LA Kings 2014-15 Midseason Prospect Rankings: No. 6-10

Auger-Justin-Monarchs-Kings xYesterday, we rolled out the initial article in our three-part series looking at the midseason updates to the LA Kings top 10 prospects list. Already served up were three honorable mentions – defensemen Kevin Gravel, Alex Lintuniemi, and Roland McKeown. Now, we’ll get into the players who secured No. 6-10 in the rankings.

As a reminder, these bi-annual rankings provide some of the most popular content we produce each year because of the amount of effort that goes into gathering and preparing the evaluations. Nobody outside the Kings organization talks to more coaches, scouts, and general managers about the team’s top prospects on a regular basis than MayorsManor. The final slotting of players is influenced by hundreds of hours of game action and debating the prospects with a myriad of well-respected hockey people, including our key sources inside the team.

MAYORS MANOR 2014-15 MIDSEASON PROSPECT RANKINGS

10. JUSTIN AUGER: Forward, Manchester Monarchs (4th round pick in 2013, OHL)

Auger is one of the biggest surprises on this year’s list. He was originally expected to go back to the OHL this season. Comments shared with MayorsManor previoulsy included “He didn’t do enough to earn his way to the AHL” and “His numbers were bad, his production was bad, and his effort was bad.” If you’ve been paying attention the last few years, the Kings simply won’t tolerate guys who don’t compete. Thus, it raised a few eyebrows when a few crucial people in the Kings Development Staff became huge cheerleaders for Auger over the summer. They gave upper management extremely positive reviews of his time at last July’s Development Camp – including saying he was one of the hardest working guys among the group of prospects. Then, that praise continued during Rookie Camp. Coming into Manchester’s camp with Guelph Storm teammates Zac Leslie and Nick Ebert, Auger was the one who was likely to be cut before the other two. Not only did he make the Monarchs team, but he burst onto the scene, playing dominant hockey to start the season.

Though his offense has cooled in recent weeks, it was to be expected, as continuing the point-pace he set early in the year wasn’t realistic over a 76-game season. Standing 6-foot-7, Auger uses every inch of his body to play a strong game. Though he isn’t the biggest hitter, no one can criticize him for not using his size. Auger dominates along the boards and in front of the net, and has shown he can finish at times. While his top-end skill is lacking, his overall package makes him a legitimate NHL prospect. If he can keep up his mindset, it’s going to be hard for him not to play in the NHL.

9. PAUL LaDUE: Defenseman, University of North Dakota (6th round pick in 2012, USHL)

Now a sophomore at one of the nation’s elite college hockey programs, LaDue continues to be a top-pairing defenseman for UND head coach Dave Hakstol. Although he missed some time back in November after taking a puck off his ankle, the 6-foot-2 blueliner has been playing consistent minutes and looked no worse for wear. He is on pace to replicate his numbers from last season (six goals, 15 assists), but we would have hoped for a slight tick up in each category. While he isn’t super elite in any specific area, he’s good at everything – and that’s without any real pro structure to his game via guys like Mike O’Connell and Nelson Emerson in the Kings Developmental Group.

During the pre-season, we nabbed him a sleeper, who was flying below the radar. Not much has changed in that regard, while we remain extremely high on his potential of developing into a Willie Mitchell-type player for the Kings. Like Alec Martinez, LaDue plays a strong transition game and is very subtle in what he does on the ice. In a feature story I did on LaDue for LAKings.com last season we looked into his maturity on and off the ice. Now, we expect him to leave school at the end of this season and officially turn pro. He will thrive as a member of the Monarchs next season.

8. J.F. BERUBE: Goaltender, Manchester Monarchs (4th round pick in 2009, QMJHL)

You really have to hand it to Berube. He has seemingly been counted out – or at the very least doubted – a number of times, yet he just keeps proving people wrong. After originally being sent to the ECHL’s Ontario Reign when he first turned pro, Berube was thrust into the starting role in Manchester last year when Martin Jones was called up to the Kings. By now, the results more than speak for themselves. He is near the top of the AHL in goal against average (1.19) and leads the league with 19 wins in 26 games played.

