Kings Top 20 prospects

By David A. Rainer

Top 20 at a Glance

1. Patrick O’Sullivan
2. Anze Kopitar
3. Brian Boyle
4. Lauri Tukonen
5. Jonathan Bernier
6. Richard Petiot
7. Trevor Lewis
8. Joe Ryan
9. Konstantin Pushkarev
10. Petr Kanko
11. Scott Parse
12. TJ Fast
13. Jonathan Quick
14. Paul Baier
15. Barry Brust
16. Jeff Zatkoff
17. Patrik Hersley
18. Peter Harrold
19. Ned Lukacevic
20. Ryan McGinnis

Seven prospects make their debut in the Kings Top 20 ranking. One, acquired via trade from the Minnesota Wild, is slotted into the top spot by the slimmest of margins. Four of the Top 20 are new draftees and another was signed as a free agent after completing his college eligibility.

Rank (Previous Rank) Name, Position, Rating

1. (NR) Patrick O’Sullivan, LW, 8.5B

Acquired: Trade with Minnesota, 2006

The choice of Patrick O’Sullivan as the top prospect in the Los Angeles Kings pool is a difficult one. Both O’Sullivan and Anze Kopitar project as top line forwards and both are nearly ready to begin their NHL careers. As O’Sullivan plays a position which is on average traditionally difficult to fill with elite talent – left wing – O’Sullivan barely edges out Kopitar for the top spot.

Acquired in a draft day trade that sent Pavol Demitra to Minnesota, O’Sullivan moves from the top of the Wild rankings to the top of the Kings rankings. Largely playing center in his minor league career, O’Sullivan slides over to left wing where he is most likely to see playing time with the Kings in 2006-07.

Also a Top 50 prospect overall, O’Sullivan tore apart the AHL as a rookie during the 2005-06 season, finishing third in the league in goal scoring, fourth in overall scoring, first in goals and points amongst rookies, and was named as the Rookie of the Year. With nothing left to prove at the AHL level, it is expected that O’Sullivan will hold down a roster spot in Los Angeles this upcoming season on one of the two top scoring lines.

Why Could Be Higher: Cannot get much higher
Why Could Be Lower: Only if you prefer Kopitar
NHL Projection: Top line scoring forward

2. (1) Anze Kopitar, C, 8.0A
Acquired: 1st round, No. 11 overall, 2005

Anze Kopitar moves down one spot on the rankings through no fault of his own. The acquisition by the Kings of one of the true elite forward prospects in the world bumps Kopitar down. But Kopitar’s position as a top prospect himself is not diminished in any way.

After signing a three-year entry-level contract with the Kings last summer, Kopitar responded by playing remarkably well in training camp against seasoned veterans before being returned to the SEL due to contractual obligations. While in Sweden, Kopitar scored more points (20) than any other player in his age level except for top 2006 draft pick Nicklas Backstrom (WAS). It has been stated that had Kopitar not been contractually obligated to return to his SEL squad, he would have found a regular shift on the third line for the Kings last season. Now that Kopitar has made his move to North America official, Kopitar is expected to find ample playing time on the second line for the Kings by the end of the 2006-07 season and eventually ascend to the first line center position upon the expiration of Craig Conroy’s contract.

Why Could Be Higher: Dominant centers are rare
Why Could Be Lower: No North American experience
NHL Projection: Top line playmaking center

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

After a tremendous junior season, the Kings pushed hard to sign Boyle to an entry-level contract and bring him into training camp. Boyle turned down the lucrative option to turn pro and will return to the Boston College team that lost to Wisconsin in the Frozen Four finals for his senior season as the leader of the program.

Boyle far exceeded everyone’s expectations in his junior season with Boston College. After a slow start, Boyle turned it on for the second half of the season, finishing second on the team in goals (22), first in assists (30) and tied for ninth in the nation for points (52). Filling a need, Boyle even saw some time on the penalty kill as a defenseman. In his final season with Boston College, Boyle will likely lead his team in every major statistical category. How far the Eagles go will be determined by how far Boyle can carry the team. Expect him to sign shortly after the completion of the college season and immediately step into a top-six forward spot on Manchester.

Why Could Be Higher: Big and physical center
Why Could Be Lower: Can he skate well enough for the “new NHL”?
NHL Projection: Physical second line center

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

Lauri Tukonen spent the season anchoring the offense for Manchester of the AHL. Making the jump from Finland to North America at the tender age of 19 is a difficult and emotional experience for anyone, whether or not thousands of hockey eyes are focused on you. Tukonen bore this weight admirably en route to 36 points in 62 games while battling with nagging injuries most of the season. He eventually succumbed to the injuries, needing shoulder surgery towards the end of the season which removed him from the playoffs entirely.

