New and old alike shine in Los Angeles Kings Top 20 ranking

By Jason Lewis

Tyler Toffoli - Los Angeles Kings

Photo: Reigning top prospect Tyler Toffoli was named Rookie of the Year in the AHL before he stepped up with an excellent playoff performance for the Kings (courtesy of Vincent Muzik/Icon SMI)

The Los Angeles Kings did not have much time after a conference finals exit at the hands of the Blackhawks to ready themselves for the 2013 NHL Draft. Nonetheless the Kings managed to pick up several quality players, including what was widely considered the steal of the draft in Valentin Zykov.

Several players from the 2013 draft have already made their way onto the Kings' Top 20 as the late-drafting, boom-or-bust ways of Dean Lombardi continue to look promising. Along with new additions, old standbys continue their dominant form with several on the cusp of NHL futures.

It is a diverse group and one that has plenty of promise moving forward.

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

It is hard to imagine any situation right now where Tyler Toffoli would not be atop the list of the King’s best prospects. The young forward’s stock has never been higher as a late season call-up led to a 12-game playoff stint where at times he was the King’s best forward. After putting up a hefty 51 point in 58 games at the AHL level during his rookie campaign, Toffoli furthered the excitement swirling about his offensive game by appearing in 22 NHL games with 11 points.

He showed that the questions surrounding his skating are not too concerning, although he will not ever truly have that top-end speed. He showed no real signs of timidness when engaging in board battles or physical play along the halfwalls either. While it will take time for him to truly get up to speed, and his defensive game still will need work, Toffoli is on the cusp of breaking in to the bigs in a big way.

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

Pearson is also coming off a rather impressive year in his rookie AHL campaign. The overage draftee went from the first round to the AHL and did not miss a step. He finished off a rookie season of 47 points in 64 games and overall was surprisingly competent for a rookie in the little aspects of the game. He was part of the three-headed dragon that was the Pearson-Vey-Toffoli line, but also showed at times he can play effectively no matter who his linemates are. He did not look to be a liability in his own zone and is growing as an effective penalty killer.

He did make his NHL debut in one playoff game, but played very limited minutes and was of little import. However, this does show exactly where the organization thinks Pearson is in his development. The fact that they would throw Pearson into a playoff game, even in a limited fourth line role, is a huge nod. The fourth line wings should be up for grabs entering training camp and Pearson could be one of the favorites to grab the spot.

3. (NR) Valentin Zykov, RW, 7.5C
Drafted 2nd round, 37th overall, 2013

Biggest steal of the draft? Perhaps. Time will obviously display whether or not that statement can be rendered true or not, but Zykov certainly has all the skills. He comes in immediately at the top of the King prospect list because of the wide variety of skills he brings. You hear people talk in baseball about prospects being “five-tool players,” and Zykov comes close to being the hockey equivalent.

He does a little bit of everything. He potted 40 goals with Baie-Comeau Drakkar in his rookie QMJHL season which speaks to his goal scoring ability. He has very good skating, is a tough physical player to play against, and a monster to try and knock off the puck. He mucks it up well on the boards and in front of the net with his 6’0, 207-pound frame. He will score the greasy goal or the snipers goal. He could stand to improve his on-ice awareness, but he seems competent in his defensive end and at times reads the game well enough to one day maybe turn into an effective penalty killer. Finally, scouts across the board have raved about Zykov’s work ethic and determination. The King system does not really have a nasty power forward with the offensive upside that Zykov brings to the table, but they have it now, and got it in the early second round to boot.

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

The former Medicine Hat Tiger will be entering his third season with the Monarchs this year and has continued to grow each year into one of, if not the most, consistent player in the AHL for the Kings. Last year Vey was fortunate enough to be sandwiched at center between some high skill and high work rate players in Toffoli and Pearson. Because of this Vey was really able to flourish and display his talent as a set up man for his wingers. The 22-year-old finished up the season with 45 assists and 67 points in 74 games. Coach Mark Morris has been going to Vey also as a number one powerplay and penalty kill center as well.

While not the most physically imposing player, Vey is a crafty and intelligent player who works hard in all zones and continues to expand his usefulness in every situation. You have to think with it being his third year in the AHL that Vey is in line for at least some NHL time in the near future. If he can improve more in faceoffs, he has all the makings of a potential number two or number three center at this point. This coming season will be a big statement year for Vey.

