Kings Top 20 prospects

By David A. Rainer

Top 20 at a Glance

1. Anze Kopitar
2. Lauri Tukonen
3. Brian Boyle
4. Richard Petiot
5. Konstantin Pushkarev
6. Petr Kanko
7. Scott Parse
8. Noah Clarke
9. Greg Hogeboom
10. Jonathan Quick
11. TJ Fast
12. Matt Zaba
13. Paul Baier
14. Ned Lukacevic
15. Daniel Taylor
16. Barry Brust
17. Martin Guerin
18. Connor James
19. Ryan McGinnis
20. Yutaka Fukufuji

The loss of the Los Angeles Kings top three prospects to graduation and three others via trade has considerably mixed up the list for the 2006 spring rankings. Several prospects are making their debuts on the list, while others move up drastically with impressively unexpected seasons.

1. (5) Anze Kopitar, C, Grade: 8.0B
Acquired: 1st round, No. 11 overall, 2005

Anze Kopitar has quietly become the Kings most valuable prospect. Invited to training camp after signing a three-year entry-level contract, Kopitar impressed opponent and coach alike despite being only the age of 18. However, contractual obligations to Södertälje of the Swedish Elite League meant the return of Kopitar to Sweden for at least one more year. On the surface, 17 points in 44 games in the SEL does not seem notable. But this is Kopitar’s first real action in the SEL and has scored more points than any other player under the age of 20 other than Niklas Backstrom (2006 eligible). Kopitar will finish up his year in Sweden and likely find his way to North America by the beginning of next season.

2. (6) Lauri Tukonen, RW, Grade: 7.5B
Acquired: 1st round, No. 11 overall, 2004

Another first round choice signed to an entry-level contract in the offseason by the Kings, Tukonen made the jump from Finland to North America. Like Kopitar, Tukonen also had an impressive training camp but did not display the consistency needed to play at the NHL level. Assigned to Manchester, Tukonen is learning to smooth out the rough edges to his game. Already a gritty and physical forward, Tukonen is grasping the role of a top-six forward for Manchester where he has scored 30 points in 46 games at the ripe young age of 19. Tukonen also skated for Team Finland during the 2006 U20 World Juniors Championships where he tied for second amongst all skaters in points (10) and assists (7).

3. (9) Brian Boyle, C, Grade: 8.0C
Acquired: 1st round, No. 26 overall, 2003

Clawing his way into the top five, Boyle has been dominating college hockey this season. Starting the year slowly, Boyle has hit full stride with 28 points in his last 15 games, including seven goals in two games against UMass-Lowell. This giant-sized forward is playing more around the net and has greatly progressed in his skating and positioning. With still one more year of NCAA eligibility left, Boyle might be persuaded to leave college to join Tukonen in Manchester next year. He remains a developmental project, but the potential of Boyle to be an anchor on a second line in the NHL is becoming more apparent. If the pace of his development continues, fans might see Boyle in Los Angeles within the next two years.

4. (8) Richard Petiot, D, Grade: 7.0B
Acquired: 4th round, No. 116 overall, 2001

Richard Petiot continues his steady climb up the rankings and the organizational depth chart. After signing with the Kings out of Colorado College, he was assigned to Manchester where he has arguably been the best defenseman on the roster. Petiot has been collecting frequent flyer miles after having been called up to Los Angeles on several different occasions only to watch the game from the stands. His patience would pay off as he finally skated in his first NHL game in the middle of January. If nothing else, Petiot learned the rigors and physical commitment of the NHL game by participating in numerous practices over the several weeks he was with the Kings. In Petiot, the Kings have a defenseman that is ready to step in at a moment’s notice. Petiot is still a year away from earning a permanent roster spot with Los Angeles and is the heir apparent to take over the role of Mattias Norstrom or Aaron Miller.

5. (10) Konstantin Pushkarev, RW, Grade: 7.5C
Acquired: 2nd round, No. 44 overall, 2003

After spending a year with Calgary of the WHL, Pushkarev signed a contract with Los Angeles and has spent his 2005-06 season with Manchester. Having just turned 21, Pushkarev is skating a regular shift on the second line in the AHL, having scored 32 points through his first 61 games. With more goals than assists, Pushkarev continues to show signs of being a sniper of the future. Hockey sense and awareness have always been a fault of Pushkarev and he has made great strides so far this season in those areas. But consistency is still needed in his game and he is likely still several years away from being legitimately considered for a spot with Los Angeles. If he can score with as much regularity in the NHL as he has been with Manchester, someone will find him a spot regardless of his faults.

