With NHL prospects, we are almost always presented with two major questions: “Can they follow up a strong season?” and “How will they adapt at the next level?” The Los Angeles Kings prospect pool has many rather high profile players falling into one or both of these categories this coming season.
With a championship under the belt of the entire AHL squad, many are wondering if the Ontario Reign (formerly the Manchester Monarchs) can repeat a Calder Cup-winning 2014-15 season. Players like Nic Dowd, Michael Mersch, and Justin Auger all registered commendable rookie outings with the Monarchs, and will be looking to avoid the sophomore slump. Meanwhile, prospects like Valentin Zykov, Adrian Kempe, and Jonny Brodzinski are looking to make an impact in their new surroundings.
Outside the AHL there are similar stories with players like Matt Mistele, Michael Amadio, and newly drafted Erik Cernak. While the Kings still have a pretty lightweight prospect pool in terms of overall game breakers, they boast one of the best development programs in the NHL. They will be hard at work in 2015-16 trying to help each and every one of these player realize their dream of one day being in the NHL. Some big years lie ahead.
20. (NR) Austin Wagner, LW, 7.0D
Drafted 4th round, 99th overall in 2015
The hard-working, two-way game of Austin Wagner is definitely a shoe-in for a Kings system that loves its blue-collar forwards. The 18-year-old put up a modest 20 goals with Regina last year, but really made his presence felt with his intelligent thinking of the game and top-notch skating. He is an all-situations forward in the making and feels a little bit like a Tanner Pearson-lite. Wagner has a long way to go and a lot to build on if he wants his two-way game to translate to the next level. A big offensive step in 2015-16 would help his stock tremendously, but he has the makings of a decent all-around winger.
19. (18) Nick Ebert, D, 6.5D
Drafted 7th round, 211th overall in 2012
The offensive leaning defenseman is in a bit of a holding pattern right now. Last season Ebert split his time as a bottom-pair defenseman or the extra guy in the press box for Manchester. He only played 45 of a potential 82 games, and only appeared in two games during the Monarchs’ magical Calder Cup run. When he did play he continued to provide solid offensive contributions. There will not be much extra room on the blueline this season with the Kings’ relocated affiliate, the Ontario Reign, but with a year under his belt the 21-year old should be in position to elevate his standing on the depth chart. He has all the tools to be a solid puck-moving contributor and power play weapon. Look for 2015-16 to be a big statement year for the former Windsor Spitfire star.
18. (20) Matt Mistele, LW, 6.5D
Drafted 6th round, 180th overall in 2014
Mistele was a steady goal-scorer throughout the 2014-15 campaign. This was a campaign that saw him relocate from Plymouth to Oshawa, and eventually play and win in the 2015 Memorial Cup with the Generals. His scoring pace definitely cooled a touch when he went from Plymouth to Oshawa, but he remained a valued part of the Generals’ depth. When he was drafted, folks were still looking for him to replicate the 60 point rookie season he had back in 2012-13. With 64 points and a long playoff run in 2014-15, this is more the player scouts were looking for. His consistent offensive contributions were a huge boost to his respective teams on most nights.
17. (12) Justin Auger, RW, 6.5D
Drafted 4th round, 103rd overall in 2013
The massively-built forward shot up in the rankings last season due to just how well he adjusted to the AHL game. It seemed as though the big winger took the coaching suggestions to heart and really started to use his body in the right areas. His 29-point rookie campaign with Manchester was definitely noteworthy. While it is questionable how much that improves or translates as he moves up in minutes and role, he provides a physical presence in the game that makes him hard for defenses to play against. It is not out of the question to think that Auger could develop into a Dwight King style top nine forward in the future. The Kings definitely love players who can cause havoc for their skill guys to exploit, and at 6’7 and 230 pounds, Auger could be one of those guys. His upside is limited, but he has at least one great natural advantage over many in the prospect pool.
16. (NR) Patrik Bartosak, G, 6.5D
Drafted 5th round, 146th overall in 2013
There will be an interesting goaltending battle brewing in Ontario this season. While J.F. Berube was a member of last season’s midterm list, he is notably absent from our pre-season rankings. While Berube did lead the Monarchs to a Calder Cup, there are many who feel that Bartosak has the upside, athleticism, and competitive edge to take over the number one gig for the Reign this coming season. His numbers were fairly good in his limited 2014-15 season in the role of backup, but the Czech should at least get a split start opportunity with Ontario this coming season.
15. (NR) Alexander Dergachyov, RW, 6.5D
Drafted 3rd round, 74th overall in 2015
Have we mentioned before that the Kings love power forwards? This past draft the Kings went out to the MHL to draft the 6’4 bull in a china shop, Alexander Dergachyov. Like most Russian players these days, the 18-year old has an excellent command of technical skills plus some creativity to go along with his sizable frame and gritty style. He was a very productive forward in the Russian minor leagues last year, scoring at a near point per game pace. It will be interesting to see if he gets moved from the MHL to the KHL, where his size and tenacity will really be put to the test.
14. (NR) Michael Amadio, C, 7.0D
Drafted 3rd round, 90th overall in 2014
It was hard for Michael Amadio to be more important to the North Bay Battalion this year. He was the man for North Bay for the entirety of the 2014-15 season, leading the team in scoring during both the regular season and the playoffs. This also came on a North Bay team that was relatively light on star power. The 19-year old Soo native was the catalyst for the Battalion all year, registering 19 multi-point games over the season. He more than doubled his 2013-14 production in 2014-15. Amadio will likely have to lead the Battalion again, barring trade, but where does he go next?
13. (NR) Kevin Gravel, D, 6.5C
Signed as a free agent in July 2015
Gravel was squeezed out of the Kings pipeline due to the team reaching its contract limit in 2014. Unsurprisingly he signed a professional contract with the Kings AHL affiliate. He did exactly what he needed to do in 2014-15 to remain relevant. He played a pretty steady role as a bottom pair defenseman, one that increased later in the season. At age 23, the Kings 2010 draftee is pretty well known for his low-flash and steady defensive game. He has slowly mixed in some puck-moving ability as he has aged and is back in the fold of the Kings pipeline as an intriguing bottom pair defensive option.
12. (10) Paul LaDue, D, 7.0D
Drafted 6th round, 181st overall in 2012
The big defenseman out of North Dakota has made steady strides since his draft year. He has tackled every elevation of his role at UND as it has come along. For that reason the Kings made a big push to sign him to a professional contract this past offseason. However, LaDue is set on returning to North Dakota this year, where he will play his junior season with the club while donning the alternate captain’s letter. With the Kings in full support of his decision to go back to college, they will keep a sharp eye on the 22-year old puck mover. His plus skating and puck-moving ability have been big assets to the North Dakota blueline, and he is going to be asked to take on an even larger role in the coming year.
11. (19) Jonny Brodzinski, RW, 7.0D
Drafted 5th round, 148th overall in 2013
People around the Kings organization are justifiably excited about Jonny Brodzinski, who signed an entry-level deal back in April. Of all the success the Kings have had recently with college prospects like Michael Mersch and Nick Shore, Brodzinski comes into the AHL fold with perhaps the most consistent goal-scoring exploits of the bunch. With back-to-back-to-back 20-plus goal seasons for St. Cloud State, the 22-year old has demonstrated a strong ability to find twine with regularity. Coming off a season where he was named to the NCHC All-star team, the Minnesota native will now put his pure goal-scoring abilities to the test in the AHL. The Kings lack some goalscoring punch right now in the system, and “Brodzy” could potentially be the best sniper they currently have.