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

This is the year for both fans and Forbort alike to see what he is capable of at the professional level. After being a first round selection in 2010, the big American defenseman has spent the last three seasons manning the blue line for the University of North Dakota. He felt this off-season that the time was now to move into the professional game.

It is an exciting time for Forbort who as all the promise and potential to be a big splash in a rather depleted and young Monarch defensive corps. He has made a name for himself playing a steady game in almost every regard, and that will be a welcome site for Mark Morris and the Monarchs. The speed will be the biggest adjustment obviously, and it may take Forbort a year or so to feel truly comfortable. However, it is imperative that Forbort take positive steps this year as the King and Monarch defensive depth is starting to really get challenged.

6. (11) Kevin Gravel, D, 6.5C
Drafted 5th round, 148th overall, 2010

As of this point last year Gravel was not even on the top-20 prospect list. As of February he was eleventh, and now he finds himself standing on the cusp of the top-five. Why? It’s simple, Gravel is solid. Gravel has always been a defensive stalwart with little flash and flare to his game so it is easy for him to fly completely under the radar. Enter the 2013 NCAA Tournament. Gravel was quite possibly the best shutdown defenseman of the tournament and was a key player in St. Cloud State making a fantastic run to the Frozen Four.

As stated, Gravel is easy to overlook. He carries almost no true offensive upside, although he does possess an above average shot and a good outlet pass. However, he continues to be very difficult to play against for opposing forwards with his big frame at 6’4 and his long reach. In a game that is nowadays seemingly dominated by offensive and two-way defensemen it is refreshing to see a player such as Gravel rise through the system as a defense-first player.

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

Martin Jones holds steady as the best goaltender in the King system at the seventh spot. He has had an up and down career, and is still plagued by extreme hot and cold periods, but nonetheless continues to put up solid numbers year after year.

He finished just shy of a .920 save percentage on the season, and had a killer series against the Springfield Falcons with a .932 save percentage and a 2.16 goals against average despite losing the series 3-1. He had to battle through competition from veteran free agent Peter Mannino and inconsistencies through the months of November and February, but Jones rose up and again established himself as the Monarch number one. He has to get rid of the inconsistent hiccups if he wants to be trusted as an NHL backup, but the opportunity might be there now with Jonathan Bernier (TOR) out of town and Ben Scrivens temporarily occupying the spot.

8. (NR) Maxim Kitsyn, LW, 7.0D
Drafted 6th round, 158th overall, in 2010

A collective sigh of relief had to have gone up around the King world when it was announced in early July that Maxim Kitsyn would make his way back over to North America. Once considered a sixth round sleeper and one of the more talented prospects in the King system, Kitsyn broke onto the scene after a stunning 2011 U20 World Junior Championships with nine points in seven games en route to gold with Russia. He then had a Memorial Cup appearance with Mississauga St. Michael’s shortly thereafter.

Then came two years mired in the various levels of Russian hockey where little was heard of or expected of Kitsyn in terms of development. Many wondered if he would even get a chance to return to North America. As of July though he is back and signed to a three-year entry-level deal. For the mid-2000 King fans, he brings a Frolov-esque skill set with great puck possession ability and a knack for beautiful skill goals, but also gritty goals. He uses his big 6’2, 192-pound frame to plant in front of the net and make life difficult for goalies and defenders. His now assured return to North American hockey and the AHL skyrockets his stock, as he is still very young and has plenty of potential to make up for lost time at 21 years old.

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

The rise of Andreoff continues, as he jumps from 15th in our mid-season ranking up to ninth with a strong close to his 2012-13 season.

In his rookie season Andreoff floundered a bit to start the year but really started to embrace the role as an agitator, but also as a responsible impact player. He has really gained the trust of Monarch coach Mark Morris and was a regular staple on the penalty kill and at times the powerplay towards the end of the season. His meteoric rise has started to gather quite a bit of attention in the King world and there is a considerable opportunity for Andreoff to make the King squad to start the 2013-14 season. He treads a fine line with his agitation, but he is well-liked by his teammates and coaching staff and with 26 points in 69 games separates himself from your typical bottom line agitator. Andreoff has some skill, leadership, and a surprisingly intelligent and responsible game for a player that plays so close to the edge. With that formula in place he continues to rise through the ranks.