6. (12) Petr Kanko, RW, Grade: 6.0B
Acquired: 3rd round, No. 66 overall, 2002

Another Los Angeles prospect to make his NHL debut this year, Kanko is spending the bulk of his time in Manchester for the second straight year. Kanko is an effective physical player learning the finer points of being an agitator while in the minors. His penalty minutes have dropped considerably this season but he has been no less effective drawing penalties. As a result, Kanko earned playing time in 10 Kings games, scoring a goal towards the end of his first game. Kanko will compete with Sean Avery and Jeff Cowan as a physical winger on the energy line for Los Angeles and has a strong chance of making the team next season.

7. (NR) Scott Parse, LW, Grade: 6.5C
Acquired: 6th round, No. 174 overall, 2004

The fastest riser in these rankings is Scott Parse. Leading all of college hockey in points (61), assists (41) and points per game average (1.61), Parse is having a Hobey Baker award caliber season. So productive has Parse been that the Nebraska-Omaha team is looking at a strong chance of making the NCAA hockey tournament for the first time in their program history. Already surpassing career point totals for the university, Parse has little else to prove at the college level and might jump to Manchester at the conclusion of the Mavericks season. Parse and Noah Clarke will likely be the top left wings for Manchester next season.

8. (16) Noah Clarke, LW, Grade: 6.0B
Acquired: 9th round, No. 250 overall, 1999

In his last year of eligibility, Clarke moves up several spots to his highest level ever in these rankings. Clarke continues to be a steady depth winger for Los Angeles having been called up for the second straight season. Clarke is still looking for his first career goal having only registered one assist in seven games. But he is still a valuable member of the Monarchs with production that has been consistent throughout his three years. Clarke has mustered 35 points in 55 games for Manchester this season and, as other forwards jump ahead of him in the organizational depth charts, will likely spend a considerable amount of his professional career in Manchester.

9. (14) Greg Hogeboom, RW, Grade: 7.0D
Acquired: 5th round, No. 152 overall, 2002

After a rough and injury-plagued 2004-05 season, Hogeboom has bounced back this season. Requiring a short stint in the ECHL to regain his scoring touch, he is back with Manchester. In 27 games, Hogeboom has registered 11 points, largely as a depth forward occasionally skating on the third line. In his 19 games with Reading of the ECHL, Hogeboom had scored 27 points while skating on the top line. It might be too little, too late for this former collegian as his window is slowly closing.

10. (NR) Jonathan Quick, G, Grade: 7.0C
Acquired: 2nd round, No. 72 overall, 2005

Jonathan Quick emerges as the first goaltender on the list. Drafted in the second round of the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, Quick has been the backup goaltender for the University of Massachusetts this season but has still been given a large amount of ice time. In 16 games, Quick has yielded a goals-against average of 2.98. However, this does not tell the entire story as his .920 save percentage has been nothing short of phenomenal given the lack of support from the young defensemen surrounding him. The starting goaltender for UMass will graduate this offseason, leaving Quick the starting duties as a sophomore. Their defense is young and will only get better with experience. So too will Quick. Expect this season’s 2.98 goals-against average to be the highest in his college career.

11. (NR) T.J. Fast, D, Grade: 6.5B
Acquired: 2nd round, No. 60 overall, 2005

T.J. Fast is the next in line of the group and debuts at No. 11. The speedy and skilled defenseman is the only freshman to play in all 36 games so far for Denver University. Fast has seen playing time in all three defensive pairings, but predominately has been on the third pairing with some power play and penalty kill time. With no graduations on the blue line for Denver this offseason, it might be a couple of seasons before Fast takes over as a top defenseman for the Pioneers. But the style of play at Denver University suits Fast’s game well and will be a great training ground for the conditions of the “new NHL.”

12. (20) Matt Zaba, G, Grade: 6.0B
Acquired: 8th round, No. 231 overall, 2003

Greatly jumping up in the rankings, Zaba has been steady in net for Colorado College. His goals-against average has increased slightly and his save percentage is down, but each can be attributed to playing massive minutes for the first time in his college career having taken over starting duties this year. Zaba is older than other college juniors and is gaining quality experience on one of the top programs in the nation. Zaba will graduate from college in a year and be ready to step in immediately into a starting role in the ECHL or as a backup in the AHL. With the right breaks and a good defense in front of him, Zaba can be a steady goaltender in the NHL.

