Now that you’ve had a chance to hopefully digest the first part of these rankings (posted here), where we looked at the lower half of the top 10, it’s time to get into the high rent district. This edition of our Kings pre-season prospect rankings features a new number one overall, another player who climbed six spots from earlier this year and yet another who is making his list debut with a spot in the top five!
As noted in the earlier article, the final slotting of players was determined solely by MayorsManor. However, that process was influenced by dozens of conversations that have taken place in the last six months with hockey executives, coaches, scouts and even players.
MAYOR’S MANOR PROSPECT RANKINGS
5. Kevin Gravel (D) – If slow and steady wins the race, Gravel might snatch the checkered flag sooner rather than later. The yin to Derek Forbort’s yang, these two defensemen are destined to be linked for the foreseeable future. At 6-foot-4, Gravel is just a smidge shorter than his counterpart. Unlike Forbort though, Gravel wasn’t a first round draft pick and didn’t enter the Kings system with incredible hype. Instead, he was selected four rounds and more than 130 picks later. Since then, he’s been on a steady climb via old fashioned hard work. There’s no flash to his game. He shows very little offensive ability. However, what he does show is tremendous hockey IQ, defensive ability, and shot blocking.
During the Dean Lombardi era in Los Angeles, the Kings have yet to develop a homegrown defensive defenseman, as guys like Matt Greene and Robyn Regehr were brought in via trades and Willie Mitchell was signed as a free agent. Perhaps the last defensive defenseman cultivated by LA was Davis Drewiske, who was nothing more than a spare part for the Kings before being traded away last season to Montreal. Gravel is likely the one to break this trend. While he is not overly physical, his ability to use his stick to break up plays has drawn comparisons to Rob Scuderi. His skating, at times heavy footed, still allows him to move efficiently along the ice and to get away from a pressing forechecker. He also possesses the upper body strength to win battles against peers. But the true beauty of Gravel is seen in game situations, where he displays a high panic threshold. He doesn’t get rid of the puck at the first sign of pressure, and instead buys himself enough time to distribute the puck safely. Following a fantastic campaign last season, one that included his St. Cloud State team reaching the NCAA’s Frozen Four for the first time in school history, Gravel is now back on campus for his senior year – where he’s expected to take more of a leadership role with the Huskies. This will only further his ongoing metamorphosis into an NHL caliber player.
4. Nick Shore (C) – There are two fast risers in the top 10 and Shore is one of them. The most often mentioned comment when talking to people within the Kings organization about him is, ‘He’s ahead of where we thought he was coming out of school.’ As chronicled on MayorsManor earlier this summer, Lombardi targeted Shore as one of the key collegiate prospects he was going to try and sign. Not only did he get him under contract, he was willing to let the 6-foot-1 center burn the first year off his Entry Level Contract by adding him to LA’s NHL roster for a few weeks towards the end of the season. Sure, he never played a game – nor was he close to playing – but that was a rather uncharacteristic move by the normally slow and methodical GM of the Kings. And it speaks volumes to how badly they wanted him to turn pro, so the organization could take over the management of his development.
There aren’t many holes in Shore’s game, which make him a very appealing prospect. He can set up plays and finish them, as well. He’s strong in all three zones and is a smooth skater. In Dev Camp this summer, the most notable improvement to his game was his shot. The release was as fast as any of the other Manchester players who attended camp, and it generated lots of velocity. His speed carrying the puck was also as good as the other Monarchs players in camp. Shore complements his vast skill set by playing a cerebral game. If things go according to plan, he’ll start the year in Manchester as the number two center behind Linden Vey. At this point, he projects more to a third-line center in the NHL and could be the eventual replacement for Jarret Stoll.
3. Linden Vey (C) – There’s likely only one thing left for Linden Vey to do at this point, add some muscle and train his body up to NHL level standards. Kings management has been high on Vey for quite some time and several in the organization were saying ‘See, I told you so’ about his production last season (a team-leading 67 points in Manchester, fifth best in the AHL). Yes, it’s amazing what a slick center can do when given talented wingers like Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson. Don’t take that as a knock on Vey’s ability though. He’s just as responsible for the bulk of his numbers as his linemates were. For example, he continued to pile up the assists in the second half of the season, even as Toffoli was in the NHL. Also remember, he won the WHL scoring title just two years ago (46 goals and 116 points with the Medicine Hat Tigers). A pass first player, Vey shows a good understanding of the game and is dedicated to getting better. He has been used in nearly every situation for the Monarchs over the past two seasons, even spending some time at right wing his rookie year. If it wasn’t for the Kings depth at center, he conceivably could have been fighting for an NHL roster spot this month. However, he’s not ready to replace Mike Richards or Stoll at this point and his size (plus a lack of grit) would make him a less than ideal replacement for Colin Fraser on the fourth line. Another break out year in Manchester could force the issue next year though.
