Goaltending continues reign in deep prospect pool for LA Kings

By Josh Deitell
Photo: Christopher Gibson, brings further depth to already one of the biggest groups of goaltending prospects in the NHL. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

Rather than blowing up the roster or standing pat, the Kings did something in between over the past few months. Out are Brayden Schenn (PHI), Wayne Simmonds, Ryan Smyth, Colten Teubert (EDM), Oscar Moller, and others. In are Mike Richards, Simon Gagne, Dustin Penner, and Ethan Moreau.

By bringing in more experienced players, the emphasis on winning in the present seems to have finally taken priority over building towards the future.

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

Though Bernier is still technically a prospect, the 22-year-old netminder has paid his dues and has an NHL spot locked up. Whether he ever gets a fair shake with the Kings is yet to be determined, but after another stellar year from Jonathan Quick that resulted in a first round playoff exit, coach Terry Murray has to be considering change for change’s sake. Quick has by no means lost the starting job, but it became clearer over the course of last season that Bernier is too good to be sitting on the bench for long stretches at a time.

After a shaky start to the year saw Bernier finish the month of December with a sub-.900 save percentage and a 2-5-0 record, he improved by leaps and bounds. During the last three months of the season, he was unbeaten in regulation in nine starts with a 6-0-3 record, three shutouts, a glimmering 1.63 goals against average and an even more impressive .952 save percentage.

With 32 games under his belt, this is almost certainly the last time Bernier will be mentioned as a prospect. He and Quick are both inked through 2012-13, so it’s not make-or-break time for either goaltender yet, but the competition is definitely on for the long-term starting gig.

2. (3) Andrei Loktionov, C, 7.5C
Drafted 5th round, 123rd overall, 2008

Another year, another shoulder injury. Looking at the situation positively, Loktionov needed surgery on his left shoulder this past season after hurting his right during the 2009-10 campaign, so the issue is not recurring and he’s now symmetrical. He also made it through 19 NHL games in 2010-11, posting seven points, after getting injured in his first NHL contest the year previous. Forced positivity aside, the injury history is concerning.

Loktionov’s talent is undeniable. His creativity makes him a player to watch every time he steps on the ice. Playing at left wing last year on the Kings top line and top powerplay unit, Loktionov was a major catalyst, unafraid to skate in the zone with the puck on a team that had become mired by an overly stationary perimeter attitude. He’s been head and shoulders the best offensive player on the Monarchs two years running, posting 55 points in 63 career AHL games.

Overall, he’s suited up for just 83 games in his first two professional seasons. A healthy 2011-12 campaign would go a long way towards securing a major role during the 2012-13 season, as the young Russian has not proven himself durable enough to be banked on yet.

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

One of the premier offensive defensemen in the AHL, Voynov has improved his game drastically since coming across the pond as an 18-year-old and is poised to break onto the NHL roster. After posting 52 points in 140 games during his first two AHL seasons, Voynov broke out last year with 15 goals and 36 assists for 51 points in 76 contests. The once-misappropriated rookie is still around the same weight as on draft day, hovering around 200 pounds, but is leaner than ever. He’s also durable, having missed just nine games over the past two seasons.

The question marks are not physical but mental. Defensively, Voynov still has a tendency to get lost in coverage. His plus/minus was a healthy plus-21 last season, but the glaring mistakes, while they’ve become less regular, still occur. The Kings have been averse to exposing him to NHL action to date, likely out of fear that his shortcomings might be magnified, but they can’t keep him out of the NHL forever.

On many NHL teams, Voynov would already have had a cup of coffee, possibly even stuck. KHL teams are undoubtedly calling about his services, hoping to capitalize on impatience. To his credit, Voynov appears to be on board with the developmental progression that the Kings have laid out for him, though the emergence of Alec Martinez makes Voynov’s short-term prospects less certain.

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

Despite missing out on WJC selection for Team Canada, Toffoli’s breakout OHL season, in which he posted league-leading totals of 57 goals and 108 points in 68 games, has helped to put the developing sniper on the map. Toffoli’s skating and his conditioning, the two main knocks levied upon him on draft day, have seen marked improvement, though they’re still overall concerns. His offensive awareness is off the charts, as he always seems to know where to be to, but watching him look overwhelmed against bigger, stronger competition in the AHL playoffs, he still has plenty of room for improvement in his overall game.

Though the young forward is gunning for an NHL roster spot, with a team that’s fairly filled out with veteran talent, he’ll be hard-pressed to crack the lineup. It’s more likely that he’ll make his way back to the 67s for a final season, hoping to not only propel Ottawa deep in the playoffs after bowing out in the first round last season but also secure a spot on Canada’s WJC team.

