Without having too many high selections in recent drafts, the Los Angeles Kings have done quite well in growing their pipeline in areas of need. While the graduation of Martin Jones does hurt the goalie pipeline, they continue to stock up on useful centers and defenseman. While the wings might not be top-tier, there are some role players and quality players peppered throughout.
The Kings have grown in a number of positions since 2013-2014 while not losing too many prospects to graduation or trade. Although the losses of Nic Deslauriers, Tyler Toffoli, Hudson Fasching and Jones do hurt to a degree, the team still has a number of players in the system and stacked depth charts at both the NHL and AHL level.
The Kings have one of the hottest left wing prospects going right now in Tanner Pearson. Wearing No. 70, he is the left sided portion of the humorously named “That 70’s line” alongside Jeff Carter (77) and Tyler Toffoli (73). The trio have opened up the season by scoring 11 goals in the first six games, five of which belong to Tanner Pearson. His excellent speed combined with his gritty forechecking game has helped he and his linemates in creating scoring opportunities. While it is probably safe to assume that Pearson won’t continue to score at such a torrid pace, he could possibly score 20-25 goals in his rookie season.
Another intriguing player is Nikolai Prokhorkin, the talented winger who has seen his near-future go back and forth between the KHL and the NHL. While he has agreed to stay in Russia and the KHL for a few years longer than previously anticipated, Prokhorkin is off to a great start again. He currently has nine points in the first 15 games of CSKA Moscow’s season, and this comes after a brilliant 37 points in 52 games in 2013-14. He plays a North American style; the only thing that he has left to do is actually come to North America. While some question his commitment to coming across there is no questioning the sheer ability and talent that he has.
Joel Lowry will head back to Cornell for his senior year, and the winger has been a picture of consistency with the Big Red. He has scored 22, 23, and 24 points in his last three seasons, respectively. While the Kings would probably like to see him take a bigger step forward offensively, he has been a solid and steady contributor every season.
Maxim Kitsyn will return to the Ontario Reign for a second year, and if it is anything like his last stay with the Reign he may see himself up in the AHL soon enough. The 22-year-old Kitsyn has struggled with remaining confident in his game ever since returning from Russia, but he seemed to get a level of comfort back last year when netting 30 points and 14 goals in 33 ECHL games.
Elsewhere, Dominik Kubalik took a bit of a backward step in his development. The Czech native struggled in the OHL last season and opted to head back to his home country and league to play for KC Plzen. What this means to his development remains unseen, but it is for certain he will not be facing the same level of competition as before.
Fresh from his sixth round selection by the Kings in the 2014 draft, Matt Mistele has returned to Plymouth of the OHL and is off to a roaring start. He has 10 points and four goals through the team’s first seven games, and the Kings are hoping he returns to the form of 2012-13 in which he scored 34 goals and 60 points.
Los Angeles added a huge piece at the 2014 draft by selecting Adrian Kempe, who has already gotten underway this year with MODO in the SHL. He currently has four points in 12 games, and the Kings are going to be monitoring his game very closely this year. He seems to be the complete package of size, strength, and both offense and defense, but playing against grown men at age 18 will present quite a challenge for him again this year.
Down in Manchester there are three centers looking to make a difference this year: Jordan Weal, Nick Shore, and Nic Dowd. Weal continues to be a tenacious offensively-gifted center, and he has continually taken steps year after year to improve. He had a great camp with the Kings and could be considered on a first call up basis should any long-term injuries occur. Another player who is right on the cusp is Shore. While last year started slowly for Shore, by the end of the season he was playing with confidence and proving that he may yet be a capable shutdown center. He does not have the biggest offensive upside but he is particularly strong in the faceoff circle and has a strong defensive game. The newcomer is Nic Dowd, who was a key player for St. Cloud State for many years. The former captain and Hobey Baker finalist is taking his first step into a larger pond this year. While a learning curve is likely expected for the 24 year old, it will be interesting to see if he can translate his strong two-way game and scoring capabilities to the AHL this season.
Andrew Crescenzi, who came over in the Brandon Kozun deal from Toronto, will also be with Manchester this season. He will likely occupy a spot on the fourth line or in the press box as a healthy scratch.
Andy Andreoff has made the long-awaited leap to the NHL, and in his first shift of his first game he dropped the gloves with Matt Hendricks of Edmonton. The pesky forward has bided his time in the minors and is now going to likely see time on the fourth line in the NHL. He will have to earn his way onto the roster, though, as he is one of many member vying for a spot on the Kings’ fourth line.
Michael Amadio and Jake Marchment remain the two CHL representative for the Kings at right wing. Amadio is off to a great start with North Bay in the OHL, scoring three goals and eight points through his first seven games. An increase in minutes should translate well for Amadio, who had his best statistical season last year by quite a bit. While the Kings will not be looking for the same offensive numbers from Belleville Bulls captain Marchment, they will be looking at an improvement in his hard nosed and physical style. The big power forward has proven to be capable in his own zone while chipping in offensively from time to time. He currently has two goals and five points in Belleville’s first nine games of the season.
The star at right wing for the Kings is Valentin Zykov, who is currently playing in the QMJHL with Baie-Comeau. The Russian has put up two very stellar years in the QMJHL and is off to an impressive start thus far with the Drakkar, putting up 10 points and four goals in 10 games. While his goal totals were down last season, he showcased a playmaking side to his game as well as a willingness to engage physically. Not only is he the best Kings right wing prospect, he is one of the best overall prospects in the pipeline.
