The 2012-13 season commences for the Los Angeles Kings prospects knowing that their organization just achieved hockey's greatest prize. Through years of solid drafting and good prospect development, the Kings were able to mold a championship-winning lineup. It seems that this trend is still alive and well within the pipeline with notable prospects at all levels of play.
Although they have taken a hit in overall prospect ranking as a team, the Kings have numerous NHL-ready talents and have stocked up on high-end skill players. Tyler Toffoli, Tanner Pearson, Tomas Hyka, and Nick Shore are just a few names among the many skilled forwards in the ranks that are edging closer and closer to an NHL debut for the Kings.
Top Pro Prospect
Tyler Toffoli, C/RW, Manchester Monarchs (AHL)
Toffoli is probably the most gifted player in terms of goal scoring prowess that the Kings currently have in the system. After being a second-round pick in the 2010 NHL Draft, Toffoli showcased a remarkable offensive game with two consecutive 100-plus point seasons with the Ottawa 67's of the OHL. He is blessed with a top-class shot, and like most goal-scorers, he seems to find himself in the right place at the right time. Beginning his first professional season this year with the Kings affiliate the Manchester Monarchs, he will play top-six minutes and can learn to adjust to the speed and physicality of the AHL while continuing to develop his offensive weaponry. At the young age of 20, and with a Kings prospect pool somewhat thin in pure goal-scoring talent, Toffoli is by far the brightest young player to watch moving forward for the organization.
Linden Vey, RW, Manchester Monarchs (AHL)
After a slow start to his first pro season last year with the Monarchs, Linden Vey put together an incredibly impressive rookie year. He finished of his 2011-12 season with 43 points in 74 games, along with a plus-five rating. He is not a flashy player, which is likely why he was a fourth-round selection in 2009, but Vey has developed into a solid player in all three zones. At 21, Vey has plenty of time to continue down his development path, but he has the potential to have a real breakout season in 2012-13. Vey has a solid debut season under his belt, a better feel for the pro game, and will benefit from it in the stat columns as Manchester Coach Mark Morris increases his ice time and situational play.
Dwight King, LW, Manchester Monarchs (AHL)
One of the more surprising players for the Los Angeles Kings last season was 6'4 left winger Dwight King. King came up as a mid-season call up from Manchester along with forward Jordan Nolan to add a little grit and size to the Kings' bottom-six forwards. Little did the Kings know they were getting a player who would play a key offensive role down the stretch and during their championship run. King finished up the year with 14 points in 27 regular season games and eight points in twenty playoff games, including two game-winning goals. King used his naturally gifted size and strength to open up the ice for himself and his teammates to great success on numerous occasions throughout his call-up. He could definitely use some work on his skating and poise with the puck, but the 23-year-old King is well on his way to being a mainstay bottom-six NHL forward.
Top Junior Prospect
Tomas Hyka, RW, Gatineau Olympiques (QMJHL)
Czech native Tomas Hyka is an exciting prospect for the Kings currently playing with Gatineau in the QMJHL. Hyka was passed over in the 2011 draft, but then getting an invite to the Philadelphia Flyers camp where he turned a lot of heads. However, due to a rule in the NHL's previous CBA regarding contracts for European free agents, the Flyers were not allowed to sign him to a contract that summer and was eventually picked in the 2012 NHL Draft by the Kings. The young 19-year-old has a great offensive skill set and is a very good skater. He may be a touch on the small side at 5'11 and 160 pounds, but he can improve on that over time as he gets older. Hyka will be the leader of the Olympiques this year, and with a good season could really elevate his game and development to another level.
Christopher Gibson, G, Chicoutimi Sagueneens (QMJHL)
With Christopher Gibson, the record is not everything. While he did have a 27-17-4 record last season with Chicoutimi Sagueneens of the QMJHL, he had just a .893 save percentage and a 2.97 goals against average. It was a step back from the .920 save percentage and the 2.42 goals against average he posted in 2010-11. The 19-year-old Gibson needs to have a bounce back season this year. The Kings are somewhat loaded with goalie talent, with Martin Jones and Jean-Francois Berube still in front of Gibson on the depth chart, not to mention a young tandem in Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier with the big club. If the Finnish goalie wants to put himself in a better position moving forward he has to do it now. Gibson is entering his fourth junior season, but the possibility of Bernier being traded may lead to an opening in the organization for the second-round pick if he can put together a good season.