A fundamental goalie in the same vein as former King Jonathan Bernier, Berube has excellent positioning and techniques. His angles are top notch and he plays right at the top of his crease, ideal for a goalie of his nature. Berube is athletic and possesses a quick glove hand, which he flashes often, robbing players of sure-fire goals. The biggest hole in Berube’s game is that pucks still find a way to squeeze through him on occasion, even when he gets a piece of it. Fortunately, this is a fixable flaw that should be correctable. One scout was quick to add that Berube’s career path should at least be further advanced than former Kings prospect Jeff Zatkoff, feeling that the French Canadian has a stronger mental game. Thus, at the very least, Berube should be capable of blossoming into very capable, full-time NHL back-up. Kim Dillabaugh, from the Kings Player Development group. detailed Berube’s skill set and potential in this feature story I penned for LAKings.com late last season.

The real fork in the road for his possible Kings career will come this summer. Because he would have to pass through waivers to go back to the AHL next season, a decision must be made on the 23-year-old netminder. Will the Kings create a roster spot for him in Los Angeles? Will they trade him, attempting to get a return on their asset? Or will they simply roll the dice coming out of training camp? As of this writing, it is still too early to tell. Stay tuned.

7. JORDAN WEAL: Center, Manchester Monarchs (3rd round pick in 2010, WHL)

We could sing the praises of Weal all day long, yet the fact remains he is an outlier in the Kings system. Not by any of the usual metrics used to evaluate a player, but in simply how the team has been built under GM Dean Lombardi. The enigmatic center, fresh off a training camp where he was among the last forwards cut, has had an interesting year in the AHL. While last season he usually played second-fiddle to the likes of Tyler Toffoli, Tanner Pearson, and Linden Vey, Weal was always one of the better players, game in and game out. However, even with the three aforementioned players departed from Manchester, Weal now still seems to be a step below prospects like Nick Shore, despite being the more seasoned player. Nevertheless, he is a flashy and dynamic player with a tremendous skillset and superior vision. We covered his skills in-depth with our pre-season comments here.

Weal is currently on pace to match his 23 goals and 70 points posted last year. Despite being the player Kings management tried to call-up earlier this season (but were prevented from doing so due to salary cap issues), we just don’t see him having a spot on the team come October. Like Vey before him, Weal will almost surely be dealt at the 2015 NHL Draft, if not sooner. Don’t misunderstand that to have anything to do with his talent. With his skills and capabilities, he could be a starter for at least 15 other teams in the NHL right now.

6. NIC DOWD: Center, Manchester Monarchs (7th round pick in 2009, USHL)

If, or more likely when, Dowd makes it to the NHL, mainstream media are going to fall in love with his back story. This is a guy who was the Kings last selection at the 2009 Draft. Further, he’s from Huntsville, Ala., which is about as far off the hockey map as you will find in North America. Even before being named one of three finalists for the Hobey Baker Award (college hockey’s top individual prize) last spring, other NHL teams were already calling to check on his availability before the trade deadline. While Shore and Weal have taken the majority of spotlight in Manchester this season, Dowd has quietly shined during his rookie campaign with the Monarchs.

Defensively, he has been the second best forward on the team behind Shore. Further, Dowd’s tremendous [hockey] IQ has allowed him to set up plays for his teammates. He has also chipped in offensively, but will need to get the puck off his stick quicker. This isn’t college anymore, so he no longer has that extra second to try and pick corners with every shot. His work ethic and defensive efforts are to be commended. He still isn’t where he needs to be physically, though. Off the ice, he has a much different build than nearly every other player in the top 10. It probably won’t be a one year fix either for him to reach NHL strength. This issue occasionally manifests itself during a game, when his execution doesn’t always match his effort (or thought process) because he’s just not strong enough to make the play or position himself to make the play. However, he has made steady progression and if his development continues the way it has, and he has a summer where he gets stronger, you could see him move a couple of spots. When his physical tools and strength reach his intellect, watch out. Former NHL forward Nelson Emerson, now a key member of the Kings Player Development group, had some very interesting comments about Dowd in a feature story I did on him for LAKings.com last season, linked here.

In the third and final article, we’ll reveal the coveted top five prospects, including a player who was not even ranked previously and the No. 1 player overall. Until then, for a look back at some of our other critical prospect articles, please see the links below.

As always, we would also like to pass along many thanks to the plethora of hockey sources who contribute to this series – especially Andy Tonge, our writer covering the Manchester Monarchs. His ongoing input regarding players at the AHL level is invaluable. Do yourself a favor and give him a follow on Twitter right now.

UPDATE: The Top 5 Prospects article has been posted here.

3 MUST-READ ARTICLES:

LA Kings 2014-15 Midseason Prospect Rankings – Honorable Mentions

PICS: JF Berube’s new mask pays tribute to LA Kings legends

AHL West: Kings Preparing To Move Top Prospects To SoCal in October 2015

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