Kings Top 20 prospects

By David A. Rainer

Four new names are added to the Los Angeles Kings Top 20, including two from the June Entry Draft.  With unsung NHL starter John Zeiler slotted at No. 19, the Kings list reveals its overwhelming depth.  In fact, prospects eight through 20, and perhaps another few that did not make the list, are practically interchangeable in their position.  No prospects have graduated since the last ranking, resulting in many prospects moving down slightly despite recent successes.

Top 20 at a Glance

1. (1) Jack Johnson, D
2. (3) Jonathan Bernier, G
3. (2) Patrick O’Sullivan, C/LW
4. (NR) Thomas Hickey, D
5. (6) Trevor Lewis, C
6. (4) Brian Boyle, C
7. (5) Lauri Tukonen, RW
8. (NR) Oscar Moller, RW
9. (14) Marc-Andre Cliche, RW
10. (8) Scott Parse, LW
11. (7) Richard Petiot, D
12. (NR) Ted Purcell, RW
13. (11) Peter Harrold, D
14. (10) Jeff Zatkoff, G
15. (13) Patrik Hersley, D
16. (15) Jonathan Quick, G
17. (9) Joe Ryan, D
18. (18) David Meckler, C
19. (NR) John Zeiler, C
20. (12) Petr Kanko, RW

1. (1) Jack Johnson, D

Holding down the top position in the Kings Top 20 ranking, Johnson signed an entry-level contract with Los Angeles at the conclusion of his sophomore season with the University of Michigan after a preseason trade from Carolina.  He eventually joined the Kings for their final five games where he failed to score his first professional point but got his first professional fight out of the way.  There is little that Johnson does not do well, bringing a complete physical and skilled package to the table.  He is a lock to make the roster this season and likely will graduate from prospect status before the next Top 20 ranking.  Johnson is only a year or two away from ascending to the top defensive pairing where he will be logging in excess of 20 minutes per game as well as extensive power play and penalty kill time.  With slick skating, a booming shot and physical aggressiveness, the Kings are looking at potentially their best defensive prospect since Rob Blake.

2. (3) Jonathan Bernier, G

Going 16-1 in the playoffs, Bernier led Lewiston to their first QMJHL Championship in team history at the tender age of 18.  Bernier was also in the top three of nearly every statistical category for goaltenders during the regular season.  Having already signed an entry-level contract with the Kings, Bernier will battle for a roster spot in the upcoming training camp. But with an abundance of other NHL and AHL veteran goaltenders, as well as the offseason signing of Erik Ersberg, it is unlikely that Bernier will climb to the top of the mountain and there is little reason to rush him at this point in his development.  Due to his young age, Bernier will return to the QMJHL for one more season.  By the end of his junior eligibility, the Kings roster for goaltenders will be thinned out a bit and Bernier will be ready to seriously contend for the starting role.  With his skill-set and competitive attitude, Bernier is the clear future in net for the Kings.

3. (2) Patrick O’Sullivan, C/LW

After a slow start to the 2006-07 season, O’Sullivan was sent down to Manchester to work on several aspects of his game.  There was a period of adjustment for O’Sullivan while in Manchester, but by the end of his stay he had showed improvement in his play away from the puck and was called back up to Los Angeles as a result.  With renewed confidence and showing that the lessons which were being taught him early in the season were now learned, O’Sullivan began to produce at a rate expected of him initially.  He would score 12 points in his final 14 games with Los Angeles and earn himself increased ice time.  O’Sullivan hopes to build upon this momentum entering the new season and earn himself a spot on one of the top two scoring lines.  Regardless, O’Sullivan appears to have locked down a full-time roster spot if he continues to show the progress that he showed late last season.

4. (NR) Thomas Hickey, D

Making his debut on the Kings Top 20 ranking at No. 4, Hickey was recently drafted by Los Angeles with the fourth overall pick.  Hickey was a mainstay on the blueline for Seattle of the WHL, scoring 50 points in 68 games, including a team-leading 41 assists.  Hickey joins the Kings as the highest drafted player since Olli Jokinen in 1997, but reaches only the No. 4 position due to the strong top-end talent that the system possesses.  Still 18 years of age, Hickey will return to the WHL for the 2007-08 season where he will further develop his offensive game.  He compares favorably to fellow King Lubomir Visnovsky.  His mobility and skating ability will one day land him in the NHL, but for now Hickey must be content with honing his skills in one of the best development leagues in the world.  At the conclusion of his eligibility with the WHL, Hickey will be ready to battle for a spot on the Los Angeles roster alongside current top prospect Jack Johnson.

