Kings Top 20 prospects

By David A. Rainer

The list of the Los Angeles Kings Top 20 prospects is highlighted by the debut of Jack Johnson, acquired in the offseason from the Carolina Hurricanes. Similarly, Marc-Andre Cliche moves into the list after being picked up from the New York Rangers in a February trade and Johan Fransson makes his debut after being picked up from the Dallas Stars at the trading deadline. Several new faces have pulled away from the rest of the unranked pack to find a place in the bottom half of the list. Only Anze Kopitar has graduated to the Kings since the previous Top 20.

1. (NR) Jack Johnson, D

Formerly the top overall prospect in the Hurricanes’ system, Johnson becomes the top overall prospect for the Kings. Johnson is a perfect all-around defenseman, apt at both shutting down the opposition on the penalty kill and finding the back of the net on the power play. With tremendous mobility and puck handling skills, Johnson is a future No. 1 defenseman for the Kings who can be used in any situation and will log well above the norm in ice time. Johnson currently skates for the University of Michigan as a sophomore. The biggest question surrounding Johnson is whether he will sign with the Kings in the offseason. At this point, Johnson has not given any public indication of if and when he will leave college hockey to pursue his professional career. The Kings traded one of their best and youngest defensemen in Tim Gleason, knowing that they will need to wait on Johnson. Once Johnson decides the time is right, the Kings will be waiting with open arms.

2. (1) Patrick O’Sullivan, C/LW

Moving down one slot with the addition of Johnson, O’Sullivan continues to maintain a high standing in the organization. Highlighted by world-class offensive skills, he showed his potential as a dominant rookie in the AHL during the 2005-06 season. At this point in his career, he must work on taking the next step by translating the dominance he showed at the AHL level into solid point production at the NHL level. After a slow start with the Kings to begin the season, O’Sullivan was sent back to the AHL to rediscover his scoring touch and work on some of the other, non-puck skills that are necessary to survive in the NHL. After 38 games with Manchester, O’Sullivan returned to Los Angeles where he is likely to remain. Even though he has only mustered five points through 25 NHL games, O’Sullivan has looked better with each game and is on the brink of becoming a true offensive threat next season.

3. (5) Jonathan Bernier, G

The highest drafted goaltender in the 2006 draft and arguably the best goaltender in the offensive minded QMJHL, Bernier steadily climbs the ranking. The combination stand-up and butterfly style goaltending has placed Bernier in the top five of most statistical categories for goaltenders in the QMJHL. Bernier just missed the cut to make Team Canada for the 2007 U20 World Junior Championships. With another year of major junior hockey eligibility and a Kings minor league system full of goaltender projects, Bernier is still several years away from being a legitimate option in net for Los Angeles. But that does not diminish his importance to the organization. When Bernier is ready to move to the professional ranks, the minor league goaltending pipeline will have thinned out. Unlike other prospect goaltenders for the Kings, Bernier shows both solid fundamentals, the technique of a grizzled veteran, and skills capable of stealing a game for his team.

4. (3) Brian Boyle, C

Boyle slips down a spot as his senior season with Boston College has not gone completely as anticipated. Boyle does lead the team in assists and points, but Boston College is not the same team that it was when it played in the Championship game in 2006. With 45 points through his first 36 games, Boyle’s production is slightly off in a year which many had felt 60 points was not out of the question. Regardless, Boyle is firmly slotted as a large-framed third line center for Manchester and Los Angeles in support of the more highly skilled top two lines. Boyle’s limited skating ability will probably keep him off of the more skilled lines. He has, however, stepped up his play without the puck this season and has shown marked improvements in the less glamorous aspects of his game. Boyle is bound for Manchester at the end of the Boston College season, but he likely will not have a long stay in the AHL.

5. (4) Lauri Tukonen, RW

Once considered a Top 50 prospect, injuries have dropped Tukonen off the elite prospect directory and down to No. 5 on this list. A shoulder injury ended his 2005-06 season prematurely with lingering effects into this season. He still has not shown a dominate scoring touch, but continues to play a quality forechecking game, finishing his checks and grinding for scoring opportunities. A one-game call-up to Los Angeles briefly interrupted his season with Manchester. With 27 points through 49 games with Manchester, Tukonen is nearly on even pace with last season’s totals. However, last season did not represent a watershed moment in his development. Entering this season, Tukonen hoped to improve on his prior totals, if not dramatically. There will be plenty of roster spots opened up in Los Angeles after the trade deadline which might provide Tukonen with a change of scenery and a new opportunity to show the organization that he has developed.