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

Mersch holds steady in his place rounding out the top-10 after another improved year at the University of Wisconsin. The 20-year-old again, for the third straight time, showed incremental improvements in almost all statistical categories, and really jumped up in goal-scoring and plus-minus.

The goal scoring was a big shot in the arm for Wisconsin, as Mersch’s 23 goals led the team and helped them win a WCHA Championship. As one of the offensive leaders on the team, Mersch decided to stick with his club for his senior year rather than join the AHL. He still looks like one of the best NCAA prospects the Kings have, and if he can continue to grow and mature in his senior season, he will be a great all-around addition in to the Monarchs and the Kings in the future.

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

Like prospect Kevin Gravel, Colin Miller as of a year ago was also not rated on our lists. He has risen quickly though and took a major step this off-season by signing with the Kings on a three-year entry level deal.

Miller is a puck-mover, first and foremost, and had a monster year captaining the Sault. Ste. Marie Greyhounds. He was amongst the teams leading scorers with 55 points in 54 games and was a go-to defensive choice for penalty killing and powerplay alike. He now has to deal with the challenge of translating his solid play to the AHL. It is going to be a big step for Miller but he could be an everyday defenseman and a top-four pairing with the Monarchs moving forward.

12. (NR) Hudson Fasching, RW, 7.0D
Drafted 4th round, 118th overall, 2013

Fasching is a raw prospect. With a draft age of 17 and an already decent power forward skill set it was not a bad idea for the Kings to take a chance on him in the fourth round of the draft. As stated Fasching has a lot to be excited about, including an already grown man size body at 6’3 and 214 pounds. He is a bit of a bull in a china shop when he gets the puck as well and loves to rush the puck up the wing. He has a very powerful stride to go along with it and his puck possession skills are above average. He has shown at times to be a competent two-way forward as well. He could stand to work on his skating a bit but for a player his size it may never really be as sharp as a top-end skater. Nonetheless he has a very good well-rounded offensive skill set and a workable defensive skill set to go with it.

The big concern with Fasching from scouts is his hit or miss tendency. When he is 100-percent dialed in he can be a wrecking crew, like in the 2012 World Under-17 Hockey Challenge, where he had four goals and six points in five games. He has ample time to mature though and is committed to University of Minnesota for the fall. The longer route of development will in all likelihood help Fasching develop that consistent approach to the game.

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

Shore had a ton on his plate in 2012-13. His University of Denver squad lost Jason Zucker (MIN) and brother Drew Shore (FLA) and the team turned to Nick, a junior, to lead the way. While he did not take a step back in point production in comparison to 2011-12, he did not take a step forward either. Despite the bumps of a year where Shore was expected to carry the banner, the University of Denver made the NCAA Tournament via an at-large bid.

He has since decided to forgo his senior year and join up with the Manchester Monarchs, which could be both a good and a bad thing. Shore was probably going to step into an even further pressure-filled role with Denver and another opportunity to be the standard-bearer in his senior year. However, the Manchester forward core is very young and very wide open and Shore could be looking at consistent pro level hockey right now rather than in a year. Time will tell if it was a good decision or not.

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

Is it time yet for Brandon Kozun? It seems like years ago that people were talking about the potential of Brandon Kozun, but year after year he is put back in the AHL where he has steady and productive seasons. Kozun for the third year running put together 20-plus goal, and 45-plus point campaign. Except, this year he did it in a style that probably impressed the Kings. Kozun set a career high in goals (26), assists (30), and points (56) with a much needed plus-rating that stood at plus-12.

The biggest concern and question mark, as always and it is probably exhausted at this point, is his size and how it will translate. However, if there is a positive sign it is that Kozun showed a comfort level on the defensive side of the puck this year when facing bigger and stronger opponents that was not always there consistently in the past. He has a great work ethic and is coming off a career-high year. Could this be the year we see him at Staples Center?

15. (NR) Nic Dowd, C, 6.0C
Drafted 7th round, 198th overall, 2009

Nic Dowd was a really pleasant surprise this season, mirroring the pleasant surprise that was his St. Cloud State squad. Dowd had a career high in every statistical category in his junior year with the Huskies and will have to look to build upon that in 2013-14 with more eyes watching him.

