With the Honorable Mentions and Nos. 6-10 prospects previously revealed in other articles, we’re now prepared to share the final five players making up the latest edition of our L.A. Kings Top 10 Prospect Rankings. The information below will serve as the third and final installment of our bi-annual look at the organization’s top young talent. Of course, if you somehow missed the first two articles, you may want to go back and read those real quickly and catch up.
Our multi-part look at the Kings pipeline has become some of the most popular content we produce all year because of the amount of effort that goes into gathering and preparing each write up. As mentioned previously, the slotting of players is carefully determined after extensive conversations with our key sources connected to the team – including executives, coaches, scouts and even players.
While different people around the world of hockey approach these type of rankings using a myriad of different systems and methodologies – i.e. how NHL-ready a player is, a guy’s long-term upside, who fits the team’s needs best, etc. – our rankings are based upon overall value. Put simply, all things being equal, which player would you have to have if you were another GM looking to swing a deal. Thus, these are who we view as the Kings’ most prized assets.
In part one of the series we offered key insight on the seven honorable mentions who are expected to be knocking on the door of the Top 10 soon, perhaps as early as our mid-season rankings – Patrik Bartosak, J.F. Berube, Nick Ebert, Kevin Gravel, Zac Leslie, Roland McKeown, and Nikolay Prokhorkin.
Now, we’ll complete the list of Top 10, which began with Nos. 6-10 in the second article of the series…
MAYORS MANOR 2014-15 PRE-SEASON PROSPECT RANKINGS
5 – DEREK FORBORT: Defenseman, Manchester Monarchs (1st round pick in 2010, North Dakota)
Perhaps the biggest hindrances with Forbort are that he was a first round pick and the expectations that come with that tag. Still, last season, his first as a pro, helped his stock dramatically. After concerns that his game might have plateaued a bit during the latter stages of his college career, Forbort now finds himself solidly in the top five after – what Kings management described as – the ‘remarkable transformation’ he went through last season while getting consistent input from their development staff. Although his game remains simplistic, it was a promising sign to see the solid improvement he made throughout the entire season on the Monarchs blueline, culminating in being a solid presence on the team’s backend come playoff time.
Standing 6-foot-4, the hope was that he’d eventually become a bigger, more mobile version of somebody like Rob Scuderi. He’s not as competitive or intimidating though, and that’s not going to change. He is a good skater and uses superior positioning to win defensive battles. The former North Dakota player still has desires of improving his offensive game. However, we’re not sure that’s the right idea. He has a great first pass and will chip in a few points here and there, but his bread and butter will always be on the defensive side of the puck. In the NHL, his role would be to get Slava Voynov the puck.
While he could possibly see a call-up this year under the right circumstances, Forbort is still more than full season away from becoming a serious contender for an NHL roster spot. One of the top storylines we’ll be tracking this year in Manchester is the development of Forbort vs. Kevin Gravel. Constantly compared since their draft year, as both played college hockey and for Team USA, now we’ll get the chance to see them on the same team, perhaps even paired together.
I’ll have much more on Forbort via a full feature story posting on LAKings.com next week. Read more about Forbort in a new feture story I did on him for LAKings.com here.
4 – ADRIAN KEMPE: Forward, Modo Hockey Ornskoldsvik (1st round pick in 2014, Sweden)
He just turned 18 years old last month, making him the youngest prospect in the organization. Even so, if you’re looking for a player who could possibly bypass spending two years in the AHL before making it onto the Kings roster, this is your guy… or kid, as it is. Playing against men in Sweden this season, Kempe’s overall development is ahead of schedule. He’s big, he’s heavy, he can skate, and he thinks the game really well. He just needs more direction. His hockey sense is super high and he’s ultra-competitive, so there aren’t any concerns in those areas.
Kempe also possesses skills that may be lacking throughout the organization. While the acquisitions of Jeff Carter and Marian Gaborik added speed to an NHL roster that lacked it, Kempe adds speed to a prospect pool that also finds itself lacking that dimension. Like Nikolay Prokhorkin and Valentin Zykov, Kempe plays a physical game, yet has the skill to contribute offensively. Defensively, the Swedish forward could use some work – but that’s to be expected, as the defense game is often not as important to younger players. Once he learns to channel his competitiveness (similar to how players like Slava Voynov, Tyler Toffoli, and Tanner Pearson had to learn accountability), he will be more of the complete package.
As Mark Yannetti , Kings’ Director of Amateur Scouting, told MayorsManor at the Draft, the Kings tried to trade up to get him, that’s how much they liked him. Kempe already plays a very similar style to that which the Kings play, yet “one of the fundamental areas that he probably lacks in, because of the European game the way it is, is the puck protection preached in LA and in Manchester is not there. The foundation and the fundamentals aren’t there, the will and the skill and the ability are there for him to do it, but the fundamentals and the foundations aren’t there [yet].”
Even before he likely lands in the AHL next season, Kempe is in good hands. His current team, Modo, is the same club that helped develop players such as Peter Forsberg, Markus Naslund, and the Sedin twins. Not that it helped him in the rankings, but in a fun trivia note, prior to the draft, Kempe listed his favorite player as Marian Gaborik.