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

On paper, zero goals and 15 assists in 38 games is fairly concerning for a two-way defenseman drafted in the first round, but when you consider that Forbort suffered from mono in the midst of his first college season, it makes his stat line more encouraging. Couple the illness with the fact that he was part of a deep, well-rounded blue line group and was in a specific role as part of the team’s shutdown unit with Ben Blood (OTT) for a majority of the season, and you have to be excited about what next year might hold.

With top offensive defenseman Chay Genoway signing with Minnesota, powerplay minutes are available for the Sioux defensemen on the roster to compete over. A healthy, more experienced Forbort has a good chance of being the beneficiary of some of those minutes, as well as garnering a larger role overall. Likewise, having played a mostly defensive role for Team USA at the 2011 World Junior Championships, Forbort will look to play bigger, more importance minutes in this year’s tournament.

He’s still a few years away from the professional game, but look for the 6’5 defenseman to break out this season.

6. (11) Alec Martinez, D, 7.0B
Drafted 4th round, 95th overall, 2007

With the glut of talented defensemen in the system, it may have come as a surprise to many that, mostly by virtue of seniority, Martinez got the call mid-way through last season over more well-known, highly-touted prospects such as Voynov and Hickey. With the Kings lacking secondary offensive contribution from the blue line to support Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson, Martinez got an audition with the second powerplay unit and provided a major spark, scoring a goal in his first game of the year and finishing the season with five goals and 11 assists in 60 games. Even more important than his play in the offensive end was his polished defensive play. Smart, calm, and consistent, Martinez established himself as a dependable defenseman that can be iced in a variety of situations.

Still, Martinez’s hold on a bottom-pairing role with the Kings is hardly safe. He has the aforementioned Voynov and Hickey chomping at the bit behind him, along with Deslauriers and Jake Muzzin in the mix. He’s earned an NHL job, but he’ll need to come into camp playing the same high-level hockey as he did down the stretch and in the playoffs in order to keep it.

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

The flashiest defenseman to join the Kings organization since Drew Doughty, the swift-skating Deslauriers will be looking to make his presence felt at the AHL level in what could be a major role for the Monarchs this upcoming season. Deslauriers has flown under the radar as a QMJHL defenseman who missed his opportunity for large-scale exposure due to an injury just before this past WJC. With Gatineau last season, Deslauriers posted 43 points in 48 games.

The most impressive aspect of his game has been his consistent improvement. Wildly aggressive and risky in his draft year, Deslauriers has since toned his game down but still brings many of the same elements which have made him so successful. He’ll have the opportunity to play in a variety of situations this year while bulking up to better handle the pro ranks without being necessarily rushed into NHL action.

8. (10) Martin Jones, G, 7.5C
Signed as a free agent, October 2nd, 2008

A stellar start to the season during which Jones vanquished the tandem system put in place by Monarchs coach Mark Morris and earned all-star honors as a rookie, a fall back to earth in the second half makes it necessary to temper expectations for just how good this promising goaltender could be. Though he looked like the second coming of Bernier for the Monarchs, posting a 12-2-0 record through December, a 11-10-1 record in his last 22 starts left him with a much more human 23-12-1 record. Combined with a 2.25 goals against average and .924 save percentage, it was an impressive season by any standard, but it was frustrating to see Jones falter after seeing just how good he could be.

Though there’s still competition in Manchester with the return of Jeff Zatkoff and the addition of Jean-Francois Berube to the pro ranks, Jones will have no trouble reclaiming the starting job if he can play the way he did during the first half of last year. The problem will be maintaining a high of play and keeping it.

9. (14) Jake Muzzin, D 7.0C
Signed as a free agent, January 4th, 2010

The Cinderella story of last year’s training camp, Muzzin suited up for 11 games with the
Kings through November, posting one assist, before finding himself relegated to the
minors for the rest of the regular season. While his adjustment to the pro game was not without some speedbumps, by making his lapses less regular, he established himself as one of the Monarchs’ most dependable defensemen, utilizing his size and mean streak to play a shutdown role. His offensive contributions were less notable, with 18 points in 45 games, but having posted 67 points in 68 games during his final OHL season, the potential’s definitely there.

That Muzzin, entering his first professional season last year, was even considered for a roster spot in training camp, much less secured one, is a testament to how highly the organization thinks of him. He’ll be harder pressed to lock down a spot this year, with the emergence of Martinez, but he’s not far off from regular NHL action.

