Finally, the wait is over. With the Honorable Mentions and Nos. 6-10 prospects previously revealed in other articles, we are now prepared to share the final five players making up the latest edition of our L.A. Kings Top 10 Prospect Rankings.
If you somehow missed the first two articles, you may want to go back and read those real quickly and catch up. There, we outlined the process for ranking players – including extensive conversations with our key sources connected to the team. We’re quite confident that 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.
Please note, all midseason rankings were calibrated earlier this month – before Mike Richards was put on waivers, prior to Nick Shore making his NHL debut, and certainly before Colin Miller won the hardest slap shot and fastest skater completions at last weekend’s AHL All Star Game. Truthfully, if you’ve been following us on Twitter this season, the top three here should not come as any real surprise.
In part one of the series we offered key insight on three honorable mentions who are expected to be knocking on the door of the Top 10 soon. That was followed up with a detailed review of Nos. 6-10 on the list. Now, we offer up the top five players…
MAYORS MANOR 2014-15 MIDSEASON PROSPECT RANKINGS
5. COLIN MILLER: Defenseman, Manchester Monarchs (5th round pick in 2012, OHL)
While he isn’t the top-rated guy on this list, Miller has likely shown the most growth of any prospect over the past 12 months. He is finally embracing what the Kings Development Group is offering and it is slowly becoming second nature. Last season, he was hesitant to listen and/or employ the coaching being given. At the very least, when things broke down, he was quick to abandon the lessons and revert to what he’d learned earlier in his career. As one scout put it, “Until you are completely conditioned to do things a certain way, you’ll go back to the previous way you are conditioned to do it.” Some in the organization were disappointed in his progress last season, as they expected him to define himself as a true prospect among the defensemen. It didn’t happen because he simply didn’t do what he was supposed to. What a difference a year makes, though.
Miller remains a fluid and smooth skater, but his overall transformation is not complete just yet. He still needs to simplify his game just a bit. Gone are the struggles to get shots through in the offensive zone, as Miller now is more patient and intelligent when firing his cannon of a slap shot. On the power play, he has been a lethal weapon for the Monarchs, threatening to score nearly every time he chooses to shoot, rather than pass. Perhaps even more important than his offensive growth are the steps he’s taken in his own zone, where he is much more responsible now. Miller also has that uber confidence all great players have. He thinks he can do whatever, whenever on the ice. Drew Doughty and Slava Voynov play with that same swagger. In terms of overall package, he is still a notch behind the player listed next, but the gap is closing and a late season call-up is not out of the question under the right circumstance.
4. DEREK FORBORT: Defenseman, Manchester Monarchs (1st round pick in 2010, North Dakota)
After years of question marks, Forbort has cemented his spot near the top of our prospects list, and is one step away from being a NHL player. His transformation after just one year of pro hockey speaks volumes about his skills, as well as the impact the Kings Development Group can have on young players. Forbort now plays with much more poise. Criticized for his lack of a physical edge – specifically attributed to the fact he is 6-foot-4 – Forbort has found a nice balance between being a finesse defenseman and one who uses his great size to punish people at times. Don’t misread that comment. He is not a ‘crash and bang’ type player, but does not avoid contact either.
His positioning is strong and his transition game is top-notch. Scouts will often comment that he plays long and they are consistently impressed with his poke check. Offensively, Forbort will likely max out as a 30-point defenseman during the prime of his NHL career, but he isn’t completely devoid of offensive skill. More so, Forbort is shaping up to being someone who could possibly become a quiet leader – somebody who sets an example on the ice, battling hard, game in and game out. To completely round out his game, he’ll need to continue to remain poised in pressure situations. After making a bad decision, Forbort occasionally becomes hurried and rushes the play. This occurs less often now and we do not expect it not to be a major issue moving forward. He remains the Kings most NHL-ready defenseman among blueline prospects. Barring a trade to another team (which isn’t likely at this point), he should compete for a roster spot in training camp next season.
3. VALENTIN ZYKOV: Forward, Gatineau Olympiques (2nd round pick in 2013, QMHL)
Pump the brakes before you jump to any conclusions here. Sure, the pre-season No. 1 ranked player hasn’t had the year he hoped for. However, there is absolutely no reason to panic when it comes to Zykov. He remains one of the three “untouchables” when speaking with Kings’ management. As we reported last month, the Russian forward was recently dealt to the Gatineau Olympiques by his Quebec-league team after missing more than a month of action with a hernia injury. During that time on the shelf, he missed his chance to play for his country in the World Junior Championship, including the gold medal game against Canada.
