‏Maturation and evolution causing movement in Kings Spring Top 20 Prospects

By Jason Lewis

Jacob Middleton - LA Kings

Photo: Ottawa 67’s captain Jacob Middleton makes the LA Kings Top 20 for the first time, having added a more consistent dimension to his already physically impressive style (courtesy of Bob Lefebvre/OHL Images)



10. (12) Paul LaDue, D, 7.0C
‏Drafted 6th round, 181st overall, 2012

‏The Kings made a big push to sign LaDue this offseason, but he opted to return to North Dakota for his junior year. Unsurprisingly, the 23-year old has seemed to stagnate a little bit which can sometimes happen to collegiate players. Without an increase in competition, there is no real motivation to elevate the play internally. Nevertheless, there is still a lot to like about his game as a mobile, two-way defenseman.

9. (14) Michael Amadio, C, 7.0C
‏Drafted 3rd round, 90th overall, 2014

‏Amadio has again been the catalyst of the North Bay offense this season. He is a heady two-way center who takes care of his own end first, but also has some excellent vision and offensive skills to go along with it. While questions have been raised about physical play and the next level transition, he has some much harder to teach skills firmly under his belt.

8. (11) Jonny Brodzinski, RW, 7.0C
‏Drafted 5th round, 148th overall, 2013

‏This kid can flat fire the puck. He has also been a really strong forward systematically for Ontario in transitioning the puck. He is hitting all the rough patches of consistency and adjustment that come with being a rookie pro, but there are positive signs of goal scoring prowess in his game that are just now bubbling to the surface.

7. (8) Erik Cernak, D, 6.5B
‏Drafted 2nd round, 43rd overall, 2015

‏Often described by Kings media members as a “Man-child”, Cernak has had his own struggles with injury this year that have kept him out of a regular lineup. That being said, this 18-year old D had an incredibly impressive camp where he showed just how much of a monster he could be on the backend. He is positionally sound, physical, and an extremely cognitive player in his own end. Improvements in skating will help round out his game, but as of right now there are tons of things to like that will project well in his game.

6. (3) Valentin Zykov, RW, 7.0C
‏Drafted 2nd round, 37th overall, 2013

‏Like Brodzinski, Zykov has hit the rookie struggles with Ontario this season. Consistency game to game and shift to shift can be touch and go, and he has been a healthy scratch at times because of it. He is developing well though, and the bulldog puck pursuit mentality is fun to watch when Zykov is engaged. He is also a strong skater and can stickhandle in a phone booth. He seems to create plenty in the O-zone with his strong puck skills but has yet to have a real breakout stretch of offense during his rookie season.

5. (5) Derek Forbort, D, 6.5B
‏Drafted 1st round, 15th overall, 2010

‏Forbort finally got his NHL stint, but on a deep L.A. blue line it rarely surmounted to more than a game here and there on a bottom pair. While other King defenders have some flash or attitude to them, Forbort is more middle of the round, calm, composed, and almost unnoticeable. For better or for worse, this seems to be Forbort’s game for the time being. There is not a lot of attitude or assertiveness to his play, and that ultimately may cap him out as a 5-7 defenseman at the NHL level. That is not all that bad all things considered.

4. (13) Kevin Gravel, D, 7.0C
‏Drafted 5th round, 148th overall in 2010

‏Due to a culmination of NHL readiness and a strong season in the AHL, Gravel takes over the top defensive spot in the Kings prospect pipeline. He has been playing 20+ minutes a night for coach Mike Stothers, and the big, lanky defenseman has arguably been the Reign’s best defender this season. His stick work and gap control have been excellent, as has his puck movement and transition game. Gravel shows almost zero hesitation in his decision making, and has a pretty high panic threshold to go with it. There is offensive limitation, but everything else seems excellent, at least at the AHL level. He received his first NHL call up on February 11, and the next step now comes in applying all these skills at the NHL level.

3. (9) Nic Dowd, C, 7.0C
‏Drafted 7th round, 198th overall in 2009

‏At age 25, Dowd had to be making a push soon if he wanted to be considered for an NHL job in the near future. This season has been the push he needed. The former St. Cloud grad has been a major catalyst and one of the most consistent contributors in the Reign offense this season. He is an incredibly heady player who is good in all three zones, and has shown a real leadership ability on and off the ice. His play making skills are strong, and despite his smaller frame, he has been a good possession player as well. All things seem to be falling into place for Dowd, and he could push for an NHL call-up very soon.

2. (6) Michael Mersch, LW/RW, 7.0B
‏Drafted 4th round, 110th overall, 2011

‏Mersch destroyed the AHL at the end of last season, he had a dynamite camp, and he was destructive again to start the year. Because of that he got his first cup of coffee in the NHL. While it wasn’t exactly the most groundbreaking call up, Mersch still showed flashes of exactly why he is a top prospect in the system right now. His “route one” style of play is incredibly desirable from an NHL standpoint. Pucks are to the net, his body is to the net, and everything is basically North-South with extreme prejudice. It is hard to imagine he will not have an NHL career with that style. His skating needs work, but a lot of other good qualities are ready to go right now.

1.(1) Adrian Kempe, LW/RW, 7.5B
‏Drafted 1st round, 29th overall, 2014

‏It is easy to forget that Kempe is a 19-year old playing professional hockey in North America. Sometimes his shift to shift struggles can be overlooked simply due to that. That aside, there is no abdication of the top spot in the Kings system. It is still the flying Swede. His skating is as impressive as it gets, as is his wicked wrist shot. Offensively, when Kempe has the puck on his stick in the zone, things get very exciting. He buzzes, he creates, and he has scored quite a bit for an AHL rookie. There is also a little bit of nasty edginess to his game to boot. Defensively there are improvements to be made, and he can be a little casual with the puck at times, but overall he has a game that is suited for today’s NHL. There is speed, there is aggression, and there is skill.

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