A quick reminder that all top 10 candidates must be no more than 25 years old as of October 7, 2015. The lists consider all skaters in that age group who have played in fewer than 40 NHL regular season games, with 25 games being the cut-off among netminders.
It didn’t have to be this way. As mentioned in the Hurricanes chapter, the Kings traded a first round pick to Carolina, along with promising blueline prospect Roland McKeown, in exchange for a few months of Andrej Sekera. Thankfully for the Kings and this year’s list, the first round pick was lottery protected. Had the Kings made the playoffs, the pick would have gone to Raleigh. As the Kings fell short, the Hurricanes will get their 2016 first rounder. Then again, Kings GM Dean Lombardi turned around and sent the pick, along with backup netminder Martin Jones, to Boston for Milan Lucic. While the Kings’ system still has some interesting pieces, better foresight would have given them at least two more.
- Adrian Kempe, C, MODO (SHL) 6-2”, 187. 29th overall, 2014
- Nick Shore, C, Manchester (AHL) 6-0”, 184. 82nd overall, 2011
- Michael Mersch, LW, Manchester (AHL) 6-2”, 198. 110th overall, 2011
- Jordan Weal, C, Manchester (AHL) 5-9”, 173. 70th overall, 2010
- Alex Lintuniemi, D, Ottawa (OHL) 6-3”, 231. 60th overall, 2014
- Erik Cernak, D, HC Kosice (Slovakia) 6-3”, 203. 43rd overall, 2015
- Jean-Francois Berube, G, Manchester (AHL) 6-1”, 174. 95th overall, 2009
- Alexander Dergachyov, C, SKA-1946 St. Petersburg (MHL) 6-4”, 201 74th overall, 2015
- Matt Mistele, LW, Oshawa (OHL) 6-2”, 190. 180th overall, 2014
- Derek Forbort, D, Manchester (AHL) 6-5”, 198. 15th overall, 2010
Players likely to lose eligibility
- Andy Andreoff, C, Manchester (AHL) 6-1”, 201. 80th overall, 2011
- Austin Wagner, LW/C, Regina (WHL) 6-1”, 181. 99th overall, 2015
- Jake Marchment, C, Erie (OHL) 6-3”, 206. 157th overall, 2014
- Valentin Zykov, LW, Gatineau (QMJHL) 6-0”, 209. 37th overall, 2013
More than any team featured thus far, the Kings prospect cupboard features more mature talent, with a much higher percentage of the top players already having substantial AHL experience. Winning AHL experience, too, as the Manchester Monarchs won the Calder Cup in their last hurrah as an AHL outpost. Six of the players on this top ten list were regulars during the championship run, including their number one prospect, Adrian Kempe. He came over to Manchester after his season ended with his SHL team and jumped right into a key role in the long AHL playoff run, scoring eight goals in 17 games. At his core, Kempe is an offensive talent, with both finishing and passing skills. He is a plus skater who owns a sharp wrist shot. A full season in North America will round out his game. He should make his NHL debut next season, but would be best served by continuing his apprenticeship in the AHL first.
Nick Shore, Michael Mersch and Jordan Weal were all among Manchester’s top six scorers during the regular season and would have ranked higher had Shore not spent so much time in Los Angeles. Needing only six games to end his eligibility for this list, he is sure to surpass that amount before the first month of the season is out. A highly reactive player with good offensive vision, he has a chance to take over the third center role for the Kings right off the hop.
Mersch does not have as clear a path to regular NHL playing time, but he plays a very West Coast style of rugged hockey, with enough offensive punch to be more than just a grinder. He led the Monarchs in goals and tied for the team lead in points during their playoff run. The Wisconsin grad should fit right in with Darryl Sutter’s style, but he needs some roster churn above him to receive a prolonged opportunity. He will eventually be a strong third liner.
Weal is the antithesis to Mersch. Terrifically undersized, he has been an offensive dynamo in the AHL, finishing right around the point per game mark for the second season in a row. His 22 playoff points also earned him the nod as AHL playoff MVP (Jack A. Butterfield Trophy). It is surprising that he has not yet appeared in an NHL game, but that should change this year with the depletion of the Kings’ depth at center ice. While his size is a detriment in his own zone, his style of play turns that handicap into a strength when his team has the puck as he keeps his feet constantly in motion and is very elusive.
