Brayden Schenn headlines deep and varied Los Angeles Kings prospect group

By Josh Deitell
Photo: Derek Forbort brings size and physicality to an already deep and talented group of Kings’ defensemen. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

With the recent trade of defensive prospect Colten Teubert and two high draft picks to the Oilers for Dustin Penner, the Kings shifted their main focus from development to playoff success, though the former will remain a core value. Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi was able to swing the deal without creating any issues with the team’s prospect pool thanks to years of patient accumulation of young talent.

The team was able to add a top-six winger without dealing away top young talent Brayden Schenn, whose name was a constant in trade rumors over the past few months. He highlights a group of prospects that is amongst the top in the league, particularly on the back end where the stable is full of quality colts.

1. (2) Brayden Schenn C, 8.5C
Acquired: 1st round, 5th overall, 2009

Schenn has finally found stability after a whirlwind of a season. The Saskatoon native was traded to his hometown Blades from the Brandon Wheat Kings in January after spending parts of the season on the NHL roster, with the AHL Manchester Monarchs, and on Canada’s silver-medal-winning WJC team. He spent just two games with Brandon before the move.

Though Saskatoon was already a top WHL team before acquiring Schenn, his addition has reinforced their status as a legitimate Memorial Cup contender. The Blades have gone 16-3-0 with Schenn in the lineup and sit second in the Mastercard CHL Rankings as the top WHL team on the list. For his part, Schenn has posted 18 goals and added 25 assists for 43 points in 19 games and was named the WHL Player of the Month for February.

In addition to his WHL success, Schenn tied Canada’s all-time WJC records for points (18) and goals in a game (4). His efforts earned him the acclaim of the IIHF Directorate, which named him the tournament’s best forward and MVP.

The talented forward is poised to make an impact at the NHL level next season. He won’t be handed the keys to the castle right away, but the second line center role is reserved for him.

2. (1) Jonathan Bernier, G, 8.0B
Acquired: 1st round, 11th overall, 2006

After platooning as a starter with QMJHL Lewiston for three seasons before being the undisputed top dog with the Manchester Monarchs two years running, it comes as no surprise that adjusting to a backup role has been a challenge for Bernier. Fresh off an MVP-caliber season in the AHL, Bernier has largely been riding the pine for the Kings this year as Jonathan Quick‘s underling, refining his game in practice and biding his time between starts.

As the year has progressed, though, Bernier has begun to better take advantage of his limited opportunities, giving the Kings two dependable options in goal for the first time in a long time. Though his 8-8-2 record on the year is unspectacular, he’s 3-1-2 in his last six starts with one shutout, a .939 save percentage, and nine goals allowed in that span.

The young goaltender still has much to prove before he can be considered the Kings netminder of the future over Quick, but with both Jonathans signed until 2013 the Kings should benefit greatly from the two challenging each other over the next two seasons. The two have the potential to be the best goaltending tandem in Kings history and either one could end up the franchise goaltender down the line.

3. (4) Andrei Loktionov, C, 7.5C
Acquired: 5th round, 123rd overall, 2008

One of the shrewder Kings draft selections in recent years, Loktionov was just starting to make an impact at the NHL level at the tender age of 20 until, for the second year in a row, his season was interrupted by a serious shoulder injury.

To start the season, Loktionov impressed in training camp and secured a spot on the opening day roster. Though his creativity was very welcomed on the grit-first Kings’ roster, he struggled at times with the stiff defensive matchups that come along with regular top-six icetime. He was last returned to Manchester to work on his all-around game before suffering the injury (the opposite shoulder from last season) and has been shut down to undergo surgery.

With the Monarchs, Loktionov was a dominant presence with 31 points in 34 games. In 19 NHL games he posted seven points, spending most of his time on the top line and powerplay. He will, again, need to spend the summer getting stronger and come to training camp next year looking to secure a top-six roster spot, something he looked well on his way to doing before his injury.