Michael Schumacher, LW, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL)
Michael Schumacher, a seventh-round pick in 2011, departed Sweden last season to head to the OHL and the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. It was a successful season for the big 6'5, 203-pound left winger with 50 points in 65 games. Schumacher is an intimidating power forward, and will definitely improve off of his 2011-12 numbers as he matures physically and adapts his game to the OHL. He is off to a blazing start in 2012-13 with six goals and 11 points in his first 13 games for the Greyhounds. Schumacher is already built like a grown man, and as he continues to learn how to use that body and compliment it with a more developed mental game, he will be a force to be reckoned with in the OHL.
Top Amateur Prospect
Nick Shore, C, Denver University Pioneers (WCHA)
While defenseman Derek Forbort might be the highest draft pick currently playing at the amateur level for the Kings, Nick Shore is perhaps the most promising. Shore was selected in 2011 in the third round after 18 points in 33 games in his freshman season with DU. He has turned it up a notch since being drafted, scoring at nearly a point-per-game pace last season with 41 points in 43 games. Early in 2012-13, he already has five points after just two games. The 20-year-old center has a very well-rounded game, and as he continues to develop, might look good as an all-situations NHL face-off man. Shore's stock has risen pretty quickly since his draft, and he has improved year by year thus far. At the pace he is improving, he might be one of the best centers in the Kings system by the time he transitions to the pro level.
It has been a long road for LaDue, from playing at the high school level in North Dakota, to the NAHL, and now the USHL. The offensive-minded blueliner is expected to help carry the Lincoln Stars this season, his second in the USHL, before he joins the University of North Dakota in 2013. Through the first six games of the 2012-13 season, LaDue ranks third among USHL defensemen with six points and is tied for first among blueliners with a +8 rating. The Stars have managed to stay unbeaten through those six games. LaDue will need to get stronger and put on some weight if he wants to fight for top minutes at the college level, but the rate he has fought and progressed so far should be encouraging signs to the Kings management and scouts. He is definitely an offensive-defenseman to keep an eye on this year in the USHL and eventually when he moves returns to Grand Forks.
Derek Forbort, D, University of North Dakota Sioux (WCHA)
Derek Forbort has always been a bit of a project prospect for the Kings. He has all the potential to be a solid, defensively-minded defenseman, but he is going to have to fight to get himself back on track this season. While the 6'5 Forbort had a decent year in terms of production at North Dakota last season with 13 points in 35 games, his plus/minus numbers were down from +21 in 2010-11 to +2 in 2011-12. Forbort also suffered a knee injury while playing for the United States at the 2012 World Junior Championships which caused him to miss most of the tournament and limited him in the second half of his season with North Dakota. Forbort, now in his junior season, has opened the season as a top option alongside freshman Jordan Schmaltz (STL), but he will face competition with defensemen like captain Andrew MacWilliam (TOR), Dillon Simpson (EDM), and Nick Mattson (CHI) also vying for ice time. It is going to be a big year in the development of the 20-year-old former first-round pick.
Top European Prospect
Maxim Kitsyn, LW, Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod (KHL)
The Kings currently have a pretty limited foothold in European prospects, but the top guy, 20-year-old left winger Maxim Kitsyn is not a name to forget. Kitsyn has had a rough go of things since committing to three seasons in Russia after playing with the Mississauga St. Michael's Majors in 2010-11. He has played in a very limited role with two KHL teams and also played with three separate VHL and MHL teams. He has yet to nail down a solid starting job in the leagues he has played in, but it still does not take away from the fact that Kitsyn is a talented player with good size and a solid set of hands. What Kitsyn needs most is playing time and development. He has one more season to go in the KHL before he can come back to North American professional hockey, and it might be the best for him. As a sixth-round pick, he's a bit of a low-risk, high-reward sort of player, but when the Kings first saw Kitsyn out of at training camp he was eerily reminiscent of a former Russian King player from the early 2000's, Alexander Frolov.