Dowd is a meat and potatoes forward who is known as an excellent faceoff man. He stands at 6‘2 and while he will not wow you with any sort of offensive flare, he does what needs to be done. He will crash the net, put pucks on net, and grind it out in the corner to win puck battles. When he was drafted, Dowd had seemingly limited upside but he is starting to flourish as a well-rounded player suitable for a bottom-six role.

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

After all the promise and natural potential of Nicolas Deslauriers, at the end of 2012-13 he started to, dare we say, show some signs of figuring it out. While the minus-14 he finished the season is as frustrating as ever, Deslauriers showed some of the offensive prowess that people have talked about. He had 12 points in the final 26 games of the season and looked more comfortable carrying the puck up ice and getting involved in the play.

The wild horse that he is though, Deslauriers still has a long way to come in reading when it is the proper time to do so, as well as reading plays in his own end. Multiple minus nights were not uncommon for him this season. That seems to be Deslauriers in a nutshell, you just have to take the good with the bad and hope that the good is really good.

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

Roach was a surprise addition to the mid-season rankings, and how could he not have been?   When you score almost three times as much as your previous season and have a staggering plus-42 rating how could you not land on a radar somewhere? Big asterisk though, Roach did it as a 20-year-old playing against players much younger. However, do not take away from the accolades, Roach made big steps this year in not just being a big bruising defenseman with a big shot. He showed quality outlets and decision making in the offensive zone and he really used his size and strength well to win puck battles.

Here comes the real test though. Roach will step into the AHL where muscling the opponent might not come as easy and the speed is going to be that much quicker. Time for Roach to show if last year was really just a flash in the pan or if he is to stay amongst the top-20 moving forward.

18. (NR) Tomas Hyka, RW, 7.0D
Drafted 6th round, 171st overall, 2012

Small, talented, unpredictable. That about sums up Tomas Hyka. For the second year in a row Hyka surpassed the 50 point mark with Gatineau, and he also had a strong U20 World Junior Championships with the Czech Republic, scoring five points in six games. After a somewhat meager playoff performance in the QMJHL it was reported that Hyka was going to join Färjestad BK of the Swedish Elite League on a two-month loan.

While maybe that seems like a step back it is important to note that FBK is one of the more successful Swedish Hockey League teams, with their most recent titles dating back to 2011 and 2009. Hyka was also a participant at the Kings development camp in July. He is a crafty forward with great vision and creativity with the puck. He brings a skill set somewhat void amongst King prospects ever since the departure of Andrei Loktionov (NJD). Hyka will have to get physically stronger though and prove he can play a North American style game if he wants to continue to move up.

19. (NR) Patrik Bartosak, G, 6.5D
Drafted 5th round, 146th overall, 2013

As a fifth round pick you could almost consider Czech goalie Patrik Bartosak a steal. However, it is hard to ever really say that about a goaltending prospect. However, if the 2012-13 season is any sort of indication of what is in store, Bartosak could be considered a steal. He was named the WHL and CHL Goaltender of the Year. He played in 55 games for the Red Deer Rebels and had a monstrous .935 save percentage.

Bartosak has had health concerns in his career though and that is likely why his stock slid so hard and he went undrafted last season. His 2011-12 was cut short due to a season-ending shoulder injury. He is big and athletic, and has very good positioning. When Bartosak is on his game he can be a truly dominant goaltender. This however, at the CHL level and Bartosak will likely be a long term project as most goalies nowadays are.

20. (NR) Justin Auger, RW, 6.5D
Drafted 4th round, 103rd overall, 2013

You cannot teach size. Isn’t that what you hear coaches and scouts say? Guelph Storm product Justin Auger is 6’7 and 220 pounds. You just cannot teach that size. While Auger does not pop in a manner that some draft picks do in later rounds in one aspect or the other, he is a decent offensively oriented player who just happens to come in a package that one day, with proper development, could be unbelievably difficult for opponents to deal with.

That is where the Kings come in. Auger has some offensive skill, he had 33 points in 68 game in his sophomore season with Guelph, and he really enjoys possessing and skating with the puck. He could stand to pack on a lot of muscle to fit his tall frame, and if he can get engaged in the game more physically the potential is there for him to do some real damage. The Kings obviously saw the toolbox with this player, and now need to load it up with tools.

Follow Jason Lewis on Twitter: @SirJDL