In addition to his commitment to Manchester, Tukonen also skated for Team Finland during the 2006 WJC U20 tournament, registering ten points in seven games, tied for second with Evgeni Malkin (PIT) in scoring and just one point behind leader Phil Kessel (BOS). Tukonen will spend another season with Manchester. As he is still not even 20 years of age, the Kings can afford to be patient with him and let his offensive game develop.

Why Could Be Higher: Good offensive potential
Why Could Be Lower: Needs to bounce back
NHL Projection: Second line scoring winger

5. (NR) Jonathan Bernier, G, 8.0B
Acquired: 1st round, No. 11 overall, 2006

The Kings top draft pick for 2006 makes his debut at the No. 5 position. Only the second goaltender selected in the first round by the Kings in their history, Jonathan Bernier spent the 2005-06 season with Lewiston of the QMJHL. The first goaltender to be selected outside of the ninth round in the entry draft in the short history of the Lewiston franchise, Bernier led the team to their first playoff appearance ever and finished in the top 3 in the league for most goaltender statistical categories.

In the QMJHL, second only to the WHL in producing NHL-caliber goaltenders, Bernier will face many shots and see an abundance of different schemes and looks from the opposition. He still has two years of juniors eligibility left, and with several other prospects already causing a traffic jam in the farm system for the Kings, it is likely that Bernier will remain in the Q for as long as possible. As such, while his NHL potential is high, he is still many years away from ever suiting up for the Kings.

Why Could Be Higher: Plays a position of great need
Why Could Be Lower: Young and needs development
NHL Projection: Starting NHL goaltender

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

Richard Petiot has earned himself a free plane ticket to the destination of his choice. After being called up and sent down on four separate occasions during the 2005-06 season, Petiot has become a regular at the Manchester-Boston Regional Airport. Petiot spent most of his time in Los Angeles participating in practice and sitting in the stands during game-time. He finally earned himself playing time in two games during his final call-up, with only two penalty minutes to show for it.

However, Petiot remains the Kings top prospect on the blue line and can add a dimension of physicality which has been lacking in recent years. He will be battling for the final defensive roster spot during training camp and might find himself skating a regular shift as early as mid-season. He may never score enough for anyone to take immediate notice of him, but he is nearly a lock to assume the roles that Aaron Miller and Mattias Norstrom performed for the Kings in the last few years.

Why Could Be Higher: Undervalued style of play
Why Could Be Lower: One-dimensional
NHL Projection: Second pairing defensive defenseman

7. (NR) Trevor Lewis, C, 7.5C
Acquired: 1st round, No. 17 overall, 2006

Drafted with the pick acquired from Minnesota in the Demitra trade, Lewis was one of two players specifically targeted by management prior to the draft. Having been passed over during the 2005 draft, Lewis entered the 2005-06 season looking to improve on his professional prospects. To say he accomplished this would be an understatement.

The speedy center finished the season with 75 points (35+40) in 56 games for Des Moines of the USHL and was named to a slew of various awards, including Player of the Year. Bigger, stronger and faster, Lewis earned himself a scholarship to the University of Michigan, only to follow former Kings draftees Mike Cammalleri and Jeff Tambellini (NYI) in opting out of college and signing an entry-level NHL contract. Lewis was also signed as a free agent by the Owen Sound Attack of the OHL where he will spend the upcoming season.

Why Could Be Higher: Plays the “new NHL” style
Why Could Be Lower: Needs to prove last year was not a fluke
NHL Projection: Third line center with offensive upside

8. (NR) Joe Ryan, D, 7.5C
Acquired: 2nd round, No. 48 overall, 2006

The next 2006 draftee to make these rankings is Joe Ryan at the No. 8 position. Despite his average-sized 6’1 frame, Ryan is known for digging pucks out of the corners and for laying solid hits on the opposition. While the QMJHL is known for speed and scoring, Ryan has managed to carve himself out a career as a defensive defenseman in the league. The Kings selected Ryan with the second round pick awarded to them for the loss of rights to former first round pick Jens Karlsson.

Ryan will return to the Quebec Ramparts next season to continue his development. The addition of Ryan to the prospect pool provides the Kings with another legitimate NHL-caliber prospect on the blue line to go with Petiot and TJ Fast. Ryan will likely never develop much of an offensive game but, with his skating ability and edginess, will adequately support the offensive defensemen on the roster.