6. (7) Trevor Lewis, C

Rejecting the scholarship offer extended to him by the University of Michigan, Lewis joined Owen Sound of the OHL as a 19-year-old rookie. His excellent speed and strong faceoff skills make him an ideal center of the future for the Kings. It has been said that Lewis is one of the best physically fit players in major junior hockey, often drawing comparisons to Rod Brind’Amour. Lewis is enjoying a stellar first season in the OHL and moves up the list one spot. Lewis has been centering the second line for Owen Sound and is fourth amongst rookies in the OHL in goal scoring (29) and points (71). Lewis was also named to the Western Conference All-Stars for the OHL All-Star Classic where he registered a pair of assists.

7. (6) Richard Petiot, D

Severely tearing ligaments in his knee during an offseason scrimmage, Petiot‘s 2006-07 season ended before it even began. While the organization held out hope that Petiot would return to the ice this season, it never came to pass as the entire year was spent on rehabilitation. While no one wants to be penalized for injuries, the fact remains that torn knee ligaments is one of the most difficult injuries to rehabilitate and Petiot slides down a spot as a result. Petiot should be ready to get back on the ice by the beginning of training camp next season. With little else in the way of defensive prospects other than Jack Johnson for the Kings, Petiot will have every opportunity to reassert himself in Manchester and possibly Los Angeles next season.

8. (11) Scott Parse, LW

There is not much left to ask of Parse that he has not already accomplished while at the University of Nebraska, Omaha. Lead your team in scoring every single year you have been with them — check. Increase your point production in each of those years — check. Be named as a Hobey Baker Award finalist — check. Play both forward and defenseman as a senior leader for your team in being named both Offensive and Defensive Player of the Week in separate weeks — check. By the end of his collegiate career, Parse will have established new team records in most statistical categories. As the college season winds down, the last thing that can be asked of Parse is to bring this same combination of production and leadership to the professional ranks. He is a valuable commodity as a left winger, a position which the Kings are lacking at this moment. The Kings made a push to sign Parse last offseason but did not complete the transaction. Expect to see Parse in a Monarchs sweater before the season has finished.

9. (8) Joe Ryan, D

With only 22 points through 58 games, Ryan has not overwhelmed the competition with his offensive game. However, he has been used in all game situations and has provided a physical, "edgy" presence on the blueline for the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL. Not known for producing physical defensemen, Ryan is largely lost in the fray of offensive weapons of the league. He will be better suited for the AHL where physical play is emphasize more. When he does in fact join the professional ranks, Ryan will quickly make a name for himself as a fan favorite.

10. (16) Jeff Zatkoff, G

Zatkoff went from platooning in net for Miami University in 2005-06 to securing their starting job and playing for Team USA during the 2007 World Juniors Championships. While his performance in net for Team USA was less than stellar, being named to the bronze medal winning squad is an accomplishment in itself. With Miami, Zatkoff has posted a .604 winning percentage as well as a goals-against average and save percentage that places him near the top of all college goaltenders. Only a sophomore, Zatkoff and fellow Kings prospect Jonathan Quick will vie for top college goaltender honors for the next two seasons.

11. (18) Peter Harrold, D

Harrold signed with the Kings during the offseason after graduating from Boston College. Harrold has been one of the best all around defensemen in the AHL and was named to PlanetUSA of the AHL All-Star game where he registered a pair of assists. Due to his impressive play with Manchester, Harrold was called up to Los Angeles for a short 10-game stint. He recorded his first career NHL point in his first career game with an assist against San Jose. Harrold’s skating and passing skills from the blueline continues a Kings trend of developing smallish mobile defensemen. He will finish the year with Manchester but might secure a permanent spot with Los Angeles next season.

12. (10) Petr Kanko, RW

Continuing his slide down the rankings, Kanko lands at the No. 12 position. The offensive skills have been slow to develop in Manchester as Kanko has concentrated almost exclusively on filling the role of an agitator. After seeing action in 10 games for Los Angeles in 2005-06, Kanko has not seen the inside of an NHL arena since. With the departure of Avery, the path is paved for Kanko to assume a high-energy role with the Kings beginning in 2007-08 season. But Kanko must show improved maturity before he can be trusted to step into a starring role in Los Angeles.

