Tyler Toffoli maintains crown atop Los Angeles Kings Top 20

By Jason Lewis
Tyler Toffoli - Manchester Monarchs

Photo: Rookie pro Tyler Toffoli has made a seamless transition to the AHL in 2012-13, leading the Manchester Monarchs with 26 goals so far this season. (courtesy of Fred Kfoury/Icon SMI)

 
On the Stanley Cup winning roster of the 2012 Los Angeles Kings, there were 12 homegrown, King-drafted players, 10 of whom had spent time in the AHL with the Manchester Monarchs at some point in their career. Over the years the team has built from the draft and tried to develop talent from within rather than trading or building through free agency.

That trend still remains today, and the Kings have built up a solid foundation of many different types of players all across the many developmental leagues in North America including the NCAA, the CHL, and the USHL. Of those players there are pure snipers like Tyler Toffoli, gritty two-way forwards like Andy Andreoff, talented puck movers like Nic Deslauriers, and cognitive, stay-at-home defensemen like Kevin Gravel.

Although the overall depth of the pipeline has suffered due to graduations, trades, and general over-saturation at certain positions, in 2012-13 a crop of newcomers have started to emerge in the system to accompany the old faces and the much talked about. The Kings have started to develop an organization built upon success and variation of it is home grown talent. Now, after the franchise’s first Stanley Cup with so many of those home grown players, the young prospects in the system have something to set their sights on as they progress forward with the franchise and continue to fight on in this 2012-13 season.

1. (1) Tyler Toffoli, RW/C, 8.0B
Drafted 2nd round, 47th overall, 2010

The Kings top prospect from the fall rankings is back up on top for the mid-season ranks. However, the difference this time is that Toffoli is backing up his hype and 100-point performances in the juniors with a top-of-the-line pro season with the Manchester Monarchs so far. He has been a consistent performer in what has been an up and down 2012-13 season for Manchester. He has a team-high 26 goals in 51 games, which also currently places him tied for second overall in the entire AHL.

Toffoli is almost certainly an NHL caliber offensive talent. His release, goal scoring savvy, and general offensive hockey sense is something that arguably could be used on the current Kings roster right now. Given his lack of experience at 20 years old, the franchise can choose not to rush the young forward. However, if his goal scoring prowess continues he may just force the hand of the Kings in giving him a shot. Given the relative depth of the current Kings roster and the organizational makeup, it seems that the Kings have been planning on a player like Toffoli to develop in the role of top-six wing in the near future. It may happen sooner rather than later. Consistency and game speed at the next level will be the hurdles Toffoli faces in living up to his overall potential. However, he has handled those elements from CHL to AHL hockey extremely well. So far, so good for the Kings top prospect.

2. (3) Tanner Pearson, LW, 7.5C
Drafted 1st round, 30th overall, 2012

It is not always a bad thing to be an overage draftee, or to have been passed over in previous drafts. Tanner Pearson is quickly becoming evidence of such practices. The twice passed over 20-year-old went straight from the first round of the 2012 NHL Draft and into the AHL. Since, he has been a consistent and almost veteran like player with the Monarchs. An all-around, hard-working player was the word about Pearson when he was selected by the Kings, and that is what he has been this season. He has 35 points in 52 games combined with a plus-13 rating. He has logged significant time on the Monarchs first line, first power play unit, and the penalty kill as a rookie.

As an overage draftee Pearson has come into the league looking mature both physically and mentally. He is a big body, and a skilled and calm puck handler, which fits nicely into the organization's identity. Wingers have been a bit of a weakness for the Kings in the past couple of seasons, particularly top-six caliber wings. Pearson could potentially force his way into such a position at the NHL level. With the departure of center Andrei Loktionov to the New Jersey Devils system, it is now Pearson who occupies the position of number two in the rankings.

3. (4) Derek Forbort, D, 7.0C
Drafted 1st round, 15th overall, 2010

University of North Dakota product and 2010 NHL Entry Draft first round selection, Derek Forbort, has been a gem that Kings fans and management have been waiting on for a couple of seasons now, and he is giving them nothing but good things to expect in the future. After two stellar seasons at UND and a couple of World Junior Championship appearances Forbort has found himself in the top five of the prospect rankings for some time.

