The Los Angeles Kings are into the NHL postseason, facing the San Jose Sharks in what should be one of the best first-round series. The Kings’ AHL affiliate, the Ontario Reign, have clinched their division and are also into the postseason. The Kings also have had players with amazing junior seasons – Spencer Watson and Michael Amadio in particular – and can boast of one with an NCAA national title (Paul LaDue).
All around it has been – and could still be – a special year for many of the Kings prospects. With a franchise that has had to deal with a depletion of draft choices and later selections, they have once again done well in making the best of the picks and developing them into solid players. As we close out the majority of regular seasons around the world, let’s throw out some awards for the LA Kings pipeline.
Hardest Worker: Andrew Crescenzi, C, Ontario Reign (AHL)
Crescenzi is never going to garner the glitz and glitter of an Adrian Kempe or a Derek Forbort. He was not a first round pick, he is not a flashy player, and he is not an offensive force. Crescenzi is a through and through defensive specialist, and a darn good one at that. If there was ever a big penalty kill, an important faceoff, or a lead to defend, the former Maple Leaf draft pick was one of Mike Stothers’s go-to guys. As a faceoff man and a shot blocker, you really could not get much better this season. It is ugly, hard work, but “Cresc” was and is an invaluable member to the Reign’s defense-first thinking. Between the shot blocking and heavy battling and board work of Crescenzi and his consistent linemate Jordan Samuels-Thomas, Ontario’s supply of ice bags probably ran short this year.
Hardest Shot: Jonny Brodzinski, RW, Ontario Reign (AHL)
The message almost all through the first half of this year from the Reign coaching staff to Jonny Brodzinski was “shoot the puck.” When you see the former St. Cloud State Husky’s wrist shot, you know why. While it took Brodzinski a little while to settle into his first year of pro hockey and not look tentative, he has had a hot second half due to his unreal wrist shot. He was averaging just 1.89 shots through the first 37 games of the year, finding net just five times. However, something must have flipped on for the young sniper. His average in the ensuing 26 games spiked to 3.8 shots per game, and he has scored ten goals in that stretch. It is an incredibly veiled wrist shot with excellent power and accuracy. If he can start finding space regularly, the Kings may have a real pure goal scorer on their hands.
Best Defensive Prospect: Kevin Gravel, D, Ontario Reign (AHL)
The mantle of best defensive prospect falls to Kevin Gravel this year. This award nomination has less to do with the struggles of Derek Forbort, but more to do with the improvement of the former St. Cloud State Husky. He is a complete package defenseman at this point, coupling good skating with a heady defensive game and a matured transition game. His no-hesitation outlet passes are by far the best in the Kings system currently, and that has already led the Kings to call up the 24-year-old twice this season. He should be penciled in to next year’s NHL roster.
Fastest Skater: Adrian Kempe, RW/LW, Ontario Reign (AHL)
There is a wow factor when then young Swede turns on the jets. He can beat defenders wide, he can beat them inside, he can beat them in short spaces, he can beat them in open ice. You can see strictly from his blistering pace and incredible agility why he was a first-round pick. While statistically it has been an altogether tumultuous season for the 19-year-old, that wow factor in his skating game is going to turn heads. The only ask might be to drive the net a little more when beating players on the rush. Other than that, he has top-end NHL skating already.
Prospect of the Year: Michael Amadio, C, North Bay Battalion (OHL)
What a magical year it has been for Michael Amadio of North Bay. The two-way center was a major offensive catalyst last season for the Battalion with 74 points and 24 goals, but this year he took it to an unforeseen level. In 68 games, the Sault Ste. Marie native scored 50 goals and 98 points during the regular season. Those 50 goals are a new franchise record for North Bay, breaking the former record held by Wojtek Wolski, who put up 47 in 2005-6.
Amadio was in the top ten in OHL points scoring and in the top five in goals. He also appeared in the Top Three of seven different categories of the end of the year OHL Coaches’ Poll (Most Dangerous in Goal Area, Best Shot, Best on Faceoffs, Best Defensive Forward, Best Penalty Killer, Hardest Worker, Smartest Player). His own coach and GM of North Bay, Stan Butler, has said that Amadio would be a top 20 pick if the 2014 draft were re-done. The Kings selected him 90th overall in the third round. Amadio has signed an entry-level deal with the Kings and will likely be in the AHL next season. On top of all of this, his team (as of April 12) is still going in the OHL playoffs, and Amadio has 11 goals and 16 points in nine games thus far. Not giving him an invite to the Canadian U20 World Junior Championship camp seems crazy in hindsight given the unreal year he has had.
