Los Angeles Kings prospect awards feature a well-rounded group of players

By Jason Lewis
Tanner Pearson - Manchester Monarchs

Photo: Rookie winger Tanner Pearson has done a lot of the dirty work for the Manchester Monarchs’ top line in 2012-13 (courtesy of Fred Kfoury/Icon SMI)

While some teams thrive in the development of one position or another, the Los Angeles Kings have had players of all shapes, sizes, positions, and styles put up noteworthy seasons this year that deserve recognition. While the prospect pool has waned in recent times with promotions, trades, and general roster transactions and development, the team still has a wide range of talent in multiple positions. All the way from the two-way grinding forward, to the pure sniper, to the gritty and physical defenseman, the Kings have seen a number of talented draft picks put up superb seasons in 2012-13 in very different ways.

Hardest Worker: Tanner Pearson, LW, Manchester Monarchs (AHL)

Overage 2012 draftee Tanner Pearson is all about hard work. The style the young forward plays is one that will not wow you with any one element, but what holds everything together and makes him shine is the work ethic and effort that is put into each shift. Pearson gets to the dirty areas of the ice down in the corners, behind the net, and screening the goalie, and it was one of the reasons he found so much success on the Monarchs top line with Tyler Toffoli and Linden Vey. The trio of forwards was one of the best lines in the AHL this season and Pearson himself has accumulated 42 points in 61 games of his rookie year. He is a tough young player with a solid attitude and work ethic about him that will fit in well with the Kings scheme in the next couple of years.

Hardest Shot: Jake Muzzin, D, Los Angeles Kings (NHL)

In the 2012-13 season, 24-year-old Jake Muzzin has traversed the minor leagues and established himself at the NHL level. Always pinned as a gifted two-way defenseman with good size, Muzzin has also been noted for his cannon of a shot from the point. While he registered just 10 goals for the Monarchs in 2010 through 2012, Muzzin was noted as having one of, if not the hardest shot in the organization by many scouts and people close to the Kings.

This season Muzzin has shown that the rumors were not unfounded. In his 39 games this season at the NHL level Muzzin has put up six goals, two of which were on the power play. One of the best things about his slap shot though is the accuracy. The former Sault Ste. Marie Greyhound is shooting at a near 10-percent clip this season, a number that is tops amongst rookies with at least 50 shots so far this season. It is one of the major reasons the Kings have felt comfortable allowing Muzzin to play on the top power play unit as a rookie.

Best Defensive Prospect: Kevin Gravel, D, St. Cloud State Huskies (WCHA)

If there were any questions about how good of a player Kevin Gravel was defensively before the NCAA Tournament took place, there should be absolutely zero at this point. Kevin Gravel is a tremendous and intelligent player in his defensive zone, and he and his St. Cloud State Huskies benefited from that play with a Frozen Four berth. The 6'4 defenseman had two assists and seven blocked shots in three games at the tournament. Gravel's hard-nosed style had him matched up against a lot of teams top lines, and earned him significant penalty kill time as well. The Huskies were unable to get past Quinnipiac in their semi-final game at the Frozen Four, but Gravel, who has played in big games before with Team USA in the World Juniors, was a key player in getting the Huskies into their first Frozen Four in their history as a Division I program.

Fastest Skater: Brandon Kozun, RW, Manchester Monarchs (AHL)

When you are undersized you have to rely on speed and quickness to get by. The 5'8 Brandon Kozun has been doing so for several years now in the AHL, and has established himself as one of the best skaters within the King's system. As a third year pro Kozun has continued to grow and expand his offensive game, but has also rounded out a nice defensive game utilizing his quickness. His 2012-13 numbers through 71 games are great with a new career-highs set in goals (26), assists (30), points (56), and plus-minus rating (plus-12). Kozun is one of those 'in between' style players, who may not be big enough for the NHL but is suitable for the AHL style of play. However, the current King's roster has a similar style of player with Brad Richardson, who has achieved some playing time by focusing on the speed element of his game.

Prospect of the Year: Tyler Toffoli, RW, Los Angeles Kings (NHL)

Toffoli has been the one true goal-scorer in the King's system for some time, and in his rookie season he has not disappointed. The young Ottawa 67's product was head and shoulders above the rest of the team this year with 28 goals and 48 points in just 55 games. Toffoli was at times the leading goal scorer in the AHL until he lost pace due to his NHL call up. At 20 years old Toffoli is already sniffing at NHL minutes and has put up two goals and three assists in eight games with the Kings.