4. (10) Tyler Toffoli, RW, 7.5C
Acquired: 2nd round, 47th overall, 2010

No King prospect is having a more eye-opening season than Toffoli. Though he exhibited a nice goal-scoring touch last year in potting 37 goals in 65 games for Ottawa of the OHL, he fell to the Kings in the second round largely due to concerns regarding his skating. With a league-leading 50 goals in 61 games so far this season, it’s safe to say that slow feet or not, Toffoli is proving himself an exceptional sniper.

Toffoli is the right wing and go-to finisher on an unstoppable line that features speedy Shane Prince on the left side and tall and talented Ryan Martindale (EDM) in the middle. The three have produced a combined 108 goals on the season for the 67s and all sit top-15 in league scoring.

As much as the Kings could use a player with Toffoli’s high-end goal-scoring talent sooner rather than later, he’ll be only 19 when next training camp rolls around. His grit and determination make him a favorite to eventually succeed as a pro, but he’s at least another year away. He has the potential to be a fantastic complementary top-six player.

5. (3) Derek Forbort, D, 7.5C
Acquired: 1st round, 15th overall, 2010

Forbort drops not due to poor play but rather due to the ascension of other prospects in the system. Though he missed a stretch with mono, overall, he’s had a seamless transition to college puck, playing poised hockey from the onset of the year as a middle-pairing defenseman for North Dakota. He hasn’t been depended upon to be the backbone of the blue line, but has seen quality minutes for a freshman and it’s clear that the Sioux are grooming him to be the top dog in the future. In 29 games this year, Forbort has 13 assists.

At the World Junior Championships Forbort was a depth defenseman on USA’s bronze-medal-winning team, playing at even strength and on the penalty kill but not being given a chance to showcase his offensive ability. Look for him to have an increased role next year.

Though Forbort is still years away from the NHL and will likely stay at North Dakota at least through his junior season, his progress since draft day has been encouraging. He’s a raw prospect but one of the few in the organization with a strong enough all-around game to have top-pairing potential.

6. (6) Slava Voynov, D, 7.5C
Acquired: 2nd round 32nd overall, 2008

There’s no better puck-moving defenseman in the pipeline than Voynov, who has established himself as one of the premier producers from the blue line in the AHL. Voynov is among the league leaders in goals (12) and points (40) from a defenseman as well.

Still, it’s telling that Voynov has yet to make his NHL debut while Jake Muzzin stuck with the Kings out of training camp this year just months removed from junior hockey, and that Alec Martinez was the team’s first callup from Manchester when Muzzin faltered. Though Voynov has almost three full years of North American professional hockey under his belt, his game isn’t quite at the NHL level yet.

His offensive talents would be a welcome addition to the Kings blue line, but he’d be a liability in the Kings defense-first system without further refinement. The Kings risk losing Voynov to the KHL this summer if they continue to take the ultra-patient route with him but should he show a willingness to stick around, he’s a future bottom-four NHL blueliner who can quarterback a top unit powerplay.

7. (9) Nicolas Deslauriers, D, 7.5C
Acquired: 3rd round, 84th overall, 2009

A poorly-timed knee injury knocked Deslauriers out of commission before Canada’s World Junior Championships camp, where he would have had a good chance of cracking Canada’s roster and making a name for himself at the tournament, but he’s had a fantastic season regardless.

Deslauriers did not skip a beat after an off-season trade sent him from Rouyn-Noranda to Gatineau, and in 43 games with the Olympiques has posted 12 goals and 30 assists for 42 points, making him the most productive blueliner on the team.

Arguably the best skater in the Kings organization, Deslauriers ability to rush the puck up ice and create offense has always been there, but he’s spent his time since being drafted refining his all-around game, and is now an asset defensively as well with his intelligent reads, good stick, and affinity for throwing big hits. He projects safely as a middle-pairing defenseman, but his upside is sky high.