5. (6) Trevor Lewis, C

After being drafted by the Kings in the first round of the 2006 Entry Draft, Lewis withdrew from his scholarship with the University of Michigan to join Owen Sound of the OHL for his last year of junior eligibility.  His 73 points in 62 games were good enough for third on the team and fifth in the league among all newcomers.  Lewis also displayed the solid defense and leadership skills that will make him top center for the Kings in the next few years.  At the conclusion of the OHL season, Lewis moved his game to the professional ranks, appearing in eight regular-season games for the Monarchs and scoring six points.  He was used sparingly in the playoffs, only appearing in two games, but will be returning to Manchester for the 2007-08 season to get a full year of experience under his belt before he moves up the ranks in the farm system.

6. (4) Brian Boyle, C

A question that will be answered in the coming months is whether Boyle’s brief tryout as a defenseman in the Kings development camps and at Boston College is just an experimental move or if there is some merit to making the shift.  Boyle completed his college eligibility last season, finishing with a team-leading 53 points in 42 games.  In emergency situations and occasionally on the penalty kill, Boyle was slotted in as a defenseman and performed remarkably well.  So well, in fact, that one begins to wonder if Boyle’s large frame, skating ability and shot are more in-tune with being a defenseman than a center.  At the conclusion of Boston College’s season, Boyle signed an entry-level contract with the Kings and was assigned to Manchester for their playoff run where he appeared in 16 games and registered eight points.  Until an official change has been made in his position, Boyle remains a center.  But is it better to be an above average third line center or a top pairing defenseman?

7. (5) Lauri Tukonen, RW

Again battling injuries to start the season, Tukonen never really got into an offensive groove and his scoring stagnated again this season.  His goals would drop to 13 and his points to 32 in 61 games for Manchester as he looked more like a physical forward than a play-maker.  Tukonen did receive a four game call-up to Los Angeles which had more to do with getting a closer look at Tukonen against NHL competition than as a reward for stellar play or due to any expectation that he was currently ready for the NHL.  Injuries have greatly impacted his development in his first two seasons in North America.  Tukonen is still only 20 years of age and has plenty of time to make up for slow development.  But he cannot afford to miss another season to nagging injuries.  The 2007-08 season in Manchester will be the "make or break" season for Tukonen as he is beginning to be passed up on the depth charts.

8. (NR) Oscar Moller, RW

Moller is the second of two 2007 draftees to find his way into this Top 20 ranking.  Drafted in the second round out of Chilliwack of the WHL, Moller adds depth to a right wing position that was beginning to thin out with graduations and lack of development by some prospects.  Moller led Chilliwack in goals (32) and was second in points (69) in 68 games as the No. 1 center in his first season with Chilliwack.  He also contributes intangibles to the team other than what appears on the score sheet.  A "heart and soul" type player, Moller is a team leader and has been named as captain of Team Sweden in past international tournament play.  Still young, Moller will return to Chilliwack next season and look to improve on his already impressive first season.  Moller could be a less speedy version of Trevor Lewis.

9. (14) Marc-Andre Cliche, RW

Like Moller, Cliche is a two-way forward who brings a lot of intangibles to the table.  Moller has the slight edge due to his offensive skills.  Cliche is always involved in the play, both offensively and defensively, and performs a lot of the hard work away from the puck that leads to team success.  He spent the entire season with Lewiston of the QMJHL, scoring 54 points in 52 games.  He also contributed 22 points in 16 games while leading Lewiston to the QMJHL championship.  While his production was slightly off from the prior season, Cliche increased his role as a solid two-way forward.  After being acquired in a trade deadline deal with the New York Rangers, Cliche signed an entry-level contract with Los Angeles during the 2007 offseason and is most likely bound for Manchester to start the season.  Cliche compares favorably to former King Eric Belanger.