While Toffoli is not the best skater or the most physical player, he is a complete player in terms of his defensive positioning and his fantastic offensive sense. Toffoli has demonstrated that his wrist shot release is of NHL caliber already, he is somewhat capable of playing at NHL speed, and his offensive zone positioning is keen and intelligent. In just a year's time Toffoli has flown through the ranks of the OHL, AHL, and NHL. While he already has a lot of impressive facets to his game, Toffoli will only get better under the guidance of head coach Darryl Sutter and more NHL game experience.

Breakout Player for 2013-14: Tyler Toffoli, RW, Los Angeles Kings (NHL)

While it was not completely unexpected for Tyler Toffoli to be an offensive force in the AHL and beyond considering his back to back 50-goal seasons in the OHL, it was not expected so quickly. The difference in speed and competition between the OHL and AHL is significant, and many 50-plus goal scorers in the OHL struggle to find a way to score in their rookie seasons as professional players. Toffoli however not only found his form quickly, he found his form and surpassed all others in the AHL. For a significant portion of the season Toffoli was not just the leading goal scorer on the Monarchs but the leading goal scorer in the entire AHL. The biggest question now is where does Toffoli go moving forward? He seems to be NHL ready, and 2013-14 might be his year to make an impact with the big club on a full-time basis.

Most Improved Prospect: Alex Roach, D, Calgary Hitmen (WHL)

The Kings had two very surprising defensive players have unexpected and surprising seasons. One was Colin Miller of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, and the other was Alex Roach of the Calgary Hitmen in the WHL. While the decision between the two was incredibly difficult, as both have had noteworthy seasons, the fact that Alex Roach went from an unsigned and undrafted prospect to his team's leading defensive scorer is pretty remarkable. Roach, who had 18 points in 2011-12, nearly tripled his production this year with 49 points in 62 games and went from a plus-eight to a staggering plus-42. He has added two goals and an assist through 10 playoff games for the Hitmen, who are set to face off against the Edmonton Oil Kings for the Eastern Conference Championship.

Overachiever: Alex Roach, D, Calgary Hitmen (WHL)

While 19-year-old Alex Roach truly had an impressive season, it is hard to not feel like his performance was a bit of an over-achievement. The Calgary Hitmen in general was one of the best teams in the WHL and had one of the more productive offenses in the league as well. With a trio of overagers in Cody Sylvester, Brady Brassart, and former Detroit Red Wings pick Brooks Macek, the Hitmen physically wore down a lot of teams. Roach was put in a very good position to succeed playing with older and more experienced players. His development and point totals are no doubt impressive, and he still had to perform at a high level to get himself in that position, however it is hard to imagine he would be able to match that kind of production moving forward.

Underachiever: Nicolas Deslauriers, D, Manchester Monarchs (AHL)

Nic Deslauriers was once considered one of the best defensive prospects in the King's system, and many still feel he has the brightest upside and best natural talent amongst the prospect defensemen in the system. While still just 22, the shine has started to wear off on the former member of the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies and Gatineau Olympiques. While still a physically gifted and talented player with better 2012-13 numbers compared to 2011-12, the defensive portion of his game has still yet to round out and take shape. His 23 points are an improvement, but his minus-14, the worst mark on Manchester each of the past two seasons, and defensive zone mishaps can still be frustrating. Defensemen by nature are slow developers from the AHL to the NHL, and Deslauriers still has a lot of time in front of him to become a better defensive zone player. His sheer physical ability though has yet to be fulfilled and leaves many fans and scouts craving more from the former third-rounder.

Highest Risk/Reward Prospect: Christopher Gibson, G, Chicoutimi Sagueneens (QMJHL)

Athleticism is the key word with Christopher Gibson. He is athletic, extremely athletic at times. While his fundamentals can sometimes let him down, Gibson is a confident, aggressive, and talented goaltender. He has many qualities in his game that make him capable of completely stealing games with good lateral movement and lightning fast reflexes. However, the same style of goaltending that can steal you a game could also lose you one. Gibson can over-commit, play overly aggressive, and get himself into a lot of trouble positionally. His numbers have been an improvement in 2012-13 over 2011-12, and if he continues to piece together when to be aggressive and when not to be, Gibson could be a phenomenal goalie. However, it can be hard to reign in that style of play and adjustments can throw off the confidence and play of the player. Gibson certainly does have a boom or bust feel to him, but the boom could be a very big one if it all comes together. It is high risk as he is a second round pick but the Kings, and many others, feel Gibson was worth it due to the tremendous upside he possesses.