8. (8) Kyle Clifford, LW, 6.5B
Acquired: 2nd round 35th overall, 2009

Though he ranks eighth on this list, there are few prospects in the organization more valuable to the Kings than Clifford. He’ll never be a first line player, but Clifford is the type of player integral to a winning team. Making his NHL debut this year as a 19-year-old, "Big Red" has gained already become a fan favorite with his energy and toughness.

Clifford has dropped the mitts with some tough customers – such as George Parros, Paul Bissonette, and Shawn Thornton – and more than held his own. He’s also added four goals and six assists for 10 points to go along with his 100 penalty minutes in 60 games.

For the near future, he’ll be depended upon to keep hitting and fighting in a depth role, but Clifford should be expected to contribute as a top-nine forward.

9. (5) Thomas Hickey, D, 7.0C
Acquired: 1st round, 4th overall, 2007

While there’s still a good chance that Hickey ends up an NHLer someday, it’s getting to the point where it’s necessary to temper expectations for the young blueliner. Being drafted fourth overall brings high expectations, which have weighed unnecessarily on Hickey’s shoulders.

Now in his second full professional season, with his first being lost almost entirely due to injury, Hickey is just starting to show his potential. He had a fantastic month of December, posting nine points in 12 games, and has 22 points in 61 games overall with a plus-12 rating. Most importantly, he’s playing in all situations and has been a dependable contributor for the team.

Hickey will not be a franchise defenseman, that is almost certain, but he’s very much still in the Kings plans. The Kings have shown a recent propensity to keep raw prospects in the minors for as long as possible, so Hickey is unlikely to make an impact until next season or later, but don’t count him out as a future second-pairing defenseman.

10. (11) Martin Jones, G, 7.0C
Acquired: Free agent, 2008

When Jones entered the professional ranks this season, there was concern as to whether he was the backbone of the Calgary Hitmen, where he posted 81 wins in 103 games over his last junior seasons, or the benefactor of a goalie-friendly system. Little did anyone know that not only would Jones establish himself as a quality option at the minor league level, but that he would seize the Monarchs starting job and be named to the Eastern Conference All-Star Team.

While Jeff Zatkoff was struggling to get his game together in the early going, Jones kept the Monarchs afloat, providing the team with the same quality of goaltending that Jonathan Bernier gave them last season. Though Jones has cooled off after a 12-2-0 start, his statline through 34 games is still impressive: a 22-8-1 record, 2.29 goals-against-average, and .924 save percentage.

He’ll need to prove that he can sustain his high level of play over an extended period at the AHL level, but it appears that the Kings have another goalie with NHL starting potential on their hands.

11. (15) Alec Martinez, D, 6.5B
Acquired: 4th round, 95th overall, 2007

One of the top blueliners in the AHL during his time there, Martinez looked overwhelmed in his four game callup to the NHL last year, but the cup of coffee clearly did him some good.

After posting 16 points in 20 games for the Monarchs to start this season, Martinez got another shot at sticking with the big club and has been something of a pleasant surprise. His mobility on the back end and ability to get the puck to the net have taken some of the load of Jack Johnson and Drew Doughty, as the two were depended upon almost entirely to create from the back end before Martinez’s emergence.

Further encouraging is Martinez’s ability to handle NHL forwards in his own zone, as he’s shown willingness to give and take hits without issue. Aside from the occasional rookie blunder, his positioning has been solid. He may not end up as more than a third-pairing defenseman at the NHL, but he’s already capable of handling that role well.

12. (13) Brandon Kozun, RW, 7.0C
Acquired: 6th round, 179th overall, 2009

After breaking 107 points in two consecutive WHL seasons (in 72 games in 2008-09 and 65 in 2009-10), Kozun made his professional debut for the Monarchs this year with the expectation that he would help to shoulder some of the offensive load. After a quick start followed by inconsistent play, the Los Angeles native had a surge in production in February, posting 15 points in 13 games, and was named the AHL’s Rookie of the Month for his efforts. His play has been on the upswing as he’s become more comfortable with the pro game.