3 – NICK SHORE: Center, Manchester Monarchs (3rd round pick in 2011, University of Denver)
Few young players have impressed coach Darryl Sutter as much as Shore. And the same can probably said about the team’s development staff, who have been raving about the center since he turned pro in 2013 following his junior year of college. While most of the prospects ranked in the top five have discernible skills that merit their rank, it is the overall game that lands Shore so highly. What sets him apart is his ability to play mistake-free hockey. The Colorado native will never win a scoring trophy at the professional level, thus his defensive prowess is what will most likely lead to NHL success. Though he can contribute offensively, possessing a solid wrist shot and good vision, Shore was once labeled as a bit of an enigma by former Monarchs coach Mark Morris. At times, Shore tends to force a pass, instead of opting to shoot the puck himself.
Entering this season, he’ll look to not repeat the slow start of last season, where he had only two goals and two assists over the first 15 games. Similar to Jarret Stoll’s reputation as a solid two-way player, Shore too possesses skills in the faceoff circle. You can pencil him in as a future third-line center in Los Angeles, and expect him to make the Kings roster next season, and possibly even earn a call-up this year if the proper scenario arose.
2 – BRAYDEN McNABB: Defenseman, Los Angeles Kings (3rd round pick by Buffalo in 2009, WHL)
Normally, once we deem a player to have graduated to the Kings roster, he is removed from the prospect rankings. However, McNabb is a unique case as our rankings were tabulated prior to the NHL season starting, and he had yet to even debut with the team. His slotting in at No. 2 certainly has nothing to do with what he’s done in his first few games with the big club. In fact, avid readers of MayorsManor have been plugged into this kid since we first broke the news of the Kings acquiring him from the Sabres last spring. As we’ve repeated many times, the Kings had him rated as the best defenseman not in the NHL over the past two seasons. Hence the reason they were willing to trade two of their top 10 prospects – Hudson Fasching and Nic Deslauriers – to get him.
Further, the plan coming into the year was to give him every opportunity to earn the second-pairing spot alongside Slava Voynov. And why not? Back in his junior hockey days, in the annual poll among players, management, coaches, and broadcasters, McNabb was voted the second-best defensive-defenseman, second-best offensive-defenseman, and deemed to have the hardest shot. For as good as he already is, it’s downright scary to think how much better he will become as the Kings development staff has a chance to properly groom him. Like we said last month, when noting the Kings problems on defense, that group has had to spend just as much time deprogramming him from what he learned (or didn’t learn) in the Sabres organization, as they have teaching him the finer points of the defensive system used under assistant coach John Stevens.
On top of his skills, GM Dean Lombardi and his staff were hot to obtain McNabb’s services from Buffalo in large part because they didn’t have any prospect like him who was ready to step into the NHL. Much to their satisfaction, he hasn’t had any real struggles fitting into the organization thus far. Almost immediately, McNabb was playing top-pair minutes for their AHL affiliate in Manchester. Boasting a slap shot that has been clocked at over 100 MPH, he now brings a constant threat on the point that the Kings have lacked for some time. That isn’t the only scary weapon he possesses either, as McNabb is more than capable of delivering bone-shattering hits. Defensively, he is solid positionally, especially in front of the net, though he still can touch up some small details in his game to make him a more effective player. While his skating has improved over the years, there is also still room for growth in that department, as well. McNabb has the potential to be a huge minutes-eater, and that’s exactly what they’ll need him to be, moving forward.
1 – VALENTIN ZYKOV: Forward, Baie-Comeau Drakkar (2nd round pick in 2013, QMHL)
There is no easier way to say it, other than the Kings brass love this kid even more than they thought they did when they traded three assets to move up in the draft and select him last year. Knowing his skills are already off the charts and another year of junior hockey may not have been the best thing for him, several options were explored before he finally returned to the QMJHL this season. In the end, he was caught in that gray area, where he probably should be with the Monarchs, similar to what Brayden Schenn went though many years ago (although the circumstances aren’t exactly the same), but the rules won’t allow it.
We’re not even 10 games into the season yet, and he has already recoded a five point game (two goals, three assists) for Baie-Comeau Drakkar. This year, he’ll look to build upon his point totals from the past two campaigns, where he’s gone from 1.12 points-per-game in his draft year up to 1.19 points-per-game last season. Mature beyond his 19 years, the 2012-13 CHL Rookie of the Year has an inner drive that will likely carry him to many future accolades. His work ethic alone makes him a coach’s dream, and is something the Kings development staff is already infatuated with.
This isn’t your grandpappy’s Russian forward. Forget any preconceived notions you may have; Zykov is a banger. Already a husky 6-foot-1 at more than 205 lbs, he plays a puck possession game that should eventually help him thrive in the Kings system, while also showing physicality and pure goal scoring ability. Skilled on both the left and right wings, Zykov can just as easily beat defenders with a nice deke as he can drive to the net and bury a rebound. When his team made it to the QMJHL finals last season, he maintained a point-per-game clip for the second straight post-season, showing when given the proper ice time, he can deliver when it matters most.
In a feature story I did on Zykov for LAKings.com last season, Kings executives Mike Futa and Nelson Emerson openly gushed over the kid’s ability to brighten a room with his fun-loving attitude and marveled at his commitment to becoming the best player possible. He’s the real deal and will be the next high-end forward to emerge from the Kings’ prospect pool.
If you missed any of the previous articles in this series, they are linked below for your reference.
5 OTHER MUST-READ ARTICLES:
Our Manchester Monarchs correspondent Andy Tonge also contributed comments in the preparation of this article. Follow @AndyTonge1
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