13. (17) Patrik Hersley, D

Hersley signed an entry-level contract with the Kings and participated in their offseason prospect workouts. Hersley impressed to the point where it was believed by some that he would be one of the best additions to the Monarchs for this season. However, contractual obligations forced his return to Sweden. There, Hersley has played in his first full season in the SEL with Malmo, registering two points in 28 games but has never looked overwhelmed or out of place. Hersley is a strong player with developing offensive skills and not one to shy away from physical play. He will battle for a roster spot in Manchester, and possibly Los Angeles, next season.

14. (NR) Marc-Andre Cliche, RW

Picked up from the Rangers in a February trade of Sean Avery, M.A. Cliche gets slotted into the No. 14 position in these rankings. A teammate of Bernier with the Lewiston MAINEiacs, Cliche has 52 points on 23 goals and 29 assists through 49 games. Cliche also contributed to the gold medal winning Team Canada during the 2007 WJC, supplying good penalty-killing, leadership and intangibles that do not appear on the boxscore. Cliche adds more depth to the already robust group of forwards in the pipeline for the Kings.

15. (13) Jonathan Quick, G

On any given night, there is little question who will be in net for the University of Massachusetts. Having started in 33 of their first 36 games, Quick has posted a superb 2.20 goals-against average and .928 save percentage despite the relatively young team around him. Quick has looked like one of the best goaltenders in college hockey this season. Still only a sophomore, he has two more seasons left to hone his skills. If Quick continues his development, he will be one of the fastest risers on this list. He slides to No. 15 through no fault of his own as trade acquisitions and improved play from other prospects has moved him down slightly.

16. (NR) Johan Fransson, D

The trade deadline acquisition of Fransson from the Stars provides further depth on the blueline for the Kings. Fransson is another mobile defender in the stable of defensive prospects for the Kings who can read the play well and distribute the puck from the blueline. Like Hersley, Fransson is not one to shy away from physical play and will occasionally initiate the physical battle.  However, it has been noted that his play has not progressed well since his draft year. He has spent the 2006-07 season bouncing between the SEL and the SM-Liiga, registering seven points in 46 games between the two leagues. Also like Hersley, Fransson might be ready to cross the pond this offseason and may be a welcome addition to Manchester.

17. (NR) Matt Moulson, LW

Another new face to the system, Moulson has been solid in his first season with the Manchester Monarchs. Moulson is currently second on the team in points (42) and is a team-leading +18. Signed as a free agent from Pittsburgh during the offseason, Moulson excelled at the summer prospect training camps and was one of the last cuts from the NHL squad during training camp. While it is not likely that Moulson will be much more than a depth winger on the third line for a competitive NHL roster, he will be invited to and have an opportunity to prove he belongs beginning with the Kings training camp next season.

18. (NR) David Meckler, C

Also rising fast in these rankings is this former collegiate center that moved his game to the OHL during the offseason. Suffering from a wrist injury most of the 2005-06 season, Meckler never really had an opportunity to get into a groove and display his true potential. The Kings drafted him on the perception that when given that opportunity, Meckler would prove to be a steal out of the fifth round. Now healthy and playing for a new team in a new league, Meckler has taken the OHL by storm. Tied for 19th in the league with 37 goals and fifth on the high-powered London Knights with 67 points, Meckler has shown a propensity for playing physical around the net and finding a way to get the puck through the goaltender. Another injury-free season with solid production might boost Meckler into the top ten of this ranking.

19. (20) Ryan McGinnis, D

Another solid season for this defensive defenseman solidifies his position as a Top 20 prospect. McGinnis has gathered 30 points through 58 games, playing on both the power play and the penalty kill. The Plymouth Whalers are the best defensive team in the league, surrendering a league low 2.60 goals per game. McGinnis is no small part of this accomplishment. He is a +31 and has logged a tremendous amount of ice time as one of the most stable and reliable defensemen in the league. McGinnis will be a welcome counterpart to Petiot in Manchester if Petiot does not make the NHL roster, creating one of the better 1-2 punches of physical, dependable defensive defensemen in the league.

20. (NR) Bud Holloway, C

Holloway rounds out the Top 20. After a slow beginning to his season, Hollway has turned it on of late for the Seattle Thunderbirds of the WHL. Holloway is second on the team in goals (26) and points (61) and third in assists (35) and plus/minus (+19). He has also been better than a point per game since Nov. 1. Additionally, Holloway has been a mainstay on the first units for both the power play and the penalty kill, lending to his reputation as a well rounded forward that sacrifices for the good of the team. Holloway makes his debut at No. 20 and with another solid season will quietly climb these rankings.

On the Bubble: TJ Fast, Martin Guerin, John Zeiler, Barry Brust

Graduated: Anze Kopitar

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