10. (8) Scott Parse, LW

After a long and drawn out contract negotiation, Parse and the Kings finally came to terms on a two-year entry-level contract in July.  Parse finished his collegiate career with the University of Nebraska, Omaha as the career leader in goals (79), assists (118) and points (197) in 159 games, leading the team in scoring all four years and not missing a single game until the final two games of his senior year.  Parse, the two-time Hobey Baker award finalist, signed an amateur tryout contract with Grand Rapids of the AHL due to the impasse with the Kings organization.  But a deal was finally worked out and Parse will compete for a roster spot with Los Angeles in the 2007 training camp.  He is most assuredly bound for Manchester to start the season but might be one of the first forward call-ups to Los Angeles during the season.

11. (7) Richard Petiot, D

After significantly tearing tendons in his knee at the 2006 Pacific Division rookie tournament, Petiot missed all but 15 games of the 2006-07 season for Manchester.  While returning for Manchester’s final games was a major accomplishment given the severity of the injury, Petiot virtually lost an entire year of development and drops in these rankings.  He is getting up in age for a prospect and will need to bounce back from his injury to maintain his position on the depth charts.  Petiot was a restricted free agent for the 2007 offseason and the Kings did tender him a qualifying offer, showing that the organization has enough faith in his recovery from the knee injury.  Petiot will compete for the sixth or seventh defenseman position with the Kings and is on the cusp of staying in the NHL.  If he does not earn a roster spot in training camp, he will likely be the first defensive call-up from Manchester.

12. (NR) Ted Purcell, RW

An over-aged collegiate forward, Purcell would leave the University of Maine after just one season.  Purcell was tabbed as one of the most sought after non-drafted players in all of college hockey and the Kings jumped at the opportunity to bring him within their ranks, signing him to an entry-level contract shortly after the conclusion of Maine’s season.  Purcell already has top six forward skills and will take the next couple of seasons to learn to play against the more physical competition of professional hockey.  How he adapts to the higher level of competition will determine how high he can reach.  He is already a favorite of the organization but remains a bit of an unknown quantity until he begins to compete against stiffer competition on a nightly basis.

13. (11) Peter Harrold, D

Battling with Petiot for the last defensive position on the NHL roster will be Harrold.  Coming off of a season in which he led all Manchester defensemen in goals (7) and second among defenseman in points (34), and having already played in 12 NHL games, Harrold is primed for the next step in his career.  During his 12-game stint with Los Angeles, Harrold looked very comfortable on the ice, registering only two assists but not missing many defensive assignments either.  Unlike Petiot who brings a physical style to the blue line, Harrold provides the Kings with an offensive option with good mobility and puck-handling skills.  Depending upon the style of game the Kings are looking to fill on the roster, it will either be Petiot or Harrold receiving the call.  Otherwise, Harrold will continue his development in Manchester as one of the best offensive defensemen in the AHL.

14. (10) Jeff Zatkoff, G

The platoon in net of Zatkoff and Charlie Effinger ended in 2006 when Zatkoff secured the full-time starting job for Miami (OH).  Zatkoff appeared in 26 games, posting a 14-8-3 record, 2.26 goals-against average and a save percentage of .919.  Zatkoff also was named to Team USA for the U20 World Juniors Championship, but his play was less than stellar with a 3.46 goals-against average and a .833 save percentage.  His play at the WJC did not deter him as he returned to Miami and promptly regained his starting position in net and led his team back to the NCAA hockey tournament.  He will return to Miami for the 2007-08 season where he will start in net behind an impressive and extremely experienced defensive corps.  Zatkoff drops in these rankings due largely to the addition of new faces to the prospect pool.

15. (13) Patrik Hersley, D

Hersley is bound for North America after making the decision to cross the Atlantic from Sweden.  Hersley prepared for his North American professional debut by skating in the Swedish Elite League the entire season for the first time in his career, providing him the opportunity to play against the former NHL veterans that pack SEL rosters.  He scored only two points in 28 games for Malmo, but continued to show development of his solid, physical defensive style.  Hersley will likely start the season in Manchester and require a year or two learning the NHL style of game before seeing NHL time.  He might soon find a role as a second or third pairing defenseman in Los Angeles before the year is completed if Petiot and/or Harrold do not snatch up the extra roster spots before Hersley can prove himself.