Kozun will always be slighted for his height, but he’s been able to produce at every level and as long as he continues to put up points, he’ll stay relevant. If he can find the scoresheet consistently while rounding out his defensive game to the point that he’s not a liability, he does have the potential to be an NHL player down the line, though at this point he still appears to be a second-line-or-bust type prospect.

13. (20) Maxim Kitsyn, LW, 7.0D
Acquired: 6th round, 158th overall, 2010

One of the more intriguing prospects drafted in 2010, Kitsyn was considered a sure-fire first rounder as a 16 and 17-year-old and ended up a sixth round pick. He saw his draft stock drop due to his lack of progress in the KHL and, as with a majority of European players nowadays, questions regarding his commitment to coming across the pond. It did not take long for Kitsyn to make the jump: he joined Mississauga of the OHL after 18 games with Novokuznetz Metallurg of the KHL and a strong World Junior Championship tournament with Russia.

Kitsyn plays a very NHL-style game, creating most of his offense from the boards or in front of the net. He provided a quality foil for the flashier forwards on Russia‘s roster, finishing sixth in tournament scoring with nine points in seven games and helping to propel the team to a gold medal win. He has had little trouble transitioning to the OHL, posting 22 points in 23 games for the Majors, who sit first in the league.

While there are rumblings that Kitsyn will return to Russia to fulfill his contract there after this season, he has looked good playing against North American competition. He could at the very least develop into a solid top-nine forward if not a top-six contributor.

14. (14) Jake Muzzin, D, 6.5C
Acquired: Free agent, 2009

Added from free agency this past off-season after the Pittsburgh Penguins failed to offer him a contract, Muzzin surprised many by making the Kings opening day roster just months removed from playing with the Soo Greyhounds of the OHL. While he did not look out of place at the NHL level, it became clear after 11 games that Muzzin would benefit from getting more playing time and was sent down to Manchester, where he’s played since.

Statistically speaking, Muzzin’s 12 points in 28 games and +13 rating are impressive, but his season has not been without its struggles. He’s been guilty of some questionable decision-making both with and without the puck and, as a result, has watched a few games this year from the press box as a healthy scratch. He also missed a stretch with a hand injury from which he is now recovered.

During Muzzin’s final OHL season, he posted 67 points in 64 games. The upside is there and the tools are as well, but the Kings will need to be patient while he puts it all together at the professional level. He projects as a two-way defenseman with a mean streak who would slot in somewhere in the bottom two pairings.

15. (NR) Linden Vey, RW 6.5C
Acquired: 4th round, 96th overall, 2009

Vey was primarily considered to be a depth-type all-around player after posting 147 points in 143 games over the past two seasons, but he is having a breakout campaign that necessitates a re-analysis of his potential. With 41 goals and 66 assists in 62 games, Vey leads the WHL with 107 points and has 36 more points than his closest teammate.

Vey has been anointed the go-to offensive player for Medicine Hat and has responded well to the challenge. His game is a nice fit with the Kings system, as he is strong on the puck along the boards and is capable at both ends of the rink. The Tigers score a lot of goals off the rush, where Vey is effective thanks to his speed and ability to create offense in high-pressure situations. The main knock on his game is that he lacks a nasty edge, but he’s a gritty and determined player nonetheless.

Whether Vey can reasonably be expected to produce offensively at the NHL level is still difficult to say, but his two-way game makes him a valuable player. He’s a safe bet to be a successful pro in some capacity.

16. (16) Jordan Weal, C, 6.5C
Acquired: 3rd round, 70th overall, 2010

While Weal’s numbers are down from a year ago, he’s been able to produce at a high rate as the only consistently dangerous player on the Regina roster. With Jordan Eberle leaving for the Oilers this season, Weal was stuck with the task of keeping the rebuilding Pats afloat and has done an admirable job. In 64 games, he’s scored 32 goals and added 49 assists for 81 points. He has 14 more goals and 32 more points than any other Pat.