This season he continues to move forward. 2012-13 has been a solid year in many categories for the 20-year-old. He has been logging significant time on both the power play and penalty kill, is a plus-six rating on the year, and currently is second on the team in blocked shots with 50 in 32 games. Also, Forbort has set a new personal college career high in goals, which currently stands at four.

Forbort was always pegged as a two-way defenseman with a strong defensive game, skating ability, and puck moving ability. One element, his offense, has not completely shown through in his past two seasons. However, he has added a bit more of an offensive gear to his game this year with better offensive zone reads and a willingness to shoot from the point. He is a well-rounded player that should be playing big minutes when he hits the AHL level and beyond. That however, is the big question. Forbort has one year left of eligibility at UND and might be inclined to finish college even though the AHL would probably be best for his development.

4. (6) Linden Vey, C/RW, 7.0C
Drafted 4th round, 96th overall, 2009

Linden Vey has been a fast riser so far in his professional career. Drafted in the fourth round of 2009, Vey has steadily risen from the middle of the King's prospect pack to inside the top five for the first time. Many were surprised to see Vey get 43 points in his 74 game 2011-12 season, but he is proving it was not just a flash in the pan in 2012-13.

The 21-year-old is scoring at just under a point per game pace this season with 46 points in 54 games. Part of the formula to his success is line mates, Tanner Pearson and more importantly his trigger man Tyler Toffoli. Vey has always had solid on-ice vision and a skilled passer. With Toffoli on his wing, a player with a gifted wrist shot, Vey is showing how much he can excel at distributing the puck to key players. Not to be overlooked though is his hard working mentality and intelligence when approaching the game. Vey is playing in every situation for Head Coach Mark Morris, and he can also play at any forward position, a quality which was key in the departure of former top prospect Andrei Loktionov. While Vey is listed as a right wing and played a majority of his junior career as such, he is centering the Monarchs top line and has been doing so for most of the year. Versatility, intelligence, and hard work are making Vey a quick riser and an exciting player to watch moving up in the Kings' system.

5. (5) Jake Muzzin, D, 7.0C
Signed as a free agent in 2010

The second defenseman on the list is Brantford, Ontario native and free agent signee Jake Muzzin. Muzzin is, and has been, a pretty curious case most of his career. While the big defenseman is physically as gifted and ready as any player, he suffers from a lack of real consistency and assertion at times. Muzzin has always been the guy caught in a numbers game in Los Angeles, somewhere between offensive-defenseman and defensive-defenseman. However, when given opportunities at the top level to really show he is ready, Muzzin has not exactly risen to the occasion. In 2010-11 he had a short 11 game run which proved only that he needed a bit more seasoning. After a respectable 2011-12 season in the minors and a solid start to 2012-13, Muzzin has made a return to the NHL.

With the Kings suffering numerous injuries to its defensive back line in 2013, Muzzin has been put under the gun to step up and perform right now. While he has not hit a home run ball, he certainly has not been striking out. Muzzin has just three points in his 15 games, but he is a plus-three and, most importantly, he is making solid decisions with the puck in his own zone. Kings Head Coach Darryl Sutter has expressed a need for Muzzin to be more physical and play more minutes for the team, which is a lot to ask of such a green player. However, it looks like Muzzin is growing bit by bit each game, with more confidence, solid outlet passes, and bigger and more assertive body play. He still has work to do to cure himself of the inconsistencies and slip-ups, but he is starting to look more like he could belong up in the NHL.

6. (9) Jordan Nolan, C, 6.0B
Drafted 7th round, 186th overall, 2009

The biggest concern for any player traversing the many levels of professional and junior hockey is whether or not the game will translate for them. Jordan Nolan, a spark plug during the Kings' impressive cup run in 2012, has not shown a single sign of not being able to do that. From CHL to NHL, the 23-year-old has played with a reckless abandon and intimidating style that has already made him a noteworthy addition and element to the team’s bottom lines.