2. Andy Andreoff (LW) – In the immortal words of Johnny Cash, “I hear the train a comin’. It’s rollin’ ’round the bend…” and that locomotive has a big AA stamped on the front grill. Despite other players in these rankings possessing more skill in certain areas, Andreoff is one of only a small handful of players with a legitimate chance of cracking the Kings line-up this season. Destined to be a fan favorite in LA, this kid is the real deal. When Lombardi brings in a tattoo artist and asks which prospects want to be next to get the logo inked on their rear, Andreoff will be at the front of the line (Although Nick Deslauriers once told MayorsManor, ‘Andreoff is too much of a baby to get a real tattoo,’ you get the idea – and that whole thing is a story for a different day anyway).
Dustin Brown, Kyle Clifford, Andreoff, those are the three power forwards that are going to be scaring the daylights out of Pacific Division teams for years to come. However, exactly where he slots in is still a big question. Andreoff has shown an offensive touch in the past, through skill not luck, but it seems to have faded a bit in favor of more rugged play. In past camps he’s displayed some of the best individual skills compared to all other prospects, but he also pays so much attention to detail that he does every drill very well. He’s like that smart kid in school who raises his hand and answers the question before the class hears the entire question. Most notably, his shot, in both release and power, is exceptional. His skating is very good and he keeps his head up at all times when handling the puck. He’s not flashy or creative, which takes away any ‘wow’ factor, but he does all the little things that people expect from a well rounded NHL player. Like Clifford, he could ultimately end up anywhere from a second line to fourth line player in the NHL. Most likely, he’d see the majority of his time on the third line for the first few years.
1. Tanner Pearson (LW) – To properly couch expectations, he’s not number one with a bullet, but he has claimed the top spot in this year’s pre-season rankings. That’s not a put down in any way either. Even though we’re not big into NHL player comparisons for prospects, it might be warranted here as a measure of providing further clarification. Think of it this way, if Toffoli is perhaps the second coming of Luc Robitaille, Tanner Pearson could be a poor man’s Dustin Brown. The Kings first round pick at the 2012 Draft didn’t disappoint in his first year of pro hockey - and if anything, surprised a few people with how far along he really was in his development. After being passed over by NHL teams twice before and not even playing in the OHL until he was 18, Pearson’s hockey dreams looked bleak. A huge 2011-12 season for the Barrie Colts and a spot on Canada’s World Junior Championship team paid huge dividends for the left winger and have since changed his fortunes.
Pearson’s biggest asset, like Toffoli’s, is his shot. He’s also incredibly hard working and has shown good two-way play. While few of his other skills really stand out independently as stronger than the rest, he is in the top tier of prospects when measuring each individual skill. His collective attributes project as a top-6 forward – luckily enough, at a position the Kings aren’t exceedingly strong at the moment. Despite missing time earlier this year due to injury, Pearson had an excellent rookie campaign as one-third of Manchester’s ‘White Line.‘ It’s not out of the question to see him make the NHL as soon as this coming season. Pearson’s smart, puts the puck in the right places, is good on the half-wall and in the defensive zone. He also enjoys the rough stuff and will create space for his linemates by using the necessarily level of physical aggression. So, back to the analogies, he’s Toffoli’s Mike Richards in that sense. Ideally, the two will somehow end up on the same line together at some point with the Kings.
That’s it, our full 2013 pre-season rankings of the Kings Top 10 prospects.
Now the real questions begin – who will rise and who will fall in the weeks and months to come? Any thoughts?
We’ll conclude this series in the near future with a brief look at about a dozen or so players who just missed the cut this time around - including guys like JF Berube, Andrew Campbell, Nick Ebert, Nikolay Prokhorkin and Jordan Weal.
David Hofreiter and Andy Tonge also contributed comments in the preparation of this article.
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