All healed and now playing again, this will most likely be Zykov’s last season of major junior hockey. Although he could return to the QMJHL for one more year, it is not very likely. Expect to see him playing in the AHL starting in October (or earlier if Gatineau doesn’t go on a deep post-season run this spring). Zykov possesses a plethora of skills that the Kings desire, most notably his off-the-charts compete level. The primary difference between being slotted No. 2 versus 3 on this list is his overall game. Despite being the older player and selected a year earlier in the draft, Zykov isn’t quite the complete player that Adrian Kempe is, at least not yet. That isn’t a knock, but more a reflection of the league he plays in and the talent level he competes against on a nightly basis. Thus, like many before him, you would expect a dramatic improvement once he moves over to the American league. It’s all part of the process. And remember, like we’ve noted plenty of times in the past, this is not our average Russian player. Zykov is something special.
2. ADRIAN KEMPE: Forward, Modo Hockey Ornskoldsvik (1st round pick in 2014, Sweden)
Stuck playing on a bad team in Sweden, Kempe is making the most of it. He has already surpassed his point total from last season and continues to show positive momentum in his progress. Also, don’t discount the value of him coming to Los Angeles for Development Camp last July. Just 17 years old at the time, Kempe was hungry for the knowledge imparted. Similar to players like Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson at similar points in their development path, Kempe was yearning for some direction, as well. Impressive at the recent World Junior Championship, where he scored four power play goals and chipped in with four assists, scouts say he didn’t elevate his game. He’s that good, all the time.
The Kings studied Kempe extensively before the draft and knew him from all angles. They already believed his hockey sense was quite good, now they’ve become equally impressed with the new dimension shown in his offensive game. Kempe is no longer just tactical in his approach to the game, as he is starting to show his creativity on the ice. Like a young Wayne Simmonds, Kempe is shaping up to be even more than what he was projected to be on draft day. Standing 6-foot-1, Kempe is a strong player with speed, who has a mixture of power-forward and playmaker in him. Rich with desirable tools, he has an edge to him, there’s a bit of dirt there.
Kempe often demonstrates a belief on the ice that he can do just about anything he wants. Conversely, that thinking can come with a price off the ice when it comes to preparing like a pro. Which brings us back to last summer; the trip to LA was a good first step toward him learning what it will take to make it to the NHL. His arrival is still a ways off, as he will most likely play in Sweden next season and then spend at least one additional year in the AHL. The Kings have no plans to fast track him (or any other prospect) to the NHL. Further, unlike what the Maple Leafs recently did with William Nylander, they weren’t worried about leaving him in Sweden this season. He’s playing in a high-level league with older players, where you have to be a little more accountable. They believe this will help him become a more complete player before he finally arrives in North America.
1. NICK SHORE: Center, Manchester Monarchs (3rd round pick in 2011, University of Denver)
In his second pro season, Nick Shore has far and away been the most impressive prospect in the Kings’ system. Coming out of college, he was pegged as a future third-line center at the NHL level. While that is still true for the foreseeable future in LA, his offensive potential may need to be examined under new light after his season to-date. Not only did Shore lead the Monarchs in goals with 20 markers in 38 games prior to his call-up, but he was also tied for the AHL lead in the weeks prior. This isn’t just about points, though. Last season, Shore often tried to force plays and was occasionally criticized for passing up on quality scoring chances, clearly showing the desire to be a playmaker first. A year later, Shore’s offense seems much more natural and he has allowed himself to fire more pucks at the net, resulting in great success. His defensive ability and prowess in the faceoff circle remains top notch, as well.
Long penciled in as Jarret Stoll’s replacement on the Kings, it now looks like he will be Richards’ replacement. It will be interesting to see how LA bench boss Darryl Sutter uses Shore the rest of this season. He is notoriously hard on young players, feeling they need to properly earn their stripes. However, unlike with Toffoli and Pearson in recent years, Sutter has often praised Shore. As we noted in our pre-season rankings, few young players have impressed the coach as much as Shore. His ability to routinely play mistake-free hockey should get him increased ice time heading into the final stretch of the season.
If you have missed any of our other recent prospect articles – including player profiles for LAKings.com – see below for some valuable links.
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.
5 OTHER MUST-READ ARTICLES:
Derek Forbort: Sticking to the Plan (LAKings.com feature story)
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