Nolan has a simplistic game which revolves around hits, fights, energy, and the occasional offensive flash that leaves you wondering if he could do more. His style of play is reminiscent of former King Ian Laperriere who played with a lot of heart, and was a consistent 20-30 point player throughout his career. There are facets of his game he still struggles with, but Nolan has come a long way very quickly, and has done a good job in working at his deficiencies thus far. His role as a third or fourth line player is almost a certainty at this point in the NHL, and considering he was a late seventh round pick in 2009, that is incredible value for what kind of player Nolan could become.

7. (11) Martin Jones, G, 6.5C
Signed as a free agent in October, 2008

Goaltender Martin Jones was a breakout performer in 2010-11 in his first season with the Manchester Monarchs, he followed it up with an equally good 2011-12, and in 2012-13 has played strong despite struggles.

Jones, the de facto starter with the departure of Jeff Zatkoff, started off his year hot with a 5-1 record, a .926 save-percentage, and a 1.84 gas average. Around mid-November though Jones hit a wall, and won just one of 12 starts through December and saw his numbers fall down to a .910 average and his goals against average go up to near 2.5. Jones' starting job was challenged by the signing of veteran Peter Maninno and after that the turnaround was promising. He wrapped up January with a 4-1 record and a more positive attitude. While he has cooled in February again, Jones has shown tremendous mental fortitude by battling back when down. It took a significant losing streak and a challenged to his job, but he did bounce back, which is a positive sign. The goaltending game is a mental battle every night, and Jones has been learning that fact the hard way. There are no nights off. The 23-year old is buried in a very talented and deep depth chart, and overcoming adversity and rising up to competition is something he should get used to.

8. (8) Dwight King, LW, 6.0B
Drafted 4th round, 109th overall, 2007

Dwight King started his career with the Kings in probably the most dramatic fashion possible. He came into a struggling squad outside of the playoffs with about 30 games left, he was key in contributing and getting that team into the post-season, and was then key in helping the team achieve the sport's greatest prize.

It is definitely an exciting start and a tough start to constantly live up to. Saskatchewan native has started 2012-13 on a bit of a flat note considering his post-season heroics, registering no points through his first 12 games. However, that is to be expected of a young player, and he has broken out recently with four assists in his last five games. Growing pains are not outside of the realm of possibility, even for a Stanley Cup champion.

At age 23, King has a lot of things going for him: he is big, he is intelligent, and he has experienced some high pressure hockey already in his career. While he has floated around this season and looked a step behind at the NHL level, King has shown that he can score, think the game well, and most definitely utilize his size and strength to disrupt opposing defenses. Also, regardless of the production of the big forward, he rarely finds himself out of position defensively, and manages the puck well. His simple decisions to get it deep or clear the zone are not the flashiest plays, but they are often the safest. These things could secure King's future as a useful bottom line forward in the NHL. To what capacity and frequency though is up for debate. His level of play needs to increase moving forward, but King should still be considered a valuable fixture in a bottom-six role.

9. (10) Michael Mersch, LW, 6.5C
Drafted 4th round, 110th overall, in 2011

One of the more intriguing and surprising college prospects for the Kings has been Illinois boy and University of Wisconsin junior Michael Mersch. After an impressive freshman season with the Badgers and his 2011 selection by the Kings, Mersch expanded his role on the team and went from a bottom line power forward to a consistent top-six player and an integral part to a talented Wisconsin squad.

The most impressive thing with Mersch is his consistent improvement year after year in every facet of the game. He is an intelligent player who plays all 200 feet of the ice very capably for a winger. He has been a very important player on the Badgers penalty kill for the last two years, as well as a big offensive and power play contributor. In 32 games thus far Mersch has 17 goals, improving upon last season's goal total of 13. Six of those goals have been on the power play, which is the most on the team. His plus-11 is also an improvement upon last season's minus-5, and his 26 points are good enough for the team lead. As stated before, Mersch has consistently improved year after year, and like Forbort before him the big question is where he will go for the future. Wherever he goes, if he keeps on improving the way he has he could find himself moving further up the ranks in the system very soon.