16. (15) Jonathan Quick, G

After posting a stellar season with the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, signed an entry-level contract with the Kings and joins the professional ranks after only two seasons of collegiate hockey.  With a more mature and experienced team in front of him, Quick emerged as one of the best goaltenders in NCAA hockey in his sophomore season.  Quick was fifth in NCAA hockey with a .929 save percentage, including a 2.16 goals-against average and a 19-12-1 record.  Quick led UMass to their first-ever berth in the NCAA hockey tournament, including a first round shutout upset of No. 1 ranked Clarkson and was named team MVP for the season.  Quick signed a contract with the Los Angeles Kings during the 2007 offseason, foregoing two years of college hockey eligibility.  With Bernier in front of him on the depth charts, there is no need to press Quick into duty and will spend time developing in either Reading or Manchester to start the 2007-08 season.

17. (9) Joe Ryan, D

Ryan is a physical, pounding defenseman with limited upside to his game.  He can be viewed as a fish out of water playing in the QMJHL which emphasizes speed and skill over physical toughness, but Ryan has been able to hold his own with Quebec.  He still has not developed an offensive game to speak of with only 22 points in 59 games, but his physical prowess continues to shine. With another year of junior eligibility, it appears that Ryan is destined to be returned to Quebec due to his age and ineligibility for the AHL.  The physicality of the AHL will prove to be a better testing ground for Ryan.  With an abundance of young defensemen that are or will be filling the Manchester roster in the next year or so, Ryan will have an uphill battle to find quick playing time once he gets there.

18. (18) David Meckler, C

Joining London during the 2006 offseason after leaving Yale University early, Meckler was one of the top newcomers to the OHL and helped continue London’s offensive dominance.  Meckler finished fourth on the high-powered Knights in goals (38) and added a total of 73 points in 67 games.  But it was in the playoffs that Meckler would truly shine, scoring a league-high 15 goals in 11 playoff games and leading London deep into the playoffs where they eventually succumbed to Plymouth.  Meckler proved that he can be a serviceable center prospect with a second line potential.  The Kings are under no pressure to sign Meckler immediately as he is bound by the signing restrictions for college players due to his initial enrollment with Yale.  Meckler might return to London as an over-ager for the 2007-08 season.  If so, he is poised to have an enormous season dominating the younger competition.

19. (NR) John Zeiler, C

Zeiler was a pleasant surprise for the Kings during the 2006-07 season. He scored 28 points in 56 games for Manchester before being called up to Los Angeles to stay.  He scored only three points in 23 games for Los Angeles but proved to be a highly effective energy forward with a defensive, grinding style.  Zeiler has improved each year. He has gotten physically stronger, while each year still increasing his point production. Zeiler has the ability to become a solid, defensively responsible third line center at the NHL level.  After already signing a brand new four-year contract with Los Angeles, he is a lock to make the NHL club for the 2007-08 season as a fourth line energy forward.  However, due to his limited upside, Zeiler largely remains on the fringe of the Kings Top 20 prospects — which is of no concern to him as he is already making an impact at the NHL level.

20. (12) Petr Kanko, RW

Kanko turned pro in 2004 after an impressive OHL career and was tabbed as an elite agitator in the making.  Kanko finished the season with 19 points in 58 games, a slight decline from last season. But issues on and off the ice have distracted him from his development where he has stagnated this past season.  Kanko is long removed from his status as diamond in the rough after being drafted in the third round of the 2002 draft.  Kanko has made a successful transition into the role of agitator and the departure of Sean Avery paved the way for his place in the NHL.  However, the call never came as Kanko battled issues that affected his play on the ice and any chance at a subsequent role with the NHL club.  The Kings tendered Kanko a qualifying offer and will bring him back into the fold next season, showing at least a willingness to allow him time to address his issues.

Honorable Mention: Bud Holloway – two-way forward that might be a fast riser in these rankings soon.  Matt Moulson – solid scorer at the AHL level and might earn a tryout in Los Angeles before the season is over.  Joe Piskula – steady stay-at-home defenseman with limited upside.  Wayne Simmonds – extremely raw that might crack the top ten of these rankings before the end of the year.

Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future.  Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.