Breakout Player for 2015-16: Nic Dowd, C, Ontario Reign (AHL)
Dowd quietly posted 41 points and 9 goals in 75 games last season in the AHL. However, most of the press and praise was in the direction of Michael Mersch, Brian O’Neill, and Jordan Weal. However in 2015-16, with the last two players moving on to other organizations, a large chunk of responsibility fell to 25-year old Nic Dowd. He became the team’s number one center, assistant captain, number one power play center, and a valuable penalty killer. Not only did Dowd thrive under his new role, he grew.
He was a near point per game player, improved his goal totals, his shot rate, and has become a noticed prospect in the Kings pipeline. He received a five game stint in the NHL at the end of the year, looking pretty strong in the process. While the future may be a bit uncertain for him given his age in respect to other prospects, if you are projecting into next year he has maybe shown enough in 2015-16 to tentatively earn his way onto the 2016-17 NHL roster.
Most Improved Prospect: Matt Roy, LW/D, Michigan Tech (NCAA)
Matt Roy might not be on a lot of people’s radar being a seventh-round selection playing for Michigan Tech, but he had a massive improvement from his freshman season to his sophomore one. In 36 games last season, Roy went without a single goal for the entire year. Zero. He had nine assists in total. However, with an elevated role in the lineup this season, Roy took advantage and potted seven goals, and improved his point totals to 20 on the season. He did so in 37 games, just one more than his 2014-15 amount. His 2015-16 totals were also higher than his combined USHL totals with the Indiana Ice. Could he be a late blooming defenseman? Next year will be an interesting one for the versatile player.
Overachiever: Spencer Watson, RW, Kingston Frontenacs (OHL)
Watson set OHL career highs in goals (43) and points (89) this season with the Kingston Frontenacs. He also garnered the attention of the Team Canada brass, getting an invite to the U20 WJC camp. However, the diminutive forward is going to have his work cut out for him at the next level. He plays a flashy one-on-one goal scorer’s game, and that can sometimes lead to inflated point totals in the more open CHL, and some unrealistic expectations at the next level. While we are not saying Watson is the next Brandon Kozun, Linden Vey, or Jordan Weal, expectations should be tempered as he moves up in the hockey world and faces stiffer and more rigorous competition. After all, there was a reason that Watson was a seventh round pick even if that stock has undoubtedly gone up since his 2014 draft year.
Underachiever: Derek Forbort, D, Ontario Reign (AHL)
Is Derek Forbort really an underachiever? Or were the expectations too high? It is a hard question when it comes to the Kings’ 2010 first-round selection. He took a long time to get into the NHL (Last player from his 2010 first round draft class), and once he got there the results were mixed. Forbort plays an unnoticeable game, a calm game. However, the Kings seem to be wanting more from him, and it does not seem to be landing well with the now 24-year old. He has been passed up in the depth chart by Kevin Gravel, and has struggled since returning to the AHL after his 14-game stint in Los Angeles. He is a restricted free agent this offseason, but there should be one last opportunity for him on the Kings blueline for next season if the Kings desire to give it to him. While 2015-16 was a step in the right direction from an organizational standpoint, it did not instill much confidence that Forbort has the staying power needed to make the LA roster.
Highest Risk/Reward Prospect: Adrian Kempe, RW/LW, Ontario Reign (AHL)
We try not to give out multiple awards to one player, but it is hard to not give out a risk/reward award to a non-first round pick. The Kings invested heavily in the young Swede by taking him in the late first round of last year’s draft, and as noted earlier his rookie AHL season has been tough. While there is flash, speed, skill, and attitude to his game, it definitely comes and goes like a changing of the breeze. Kempe will be invisible for the entirety of a game, but make one or two truly brilliant plays that catch your eye. What coach Mike Stothers probably wants, and what the Kings want, is that attitude and flash to be more consistent every night. He can be downright frustrating to watch because the talent is definitely there. Given his youth and North American pro inexperience, there is definite hope. However, there is a real risk when considering the possibility of him not panning out. The Kings have few first round picks these days, and losing a talented forward would hurt in such a limited system.
Prospect of the Month
The University of North Dakota and junior defenseman Paul LaDue will celebrate the team’s first NCAA title since 2000. The third-seed team out of Grand Forks marched their way to the title past the likes of Hockey East champion Northeastern, NCHC rival Denver, and finally the top-seeded Quinnipiac Bobcats. LaDue individually had three points in his four tournament games, including an assist in the title game romp over Quinnipiac. He also had a strong game against Michigan in the Midwest Regional, notching the primary assist on Rhett Gardner’s game-winning goal in the third, and putting away an empty netter to seal the deal. While this season was a bit up and down developmentally for LaDue, he can now move forward into this offseason with an NCAA championship on his mantle and an entry-level contract likely coming in short order. Congratulations to UND and Paul LaDue on their national title!