10. (7) Nick Shore, C, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 82nd overall, in 2011

Nick Shore was a monster last year for University of Denver. His near point per game pace really shot out a warning to the collegiate hockey world that University of Denver was not just Jason Zucker (MIN) and brother Drew Shore (FLA). However, 2011-12 is gone and so are Jason Zucker and Drew Shore.

No doubt Nick Shore is a fantastic hockey player in his own right. He is still a good two-way center, who skates the puck well, has good vision, and generally thinks the game well. However, the 20-year-old is definitely feeling the pressure of being the guy for Denver. It is a good challenge for the hometown boy, but the pressure has caused him to try a little too hard this season at times. His numbers are probably going to fall a bit short of his 2011-12 totals and overall he has developed a little bit slower compared to a player like Mersch who has seemingly taken big strides this season compared to last year.

Shore will be a big player to watch though moving forward from this point on and into next year. As he grows more comfortable with his role as the team's go-to player, if he embraces it, the reward could be huge. His brother had a similar arc in his career with Denver, and by his final season was over a point-per-game pace and the captain of the team. He has been passed up in the depth chart so far in the system this year but Shore is at a point where his stock could skyrocket. He is a complete player, and the opportunity to elevate his game is there.
 
11. (NR) Kevin Gravel, D, 6.5C
Drafted 5th round, 148th overall, in 2010

There might not be a player in the King's system whose stock has risen more from draft date to present than Kevin Gravel. The 20-year-old Michigan native has been refining his craft at St. Cloud State for the last two seasons, and his 2012-13 season is as impressive as any he has had yet.

Make no mistake, Gravel makes his mark on the game as a hard-nosed defensive defenseman. His scouting report could read a lot like that of current King player Rob Scuderi, obviously without the experience. He has good gap control, good stick work, is not incredibly aggressive but it pays off with his defensive discipline and solid shot blocking. He has nine points this year in 32 games for St. Cloud, along with a plus-three rating. Gravel is never really going to be an offensive threat, although his puck movement and shot are decent. His improvements in strength and skating have been a factor this year in his winning battles down low and keeping the crease clear. Gravel should definitely be a player to keep on the radar in the system as he moves forward because the King's system truly lacks a homegrown stay-at-home defenseman. Gravel's steady development and overall excellence in his strengths are a very welcome sight for someone drafted as late as the fifth round.

12. (12) Chris Gibson, G, 6.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 49th overall, in 2011

Since his selection, Finnish goaltender Christopher Gibson has been a little bit difficult to get a read on. He is an extremely hot-and-cold goaltender and he plays in the QMJHL, which is probably the most unkind junior league to play goal in.

While Gibson overall took a step backwards in 2011-12 with increases in his goals against average and decreases in his save percentage, he has turned himself around in 2012-13. While his goals against average (3.15) is still higher than his 2011-12 totals, his save percentage (.901) has crept back up in the right direction. Gibson suffered an injury in the early part of this year with the Chicoutimi Saguenéens after a very rocky start, but since his recovery he seems reinvigorated and he has regained a bit of the confidence that made him one of the hottest goalies in the Q back in 2010-11. Confidence is a huge part of Gibson's game, as he is an aggressive and flashy goalie with superb reflexes. If Gibson is out challenging shooters, it is a great sign. While he is still several years away from potentially making an impact in the NHL, Gibson has shown flashes of real brilliance and quality. Consistency, as always with goaltenders, is going to be his real issue moving forward.

13. (NR) Colin Miller, D, 6.5C
Drafted 5th round, 151st overall, in 2012

The new captain of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the OHL, defenseman Colin Miller has had an eye opening season. In 2012-13, the hometown kid has nearly doubled his production from 2011-12 with 47 points through 47 games.