Another intriguingly high-scoring prospect in the CHL is 2014 seventh round selection Spencer Watson. The diminutive forward had a 30-goal season last year with Kingston and will be looking to duplicate his goal-scoring prowess. His pure goal scoring talents have to make up for his lack of physicality and defensive game, so there is a lot of work to be done for the 5’9 firecracker.
Scott Sabourin earned himself a contract last season and followed it up with a gritty 26 point season. He is not afraid to lay down a hit or drop the gloves, and he should be a staple on the Monarchs’ bottom lines. Brian O’Neill has come a long way from his Yale days and is looking to build on a career 2013-14 where he tripled his output from the year before. He has also grown into a leader in the Monarch locker room. The newcomer is power forward Michael Mersch, who is coming off a tremendous collegiate career with Wisconsin and will be fighting for top-six and power play minutes with the Monarchs.
Another newcomer to the Monarchs is the massive Justin Auger. Auger has a very solid camp this year with the Kings and seems to be getting better at using his size to his advantage. While he doesn’t have the best offensive upside, he has enough of a physical advantage at 6’7 and 230 pounds to become a pesky forward for defenseman to deal with.
The Kings have been pleased thus far with 2013 fifth round pick Jonny Brodzinski. This year he will have to take over the reins of St. Cloud State’s offense with the departure of Nic Dowd. He already has three goals in the team’s first two games so he is definitely off to a good start. He is looking to repeat on a big 41 point season last year.
Defense remains the backbone of the Los Angeles pipeline, which has churned out Alec Martinez, Slava Voynov, and Jake Muzzin. Brayden McNabb comes over from the Buffalo organization and is looking to make an immediate impact at the NHL level with his booming shot and physical play. Already this season he has seen time at the NHL level paired up with Drew Doughty, and the Kings hope to get him in a steady role with the team on the bottom two defense pairings.
The Kings moved up in the 2014 NHL Draft in order to take Roland McKeown. The skilled puck mover was originally slated to go in the late first round, but he saw himself slip to the mid-second. The Kings pounced on the opportunity. The team will no doubt be watching him carefully as he continues on another year with the Kingston Frontenacs of the OHL.
Derek Forbort remains an interesting figure on the blue line; however, his status has dropped significantly since being selected 15th overall in 2010. He has played fairly well for the Monarchs, although his offensive game has slowly crept away from him as he has aged. The now 22-year-old is slowly becoming an afterthought in a defense heavy system. He will need a good year to remain relevant.
Nick Ebert and Zach Leslie have made considerable strides in their game, and both look like two-way defensemen. Ebert will enter the fold with the Monarchs this season, while Leslie will play out his final year of junior eligibility in Guelph. Also entering the fray is Alex Lintuniemi. The rugged defenseman excelled at the Kings’ camp this year and impressed quite a few people. He was one of the last defensemen with junior eligibility cut. The Kings scouts seemed to go off the board to get him in the 2014 draft, but he already has the physical makeup of a solid NHL defenseman.
Another AHL prospect who might fly under the radar but has certainly made positive steps is Colin Miller. The former fifth round pick in 2012 is being compared somewhat to current King Alec Martinez. He is a solid-skating defenseman and came into his own last year in his rookie season with the Monarchs.
Paul LaDue remains an intriguing NCAA prospect, as the big two-way blue liner was great in his freshman year with the University of North Dakota and is looking to improve further upon that. He was taken in the sixth round of the 2012 draft and is looking very solid for a player selected that late. Not too far from LaDue and UND, Steven Johnson begins his journey into NCAA hockey with the University of Minnesota. The Kings really liked Johnson at the draft and his USHL numbers are promising. With four years of development at the NCAA level slated for him it will be interesting to see how he progresses.
Alex Roach continues to struggle in cracking the AHL lineup and will start off the year with the Ontario Reign of the ECHL this season. He was returned to Calgary in the WHL for an overage season in 2013-14, and this year he will again be relegated to ECHL play to begin the year. With a good year and a little luck Roach may still see the AHL this season.
Both Jacob Middleton and Kurtis MacDermid have returned to their respective junior teams. The big and rugged MacDermid has headed back to Erie to compete in an overage season with the Otters. Middleton is underway with the Ottawa 67’s and hopes to improve on another full season in the OHL. He will most definitely be looking to improve on his suspect plus-minus numbers, as last year he finished with a minus-21.
The Kings goaltending pipeline saw one significant member graduate in the last year. Martin Jones, who has now firmly supplanted himself as an NHL quality backup, is no longer amongst the group. However, J.F. Berube continues to thrive as the Manchester Monarchs’ full-time starter. He is not without competition though, as the former CHL Goaltender of the Year is nipping at his heels in Patrik Bartosak. There is definitely an interesting battle brewing between the two netminders, but as it currently stands Berube has the edge.
Down in the USHL the massive 6’5 Alec Dillon has begun his final campaign in the USHL with the Tri-City Storm. He is considered a bit of a project goalie, but he plans on heading into the NCAA post-USHL, and that should give the Kings plenty of time to help him refine his game.
Follow Jason Lewis on Twitter at @SirJDL