Still only 18, Weal will spend another year in the WHL, though whether that’s with the Pats or elsewhere depends on how quickly the team’s young prospects progress. The experience of being the go-to guy is valuable in some regards, but it’s difficult for Weal to learn team skills in his current environment.

He has the offensive skill and work ethic to be a second or third line NHL forward, but he’ll need to overcome his size and lack of top quality speed.

17. (12) Jeff Zatkoff, G, 6.5C
Acquired: 3rd round, 74th overall, 2006

After coming into the season expected to take the reins from Bernier, Zatkoff faltered early and went from getting a majority of the starts, to platooning with Jones, to acting as backup on most nights. Though he had quality games from time to time, his inconsistency was maddening.

While he’s still ceding most of the starts to Jones, Zatkoff has begun to get in the swing of things. He posted a .929 or better save percentage in six of his last eight starts and has a 2.11 goals-against-average in February. His statline on the year shows a 14-12-4 record with a 2.93 goals-against-average and .902 save percentage.

With the emergence of Jones, Zatkoff may need to look elsewhere for the chance to prove himself as a capable AHL starter next season. He still has the potential to be an NHL backup or platoon goaltender, but did not take advantage of his opportunity to break out this season.

18. (NR) Dwight King, LW, 6.0C
Acquired: 4th round, 109th overall, 2007

The quest to find a winger for Anze Kopitar led to an unlikely experiment that saw Dwight King line up on the team’s top line. In six games with the big club, which King split between the top line and a bottom-six role, he went pointless, but it speaks volumes about how highly the organization thinks of him (and how desperate they were to fill the first line left wing role before the Dustin Penner deal).

A big body with a rapidly developing offensive game, King posted 26 points in 52 games in a supporting role for the Monarchs last year but has been given expanded responsibility this season and has seized the opportunity. In 55 games, King has 20 goals and 42 points along with a plus-13 rating. He’s played in all situations and been one of the Monarchs most consistent players.

His NHL upside is that of a bottom-six winger that plays a strong two-way game and can create some offense from time to time. With good size and skills along the boards, he’s a prototypical Kings forward.

19. (19) Bud Holloway, LW/RW, 6.0C
Acquired: 3rd round, 85th overall, 2006

Holloway is having his second strong season in a row for the Monarchs. He has already exceeded his career highs with 22 goals and 49 points in 62 games after posting 19 goals and 47 points in 75 games last year. His point total ranks him 17th overall in AHL scoring.

Much of Holloway’s increased production has to do with his willingness to shoot the puck more. He’s scored his goals from a variety of places on the ice, from out at the point to the crease and everywhere in between. Equally important is his commitment to getting in harder on the forecheck and giving a better effort in puck battles along the boards. The coaching staff in Manchester has tried to make all their players more well-rounded and Holloway seems to have bought in completely.

The Kings have some flexibility with the young forward, as he’s had success this year playing both wings. While there’s not a roster spot available for him right now, he’s not far down the list of possible callups and could challenge for a depth role in camp next season.

20. (NR) Marc-Andre Cliche, RW/C, 6.0C
Acquired: Trade with New York Rangers, 2007

Cliche plays a straightforward, albeit valuable, game. Like Trevor Lewis, Cliche is a defense-first forward who utilizes his speed to make himself valuable. He’s been able to chip in offensively for the Monarchs as well to the tune of 14 goals and 31 points in 53 games.

In addition to his playing abilities, Cliche was named captain of the Monarchs this year. He sets a positive example for the team with his high-energy play and consistent effort.

His upside is similar to that of Lewis: a bottom-six forward who is an asset on the penalty kill and can create momentum at even strength. He’s a prime candidate to replace a bottom-six forward down the stretch this season should one go down with injury.