Why Could Be Higher: Possible No. 2 defenseman
Why Could Be Lower: One dimensional
NHL Projection: Top four defensive defenseman

9. (5) Konstantin Pushkarev, RW, 7.0D
Acquired: 2nd round, No. 44 overall, 2003

After the midseason trade of several top performers for Manchester last season, Konstantin Pushkarev finished the season as the top remaining goal scorer for the team with 19 and a final point total of 38. Pushkarev had a volatile season with the low of diminished ice time and the high of being called to Los Angeles where he registered an assist in one game played.

With a full season in Manchester under his belt, Pushkarev will be expected to round out the rough edges to his game this season. Still suffering from tunnel vision and the occasional defensive lapse, the new regime led by Dean Lombardi may not be as patient with Pushkarev’s transgressions. Another year of no development in these areas may find him toiling in the AHL all year or dangled as trade bait to an organization with better patience. Success in development may result in Pushkarev skating with the Kings by the beginning of next season.

Why Could Be Higher: Top offensive skills
Why Could Be Lower: Boom or bust player
NHL Projection: Second line scoring winger

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

The heir apparent to Ian Laperriere is on the brink of making the NHL roster. After spending his second full season with Manchester refining his game as an agitator, Petr Kanko will be pushing for a roster spot with Los Angeles during training camp. Kanko made his NHL debut last season when he skated in ten games for the Kings and scored his first NHL goal.

Prior to the end of the 2005-06 season, the Kings organization took a public position that Sean Avery’s days in a Kings jersey were numbered. With the removal of Dave Taylor from the General Manager position, the Kings attempted limited reconciliation with Avery in the form of making him a qualifying offer to retain his rights. At this point, even if Avery returns to the Kings, it is likely that he will be traded before the season is completed and open the way for Kanko to take over the agitator role. Like Avery, Kanko has some offensive upside from the third line and should be ready to contribute to Los Angeles immediately.

Why Could Be Higher: Already NHL ready
Why Could Be Lower: Limited potential
NHL Projection: Agitator on the third line

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

Scott Parse returns to the University of Nebraska-Omaha for his fourth and final season. Parse might have been signed by the Kings following his phenomenal junior season where he was third in the league in scoring with 61 points in 41 games and was one of ten finalists for the Hobey Baker award, but an injury towards the end of the season cancelled some of the incentive to sign him early. Instead, Parse returns as one of the leading contenders for the Hobey and will try to lead his team back to the Frozen Four. By the end of next season, Parse should be skating on the third line in Manchester.

Why Could Be Higher: Top point producer in college
Why Could Be Lower: Playing against lesser competition
NHL Projection: Third line winger

12. (11) TJ Fast, D, 7.0C
Acquired: 2nd round, No. 60 overall, 2005

For a defenseman known for scoring and skating ability, there is no better player to be paired up with than 2006 Hobey Baker award winner Matt Carle (SJ). Playing a similar style of game, TJ Fast was paired up with Carle for many of the University of Denver’s games during the 2005-06 season. Fast did not post overwhelming numbers – one goal and six assists – due to his inexperience as Denver coaches often replaced Fast late in games with more seasoned veterans. But with Carle leaving college early and a generally young corps of defenseman for the Pioneers, Fast will see more ice time and a jump in production is expected. This former second round draft pick is an offensive defenseman in the making and holds steady in the rankings.

Why Could Be Higher: Plays the “new NHL” style
Why Could Be Lower: Needs to prove himself
NHL Projection: Second pair defenseman

13. (10) Jonathan Quick, G, 7.0C
Acquired: 3rd round, No. 72 overall, 2005

Saddled with a young defense in front of him, Jonathan Quick performed as well as can be expected for UMass during the 2005-06 season. As back-up, Quick posted the same .920 save percentage as the senior starter and faced an average of 37 shots per game. Quick will assume the full-time starting goaltender position next fall and hopes to benefit from a group of defensemen with an additional year of experience under their belt. Quick remains the second goalie on the Kings prospect depth chart and will likely remain in college for several years before he makes the jump to the professional ranks.

Why Could Be Higher: Performed better than his numbers indicate
Why Could Be Lower: Needs to show development
NHL Projection: Journeyman NHL starter

14. (13) Paul Baier, D, 6.5D
Acquired: 3rd round, No. 95 overall, 2004

By all accounts, Paul Baier had a very disappointing 2005-06 season. Coming off an impressive freshman debut, he was expected to play a larger role with Brown University and improve his production totals. However, struggles with consistency and an eventual demotion to the third defensive pairing hurt Baier’s chances. But the fact remains that Baier is the best two-way defenseman in the Kings pipeline and has all the raw tools and size to become the second pairing defenseman that the Kings hoped he would be when drafted. Baier will need to show great development in his junior year or he may fade from these rankings altogether.