13. (13) Paul Baier, D, Grade: 6.0C
Acquired: 3rd round, No. 95 overall, 2004

While remaining at the No. 13 spot, Baier actually drops in relation to other prospects as several have leaped ahead of him. Baier’s 2005-06 season is not going very well. His minutes have been slashed and his role on the team has diminished as Brown University has racked up the losses. Baier is still a very talented two-way defenseman. He plays a solid enough defense to be considered against the opposition’s top lines while possessing enough offensive skills to be a threat from the blue line. Baier will likely never contribute more than 30 points in any single season, but his all around skills continue to make him a very intriguing prospect.

14. (19) Ned Lukacevic, LW, Grade: 6.0C
Acquired: 4th round, No. 110 overall, 2004

Few prospects were as impressive during the Kings 2005 prospect camp as Ned Lukacevic. He wowed fans with his great skating and ability to finish plays around the net. Lukacevic has carried this play into the 2005-06 season as he has already surpassed his career highs in goals (26) and points (50) in just 58 games. Lukacevic has been the lone bright spot on offense for the struggling Swift Current Broncos who are second to last in goals scored in the WHL. The 63 fewer goals scored than conceded by the Broncos would help explain Lukacevic’s –21.

15. (NR) Daniel Taylor, G, Grade: 6.0C
Acquired: 7th round, No. 221 overall, 2004

Another prospect new to the list, Daniel Taylor is now starting in net for the Kingston Frontenacs of the OHL. Both his goals-against average and save percentage have increase this year, but scoring is up dramatically in the OHL and his statistics have at least not increased as quickly as have the league averages. However, he has not improved as much as was expected of him as he has only the 12th best goals-against average and 10th-best save percentage amongst starting goaltenders in the 20-team OHL.

16. (NR) Barry Brust, G, Grade: 5.5B
Acquired: unrestricted free agent, 2004

Despite being the fourth goaltender on the list, Brust has obtained the highest level of all Kings goaltender prospects. Signed as a free agent, Brust dominated the ECHL last season, earning himself a look at the AHL level. With the end of the work stoppage and Mathieu Garon returning to Los Angeles, a spot on the Manchester roster opened for Brust and he has thrived. His 2.61 goals-against average is good enough for 11th in the league and his .918 save percentage places him in the top five for the league. As Brust gains more experience, look for him to eventually take over the starting duties from Hauser in the next year or so.

17. (17) Martin Guerin, RW, Grade: 5.5C
Acquired: 9th round, No. 274 overall, 2003

Marty Guerin is another prospect whose play has been off this year, but maintains his spot in the ranking due to the loss of so many prospects from the last list. Points have been hard to come by this season for Guerin. He has been getting scoring opportunities, but they have not been quality opportunities as he is often forced to travel the entire length of the ice to fire off a shot due to his duties deep in the defensive zone. He continues to be the primary defensive forward for this season’s stellar Miami University team.

18. (NR) Connor James, LW, 6.0C
Acquired: 9th round, No. 279 overall, 2002

Connor James reemerges on the rankings after a nearly two-year hiatus. He is also another in the long list of prospects that have made their NHL debut this season, playing in two games for the Kings early in the year. While in Manchester, James has gathered 34 points on 15 goals in 59 games as a rookie. He is a speedy forward on the left side that is well suited to the new style of the NHL. James did not get much of an opportunity to show his abilities in his brief stint in Los Angeles, but he provides solid depth for the organization at wing and will likely spend most of his career in the AHL.

19. (NR) Ryan McGinnis, D, 6.5C
Acquired: 6th round, No. 184 overall, 2005

This physical defenseman has gone relatively unknown to most Kings fans as his style of play is not one that gains much recognition. But he has been steady on the blue line for the Plymouth Whalers of the OHL. McGinnis has only 22 points in 60 games this season, but at 6’2 and a solidly built physique, he uses his mobility to cover a lot of ice and shut down opposing forwards. McGinnis is still very young and may develop into a nice third pairing defenseman, much in the mold of top prospect Richard Petiot.

20. (NR) Yutaka Fukufuji, G, 5.5C
Acquired: 8th round, No. 238 overall, 2004

The last of the list of prospects making their debut is Yutaka Fukufuji. The goaltender has spent the bulk of his playing career in North America in the ECHL. This season, Fukufuji is the starter in net for the Reading Royals. He received his first taste of the AHL with a brief call-up that resulted in two starts. His .914 save percentage is amongst the league leaders for the ECHL. However, Fukufuji is still a long way from the NHL as there are four or five goaltenders at various levels within the organization that will be competing for limited roster spots in the next year or two. Depending upon Fukufuji’s development, he could be anywhere from the backup in Los Angeles to out of the organization by the 2007-08 season.

Missing the cut

Josh Meyers
Brady Murray
Patrick Hersley

Graduated since last ranking

Dustin Brown
Michael Cammalleri
Tim Gleason

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