Another solid puck mover, Miller is clicking at a point-per-game pace and is the team’s second leading defensive scorer. The Kings must have seen the potential of Miller, who was an invite to the team’s development camp pre-draft in 2012. He has since been a key contributor on the Greyhounds top defensive pairing, has been playing both penalty kill and power play time, and wears a "C" on his jersey which always adds value to any prospect. At 20, Miller will likely head to Manchester next season where he could be in for a long stay with how loaded the King's depth chart is. He has shown tremendous ability this year in the OHL, and the AHL should be a great challenge for him moving forward.

14. (19) Brandon Kozun, RW, 6.5C
Drafted 6th round, 179th overall, in 2009

It is hard not to like and root for Brandon Kozun, a typical CHL high-scoring, undersized, late-drafted player who was always considered too small to play the game at the AHL and NHL. Kozun however has continually proven critics wrong. This year was also a big year for Kozun to perform considering how many solid young forwards the Monarchs were adding to the roster.

In 2012-2013 with Manchester, Kozun again is on pace to be a 20 goal, 25 assist, near 50 point player for a third consecutive season. It is an interesting thing to judge a player by his size alone, but Kozun has become somewhat immune to it even on the ice. He plays the game as if he were 6'3 and not 5'8. He has been playing in every situation and on both sides of special teams again for Mark Morris this year. The question still remains though for Kozun; when will a call up come? At 22, almost 23, Kozun has to be considered almost a veteran on the young Monarchs squad. It is unclear where he actually fits into the King's team scheme, but as long as he keeps plugging away in a very workman like attitude and contributing in all parts of the game, it is bound to happen at some point.

15. (16) Andy Andreoff, 6.0C
Drafted 3rd round, 80th overall, in 2011

There are players out there, like Jordan Nolan, who are successful at the game because they embrace their role on the team. In his rookie season with the Monarchs, 21-year-old Andy Andreoff is embracing his role and starting to really get comfortable with it.

A big mover on the list this season, Andreoff has a style very similar to other King products like the aforementioned Nolan, Kyle Clifford, and current Philadelphia Flyers winger Wayne Simmonds. They are not necessarily relied upon for offensive production but more so for energy, effort, and responsibility. What separates those players from your average grinders though is the fact that they can score, and they can have an offensive impact. Andreoff currently has 13 points for the Monarchs in 47 games, along with a minus-two and 79 penalty minutes. He has been however focusing on defensive areas of the ice and the team has not been afraid to play him on the penalty kill in which he has done a solid job. Andreoff was an edgy player in the juniors, and that edge has certainly translated to the AHL. While he is not exactly the point-per-game player in the AHL he was in the juniors, the former Oshawa General is adjusting very quickly to professional hockey, more quickly than a lot of people anticipated. If Andreoff can continue his hard work at rounding out his game defensively while still chipping in offensively at the pro level he could really separate himself from the pack of average grinders that are a dime a dozen in the minor leagues.

16. (14) Jordan Weal, C, 6.0C
Drafted 3rd round, 70th overall, 2010

The 2012-13 season was set to be a big one for Jordan Weal. Just like Kozun, Weal was an undersized and often overlooked player with extremely productive junior seasons, was finally going to make his AHL debut. So far for Weal it has been a pretty decent start given his usage on the team.

Weal has been suiting up in the bottom-six for the Monarchs, and that's not the easiest place to play for a guy who is 5'8. However, like most of Weal's career he has fought through the difficulties of his size and managed to be a pretty solid contributor with 20 points in 41 games. Granted, it is not the ridiculous scoring at-will he had in the WHL, but Weal is doing a fine job playing against bigger, stronger, full-grown men now. Weal has packed on a few pounds, added to his strength, and also added a bit of a physical edge to him. That sort of thing will definitely be important moving forward since Weal, if he ends up in the NHL, will be much like Buffalo's Nathan Gerbe who has quickly realized you cannot play on the bottom lines without mixing it up, no matter how big you are.