Why Could Be Higher: Tremendous raw skills
Why Could Be Lower: Had a down year
NHL Projection: Third pairing defenseman

15. (16) Barry Brust, G, 6.0B
Acquired: Unrestricted Free Agent, 2004

By the end of last season, Barry Brust had assumed the starting goaltender position for Manchester and made Adam Hauser expendable for the Kings. With a 2.71 goals-against average and a save percentage of .916, Brust showed signs of becoming a top AHL goaltender. At this point in his career, he is secure in his starting goaltender position and is knocking on the NHL door for time as a back-up. Brust lacks the potential to be a starter in net for the Kings, but might prove useful as an inexpensive back-up to either Matthieu Garon or Dan Cloutier in the coming seasons.

Why Could Be Higher: Ready to contribute to the NHL
Why Could Be Lower: Likely already hit his potential
NHL Projection: Back-up NHL goaltender

16. (NR) Jeff Zatkoff, G, 6.0B
Acquired: 3rd round, No. 74 overall, 2006

Jeff Zatkoff and Charlie Effinger platooned in net for the Miami University en route to a Frozen Four tournament berth. Zatkoff posted an impressive 2.02 goals-against average and a save percentage of .928 as a freshman. Both goaltenders will return to Miami in the fall and push each other to improve on their prior season’s performance. Zatkoff was drafted in the third round by the Kings but was noted to be the second goaltender on the draft board for the Kings. There is some disagreement as to whether Zatkoff’s numbers were depressed due to the defensive style of game the RedHawks play as a team. Zatkoff is one prospect to keep your eye on next season as any slip in play by either he or Effinger may result in the other taking over starting duties full time.

Why Could Be Higher: Technically sound goaltender
Why Could Be Lower: Limited top potential
NHL Projection: Back-up NHL goaltender

17. (NR) Patrik Hersley, D, 6.0C
Acquired: 5th round, No. 139 overall, 2005

Signed during this offseason after holding his own in the Tier II league in Sweden, Hersley comes to North America as a developing gem. He already plays a physical, defensive style of game. If he continues to round out his skills by tapping the offensive potential he has shown, he may develop into a two-way defenseman. Hersley will start the season in Manchester and likely will require a couple of years learning the NHL style of game before he receives a call-up. However, depending upon the number of injuries, Kings fans might see Hersley as early as the middle of next season.

Why Could Be Higher: Still developing skill-set
Why Could Be Lower: Needs to prove himself against better competition
NHL Projection: Third pairing defenseman

18. (NR) Peter Harrold, D, 6.5C
Acquired: Unrestricted Free Agent, 2006

Peter Harrold was signed as an undrafted free agent following the end of his college eligibility. He captained the Boston College team that lost in the national championship game to Wisconsin. Harrold finished third on the team in assists (23) and fourth in points (30). He is a good skating defenseman that can quarterback and power play. Signed to an entry-level contract with the Kings, Harrold will likely be assigned to Manchester for this season, but due to his advanced level of development, might be looked to as an injury call-up to Los Angeles should the need arise.

Why Could Be Higher: Good offensive abilities
Why Could Be Lower: Likely already hit his potential
NHL Projection: Offensive defenseman

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

Ned Lukacevic drops five spots in these rankings, not do to any disappointment in his progression but because of new players added to the system via draft, trade and signing. Lukacevic finished his juniors eligibility and immediately found himself skating for Manchester during the playoffs at the end of last season, scoring his first professional goal. Lukacevic continues to show impressive offensive skills and possess some of the best hands in the Kings system. He will be skating for Manchester, possibly in a top-six forward role, this upcoming season. His continued development may make Pushkarev expendable in a trade.

Why Could Be Higher: Developing offensive skills
Why Could Be Lower: Needs to realize his potential
NHL Projection: Third line scoring forward

20. (19) Ryan McGinnis, D, 6.0C
Acquired: 6th round, No. 184 overall, 2005

Coming on late in the season and in the playoffs for Plymouth of the OHL, Ryan McGinnis showed signs of having a breakout season for 2006-07. McGinnis scored 26 points and 135 PIMs in 65 regular season games and 7 points in 11 playoff games with a plus/minus of +6. While his playoff point totals can be misleading as he is not looked to for scoring, they are indicative of the increased role with the team that McGinnis was given. Returning to Plymouth next season, McGinnis will find himself in a top four role again and may be the top defensive defenseman on the roster by the end of the season.

Why Could Be Higher: Developing as a physical game
Why Could Be Lower: Not a high potential
NHL Projection: Third pairing defensive defenseman

On the Bubble: Gabe Gauthier, Marty Guerin, Greg Hogeboom, Ryan Munce

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