10. (9) Thomas Hickey, D, 7.0C
Drafted 1st round, 4th overall, 2007

Entering the final year of his entry-level contract, this will be a make-or-break season for Hickey, who established himself as an AHL regular last year but has yet to play to his potential. The former fourth overall pick is not expected to play like one, being that even at the time of the draft the pick was considered a reach to address the team’s deficiencies on the back end, but he initially had trouble maintaining a high level of play against stronger and smarter competition to the extent that multiple prospects in the system surpassed him en route to NHL action.

Last season, he put in a consistent good effort that has to put him back in the organization’s good graces, playing in 77 games after suiting up for just 19 the year before. The combination of a simpler style and good health resulted in 24 points and ice time in all situations, a step forward towards potential future consistency and success.

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

Vey is a WHL superstar. He’s been a leader on Medicine Hat for a while now, finishing second and first in team scoring in 2008-09 and 2009-10 respectively, but really came into his own this past season with a league-leading 116 points in 69 games. He added another 25 points in 15 playoff games, showing big-game ability. His all-around game has improved by leaps and bounds since his draft day and he’s now an aggressive, valuable player in all three zones and in all situations.

The main question mark with Vey’s game is how it will translate to the professional game, which is comprised of much tighter checking and less of an emphasis on speed and stick-handling, the latter of which Vey possesses in spades. Medicine Hat in particular plays an up-tempo, rush-attack style that differs greatly from that employed by the Kings and Monarchs. Vey will likely make his AHL debut this fall after being signed to a pro contract this past summer. Like Brandon Kozun, Vey will have to tone his play down and focus on playing an all-around depth role before earning more ice time.

12. (NR) Christopher Gibson, G, 7.0C
Drafted 2nd round, 49th overall, 2011

The highest-ranking newcomer to the organization, Gibson takes over as the Kings top junior-aged goaltending prospect, giving them depth down the line when the likely exodus of one of Quick or Bernier occurs. In his first season as Chicoutimi’s full-time starter, having forced French import and tandem partner Robin Gusse off the roster with his stellar play, Gibson posted a 14-15-8 record to go along with a league-best .920 save percentage and a second-best 2.42 goals against average.

The Finn will be looking to maintain his starting role next season as well as secure a spot on Finland‘s WJC team after missing out last year due to injury. Regardless of whether he made the 2011 squad or not, he would have likely been third in the pecking order behind Joni Ortio (CAL) and Sami Aittokallio (COL). With the former ineligible this year, Gibson will be in competition with Aittokallio for the starting gig.

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

Limited by his size and relatively one-dimensional playing style, Kozun’s progression to the NHL will not be without obstacles, but the way he handled the adversity of adjusting to the professional game by posting 48 points in 73 games as an AHL rookie is a promising sign of success to come. Limited to a supporting offensive role for most of the season to work on his defensive game even after a hot start which saw him post nine points in ten games, he forced himself into bigger minutes as the year went on and proved himself capable of being depended on for offense.

In the last three months of the season he accumulated 12 goals and 13 assists in 30 games, a clip around where he might be expected to contribute this season. The Monarchs’ roster has enough depth up front that, should he falter, he’ll be put into a more relaxed role until he’s ready to step back into the spotlight, but with Bud Holloway and Oscar Moller leaving for Europe, there will be plenty of big-time minutes up for grabs for which Kozun is a prime candidate.

14. (13) Maxim Kitsyn, LW, 7.0C
Drafted 6th round, 158th overall, 2010

Kitsyn’s decision to stay in North America after the World Junior Championships to skate with the Majors of the OHL turned out to be a solid one, as he was able to enjoy the experience of playing for both the OHL Championship and Memorial Cup, by virtue of Mississauga being the host team. He shined in the playoffs, finishing tied for third on the team in overall scoring with 19 points in 20 postseason contests. During the regular season, he had 26 points in 32 games.

The downside to Kitsyn as a prospect is that there’s still some concern about his commitment to North American hockey. While he did come across to play and did appear enthusiastic about playing in the NHL in the future, he’s returning to Russia for the upcoming season to with Metallurg, with whom he still has two years remaining on his contract. Kitsyn was on his way to a breakout in Russia with seven points in 18 KHL games last season and will be expected to be a major contributor. Where he will be playing during the 2012-13 season is very much up in the air.

15. (NR) Nick Shore, C, 7.0C
Drafted 3rd round, 82nd overall, 2011

Sticking with the recent Kings trend of spending mid-round picks on character forwards, Shore is a two-way player who plays a high-energy style. Praised by his coaches at the University of Denver for his work ethic, the true freshman skated in 33 games and posted seven goals to go along with 11 assists. It’s difficult to find a fault in the young forward’s game, he’s smart, sound at both ends of the rink, a fluid skater, and a good playmaker with a capable array of shots.