17. (NR) Alex Roach, D, 6.0C
Signed as a free agent in 2011

Alex Roach has truly come out of nowhere this season. How out of nowhere? Over the last two years with the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL, Roach averaged 17 points, and was a minus-24 and plus-8 respectively. This season Roach is the leading defenseman on the Hitmen with 43 points in 56 games and is a staggering plus-39, which is tied for sixth in the entire WHL.

Roach, 19, is a big kid at 6'3 and 225 pounds, and he definitely plays like it. Roach is a physical player who has the occasional big hit as well as a tendency to drop the gloves when necessary. While his positional play defensively is still a little shaky he has shown fantastic initiative in the offensive end and his breakout passes and ability to hit the open man have been incredibly crisp. For a free agent signing, the Kings really could have found some real potential in the Quensel, British Columbia native. He is a raw, yet energetic player with low-risk and a decently high reward from what he has shown this year in the WHL.

18. (NR) David Kolomatis, D, 6.0C 
Drafted 5th round, 126th overall, in 2009

David Kolomatis has always been a little lost in the shuffle of all the talented defenseman in the King's system throughout the years. Nonetheless, he has been a pretty consistent performer year in and year out for the team, and is earning himself a little more ice time in new and different scenarios.

In 2012-13 Kolomatis started of the year as perhaps the best defenseman the team had. Unfortunately he missed nearly 25 games in December and November with an injury to his hand. He is back and healthy and playing very solid hockey. A hard working Kolomatis was on pace this season to best his career average 27 points by about 10-15 points. He is not big, he is not flashy, Kolomatis is just steady and he always has been. In terms of improvements, defensively, the 23-year-old has looked much more comfortable in his own end and in one-on-one situations using his body. On the offensive side of the puck his power play quarterbacking was incredibly solid early on. Is there an NHL possibility for Kolomatis? It is tough to say, he has his work cut out for him, but he really has been perhaps the steadiest and consistent performer the Monarchs have had for about three years.

19. (15) Nicolas Deslauriers, D, 7.0D
Drafted 3rd round, 84th overall, in 2009

The 22-year-old Nicolas Deslauriers, formerly of the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies of the QMJHL, is a very naturally talented hockey player. However, like times in the past, he is being held back by his slow adjustments to the pro level. Back in 2010-11 Deslauriers was widely considered one of the most talented defenseman in the King's system with a fantastic ability to skate, shoot the puck, and quarterback a power play. His defensive game and decision making needed work back then but it would come around. Two years later and Deslauriers is till inching along trying to make the same progress.

It comes down to one thing with Deslauriers; thinking. Deslauriers thinks the offensive game very well and loves to rush the puck up ice. However, his habits, perhaps picked up over the years of playing forward in midget hockey, have left him susceptible defensively. His 2012-13 season has been much better than his 2011-12 season with 16 points in 46 games, but Deslauriers has to shake the habit of making low-percentage decisions and forcing plays in his own end. He has all the skills to be a tremendous puck-moving defenseman in the NHL, but he has to make big strides still in his own end to live up to his overall potential. Also, the Kings realistically have only one spot for Deslauriers, and Jake Muzzin and Alec Martinez might have something to say about that.

20. (NR) Paul LaDue, D, 7.0D
Drafted 6th round, 181st overall, in 2012

A late round draft pick and a USHL product, Paul LaDue, has been a standout yet again for the Lincoln Stars this season in 2012-13. The North Dakota native has 37 points for Lincoln which is good enough for third on the team, and first amongst defenseman in the entire league. Perhaps the most impressive thing about LaDue's points though is that only nine of them have come on the power play, which means the majority of his scoring has come at even strength. LaDue is a talented puck mover, a good skater, and also has a great knack for getting his shots on net.

Next year is perhaps the biggest year of LaDue's young career. The 20-year-old is committed to the University of North Dakota, which is a top-end program. LaDue is doing very well at the USHL level, but it would be a whole other thing to succeed at the college level. He will have the chance next year. LaDue is in a good position moving forward, he can avoid the defensive log jam in Manchester and refine his game in the NCAA for a few seasons. It is a promising start for the newly added King's prospect.

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