chart as new draftees and hotter prospects move past him.

Why Could Be Higher: Speed and skill
Why Could Be Lower: Size and injuries
NHL Projection: 3rd line center

19. (NR) Ned Lukacevic, LW
4th Round, #110 overall, 2004

After the 2004 draft, Director of Amateur Scouting Al Murray told Kings fans that they should keep an eye on Ned Lukacevic and he was right. Lukacevic demonstrated a superb offensive game during the 2004-05 season while also experiencing scoreless droughts and the inconsistencies that can be attributed to youth. He also attended the 2005 prospect camp where he wowed coaches and fans alike with an underrated skating ability and knack for getting to the net. With the usual shuffle at the bottom of list, Lukacevic makes his debut at the No. 19 position with enough potential to reach even higher.

Why Could Be Higher: Loads of unproven ability
Why Could Be Lower: Young and still developing
NHL Projection: Second-third line forward

20. (20) Matt Zaba, G
8th Round, #231 overall, 2001

Rounding out the remainder of the top 20 list is Matt Zaba. For the first two seasons at Colorado College, Zaba was stuck behind one of the best starting goalies in college hockey. But Zaba still managed to force a split in playing time by showing exemplary skills while temporarily in a backup role. Graduation has eliminated this split in playing time in favor of Zaba who is slated to be the workhorse in net for Colorado College. He should be able to drastically increase his win totals over previous years if he can continue with his solid save percentage and goals-against average. As a 22-year-old college junior, Zaba is older than most other players in his graduating class and his stellar production should not be confused with a star in the making. What Zaba will bring you is steady, error-free play between the pipes. He won’t beat anyone single-handedly on any given night but neither will he ever beat himself.

Why Could Be Higher: Solid and steady prospect
Why Could Be Lower: Not a game-stealer
NHL Projection: Veteran backup goaltender

Missing the cut
Ryan Munce, G – Concluded a tough major juniors stint. His first regular playing time in the AHL should be a great gauge on his level as a prospect.
Jens Karlsson, LW – Development has stagnated in the SEL as he has not been able to get off of the fourth line and was demoted to the 2nd league for a six-game stretch.
Matt Ryan, C – Impressed with offensive skills and proficient skating ability.
TJ Fast, D – Top offensive defenseman taken in the second round of the 2005 Entry Draft. Little bit of an unknown quantity at this point but will have plenty of time to develop at the University of Denver.
Daniel Taylor, G – Forced his way into the starting role with great play in the OHL. Will be assuming the No. 1 goalie position for Guelph this season.




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