Outside of Weal, all of the Kings top ten, plus their sleepers and expected graduates, have NHL-sized frames. This trait sticks out most with the three blueliners on the top ten, Alex Lintuniemi, Erik Cernak, and Derek Forbort. Lintuniemi, a second round pick in 2014 is a wide bodied Finnish import who spent the past two seasons with the Ottawa 67s. Very aware and calm, he has a great panic threshold that portends to a long NHL career. AHL time is in his immediate future, with his long term future on third and sometimes second pairings in the NHL.
Cernak was the Kings top pick this summer, another man child with a mature, physical game. Only 18 years of age, he has already spent two seasons playing in Slovakia’s top men’s league. He has also played a key role in two Slovakian WJC entries. True to his large frame, he plays a defensive game and will never be a top option for an NHL power play, but like Lintuniemi, he is a safe prospect in that an NHL future is very likely in his cards. Cernak will play for Erie in the OHL this season.
Of the three blueliners, Forbort was the most highly touted on draft day, as he was selected in the middle of the first round. Still big and rangy, after three years in college with North Dakota and two full seasons with Manchester, the bloom is off the rose, as his upside is no longer seen as a shut-down option, but as simply someone who can play. To his credit, he is very mobile for his size and he may be an NHL option this year depending on what happens with Slava Voynov.
Backstopping the Manchester title run was Jean-Francoise Berube, a fourth round pick from six years ago who has spent two season each in the QMJHL, ECHL and AHL since being picked by the Kings. He has above average puck awareness and tracking skills and he positions himself well to avoid the need for scramble saves while minimizing rebounds. His development made it easy for Dean Lombardi to trade former backup Martin Jones to Boston. An AHL workhorse, he profiles as a solid NHL backup and may push Jhonas Enroth for that role with the Kings this season.
The Kings were fortunate that massive Russian forward Alexander Dergachyov was still available in the third round. Not a blazer, but possessing solid speed for his size, Dergachyov was the only 18 year old on the most recent Russian WJC entry. A defensive forward of the type that L.A. utilized so well in winning two Stanley Cups, he does not lack for tools as well, with a good wrist shot and a style of play that will show well through most puck possession metrics. He will need to play with men in Russia before he comes over to North America.
Another Kings prospect with championship pedigree, Matt Mistele won the Memorial Cup with Oshawa after a midseason trade from Plymouth. He is the type of player for whom the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Not especially fast, or strong, he gets himself into the right positions to make an impact. He can carry the puck or get to the dirty areas to make life tough on opposing defenders. Not a high end player, but great value for a sixth rounder.
Looking deeper into the L.A. prospect pipeline, Andy Andreoff should not, in some senses, even be considered for this season as he spent nearly the entire season up with the Kings. Unfortunately he spent the majority of that time in the press box, dressing in only 18 games. A plugger in the AHL, his upside in the NHL is around the same. He won’t make fans swoon, but for a cap strapped team like Los Angeles, it is useful to have usable roster depth making around the league minimum. He will play more this time around.
With so much of the top ten already playing professionally, the Kings have comparatively little beyond them. Not nothing, but fewer sources of potential excitement. Austin Wagner, a recent draft pick has tremendous speed, but limited offensive punch. The speed is enough to make him a player of interest, but he will have to produce more to sustain that interest. Jake Marchment was a late round selection and a nephew of former NHL tough guy Bryan Marchment. He has much softer hands than his famous uncle, and a strong playoff with Erie set him up nicely for an exciting finish to his junior career. Valentin Zykov was actually a fairly highly touted draft pick, but hasn’t really progressed since a fantastic rookie season in the QMJHL. He is still a good skater with solid offensive skills, but will need to re-invigorate his career with a strong debut in the AHL this coming year.
With a large contingent of prospects who are close to graduation, the Kings may remain around the bottom of the prospect rankings for another year or two. Thankfully, and in spite of a rough 2014-15 season, they have a very strong NHL core, many of whom are locked up long term. These players will be relied upon to supplement that core and with the safety that stems from proximity, we can rest easy with the knowledge that many of them will be able to fulfill those roles in the near future.