While the Kings were seemingly represented by dozens of prospects in junior hockey over the past few seasons, this year saw a bit of change – as most of LA’s key amateur players were on the rosters of U.S. college teams.
However, the shifting tide isn’t that surprising because Los Angeles has had a greater than average number of former NCAA players on their NHL roster for several years now. At one point, all their defensemen were products of collegiate programs, sans one guy – Drew Doughty.
GM Dean Lombardi also hasn’t been shy about drafting non-junior players in the early rounds of the NHL Draft. And now, he’s ready to move on signing some of them.
Following his general media availability at the Kings training facility earlier today (see his expansive range of comments here) surrounding the trade deadline, we had a brief conversation about his upcoming plans. Lombardi confirmed to MayorsManor that he plans on inking defenseman Derek Forbort to a contract in the coming days. He’s also interested in doing similar deals with center Nick Shore and left wing Michael Mersch.
Of course, this is all dependant on their willingness to forgo their senior seasons and turn pro.
Lombardi wasn’t as willing to discuss plans for defenseman Kevin Gravel and forward Nic Dowd, due to both players still participating in the NCAA Frozen Four. However, he seemed to indicate he’ll explore conversations with both guys once St. Cloud State’s season is over – one way or the other – following next weekend’s tournament in Pittsburgh. Who knows, they may even be National Champions by that point.
Here’s some skinny on the trio of players Lombardi will look to sign…
– Derek Forbort: 6-foot-5 defenseman, playing at the University of North Dakota. Originally selected in the first round (17th overall) at the 2010 NHL Draft. Primarily a stay-at-home defenseman, Forbort has recorded 45 points (six goals, 39 assists) in 115 games over three seasons at UND. He’s also spent time with Team USA at the World Junior Championships. Most would say Forbort has had an up and down career, sitting out stretches with mono and an injury suffered at the WJC. However, our sources there say he’s still projected as a solid NHL defender who skates well, has a long reach with his size and good gap control. His plus-11 rating was second best among defenseman on this year’s UND team.
– Nick Shore: 6-foot center, playing at Denver University. Originally selected in the third round (82nd overall) at the 2011 NHL Draft, he’s another player who was involved with the U.S. National program, Shore followed up his 13 goal campaign last year with another 14 goal effort this season. Although his point totals dropped from 41 to 34, some reports say he actually played better this year when compared to a season ago. Led the Pioneers in total points and shots on goal (139) in the just completed schedule. Strong on faceoffs and over the three years at DU he’s amassed 93 points (34 goals, 59 assists) in 159 games played. With Denver firing their coach earlier this week, that should give LA a greater chance of signing Shore.
– Michael Mersch: 6-foot-2 left wing, playing at the University of Wisconsin. Former Kings forward Gary Shuchuk, now an assistant coach with the Badgers, has been high on him for several years (see our previous interviews with him). If signed, Mersch is the guy we see as a potential chart climber in the Kings prospect rankings. Primarily a left wing, a spot where Lombardi admits the organization is thin, and led UW with 36 points (23 goals, 13 assists) in 42 games this season. That also put him fourth in the nation overall for total goals scored. Mersch did see spot duty on the right side this season as well. Originally selected in the fourth round (110th overall) at the 2011 NHL Draft. However, unlike the two players listed above, Mersch did not see time with Team USA at the WJC. He was invited to a World Junior camp (and filed a report for us in 2011), but never made the team. Still, our sources in Wisconsin say his development took a huge jump forward this year, especially as his skating improved. His confidence grew tremendously and he’s started to take the puck hard to the net. Put a play making center on his line and he’s one to watch.
It should be noted, all three players would most likely be assigned to Manchester (AHL) if they turned pro, not join the Kings’ NHL roster.
RELATED CONTENT: LA Kings 2013 Prospect Rankings
UPDATE April 5 – Forbort has signed, headed to Manchester
UPDATE April 13 – Shore has signed (should be annouced imminently), Mersch is still deciding
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