Shore projects as a third-line center but his skill-set gives him tantalizing upside. His brother Drew posted 19 points in 41 games as a college rookie before exploding with a 46-point season. The two play different styles but the younger Shore looks to be poised for a similar breakout this upcoming season. The only limiting factor is the Denver roster, which is chock full of talented forwards.

16. (18) Dwight King, LW, 6.5
Drafted 4th round, 109th overall, 2007

The most unlikely forward call-up last season with undoubtedly King, who not only made his NHL debut just one year removed from ECHL action but also got an opportunity to play left wing on the team’s top line. While the experiment was a failure and King went pointless in six contests, that he got the call over more experienced Monarchs’ forwards shows that the Kings think highly of his physical style of play and are looking for him to complement skilled forwards at the NHL level down the line.

With 52 points in 72 AHL games, he’s not far off from getting a better opportunity to lock down a depth NHL job soon. Ultimately, he’ll look to play a Tomas Holmstrom-like role, capable of playing on any line and providing some fire though not necessarily a go-to source of offense. For now, the Kings’ roster is full, mainly of veterans, so he’ll need to wait for his time.

17. (NR) Andy Andreoff, C, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 80th overall, 2011

After steady increases in goals, assists, and penalty minutes from his first to second OHL seasons, Andreoff established himself as an intimidating, valuable force last season for Oshawa with 33 goals and 42 assists in 66 games as well 109 penalty minutes. He didn’t take on major scrappers but took part in 11 fights, going arguably undefeated.

Andreoff is old enough to play in the AHL next season but young enough to return to the OHL for an overage campaign. The decision as to where he’ll skate won’t be decided until training camp, where it will become clear whether or not Andreoff is ready for the pro game. If he returns to the OHL, he’ll be expected to be a major all-around player for Oshawa with possible 100-point potential, but when he makes the move to the pro game, now or later, he’ll be eased in like Wayne Simmonds and Kyle Clifford, who went from two-way junior talents to mostly defensive, checking-role forwards that contribute offense from depth roles.

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

Weal has to be counting down the days until he can turn pro. With 35 goals and 67 assists for 102 points in 72 WHL games in his draft year, Weal proved himself a top player at the junior level, but one with question marks related to his size and cavalier playing style that found himself at least two years away from trying his hand at the professional game.

One year later and the story and scoring totals are about the same. Despite the departure of Regina’s superstar Jordan Eberle, Weal managed to pot 43 goals and added 53 assists for 96 points in 72 games, a slight step back overall but impressive due to his ability to take the reins as the team’s top offensive player. The question marks are still there, but the ’92-born player is another year away from addressing them. Expect that sometime next season, as part of Regina’s rebuild, Weal gets a crack with a contending team, where his big game ability will be tested.

19. (19) Bud Holloway, LW, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 85th overall, 2006

It’s unfortunate for the Kings that Holloway’s time with the organization may be over. After declining his qualifying offer, he signed with Skellefteå of the Swedish Elite League. He didn’t receive one call-up in three years with the Monarchs despite the team in scoring the past two campaigns, so you can’t blame the 23-year-old for wanting to move on, get paid, and possibly prove himself ready for a level of play higher than the AHL. With 61 points in 78 games this past year, Holloway earned his shot.

While there’s the chance that Holloway might return to the Kings in the future, it’s likely that he’ll be looking to come back to the NHL into a roster spot, which he might be able to find more easily on a weaker team. A victim of circumstance, Holloway might not be leaving the team on bad terms, but an amicable split might be the right thing to help him get his career back on track. His departure could come back to bite the Kings down the line, but their forward depth made it difficult to fit Holloway in.

20. (17) Jeff Zatkoff, G, 6.5C
Drafted 3rd round, 74th overall, 2006

That the Kings elected to re-sign Zatkoff this offseason despite the breakout of Jones and the addition of Berube to the pro ranks shows that the team still has high hopes for the still-young goaltender. After losing the starting job to Jones last season, Zatkoff made himself relevant with solid play down the stretch. Overall, his 20-17-5 record leaves something to be desired, but his .911 save percentage and 2.68 goals against average are still impressive. Mostly, his numbers suffer from a 1-5-2 stretch that he went through around New Years’, but a sparkling March in which he went 5-3-1 with a 1.55 goals against average and .949 save percentage may be what earned him a new contract.

Though seniority generally reigns on the Monarchs’ roster, Zatkoff will have to fight for minutes again next year in the ultra-competitive crease that has become even more crowded with Berube coming aboard.