Your patience is about to be rewarded.
After sitting on pins and needles, waiting to get an update on the LA Kings top prospects, we’re back. Fear not, oh loyal readers; we haven’t let you down in the past and our staff is not about to start now. That’s right, it’s finally time for our highly anticipated look at the LA Kings Top 10 Prospect Rankings.
If you’re unfamiliar with this list, for nearly seven seasons now this content has become a vital source of player information, as nobody outside the Kings organization talks to more coaches, scouts, and General Managers about the LA’s top prospects on a regular basis than MayorsManor.
From listing Martin Jones and Jake Muzzin as the team’s top two prospects way back in 2011 – ahead of more heralded guys like Andrei Loktionov and first round pick Thomas Hickey – to being spot on with the early information we shared about Tyler Toffoli, Tanner Pearson, Kevin Gravel, Brayden McNabb and dozens of others, this process isn’t always about who is the most skilled or has put up the most points. It is also about where – or if – each player fits into LA’s future plans.
As such, our bi-annual rankings of players in the Kings pipeline has become some of the most popular content we produce each year because of the amount of effort that goes into gathering and preparing the write-ups. Additionally, the final slotting of players is influenced by hundreds of hours of game action and debating the team’s prospects with a myriad of well-respected hockey people, including our key sources inside the Kings organization.
In a little more than 12 months, a plethora of changes have taken place throughout the Kings system – including prospects moving up, sliding down, and a few being traded (Jordan Weal and Valentin Zykov); not to mention those whose have graduated to full-time NHL status (Gravel and Derek Forbort), as well as goaltender Patrik Bartosak returning to Europe. Of course, this has led to a massive shakeup in the rankings.
As we always do, we’ll begin with a list of six Honorable Mentions before kicking off our countdown of the Kings top 10 prospects in subsequent articles.
HONORABLE MENTION (in alphabetical order, no ranking assigned)
ERIK CERNAK: Defenseman, OHL Erie Otters (2nd round pick in 2015, Slovakia)
He received some valuable exposure in the 2017 World Junior Championship, one of the rare players to suit up for the tournament four straight years. While Slovakia didn’t have a great showing in the annual winter event, Cernak being named captain speaks well of his development. The hulking bluelliner sports seven assists and a plus-11 rating thus far in this season and will be looking to help the Otters go on another deep playoff run this spring. Down the road, the big Slovak is still a big-time contender for an eventual roster spot with the Kings. The more immediate question is he will make a big jump to the AHL next season or stay for an over-age season in the OHL.
From past scouting reports: On paper, and standing still, he looks like the real deal. Physically, think of Kyle Clifford when he came to his first training camp with the team – ripped and cut, with a hard body, far beyond his actual years. Still as a teenager, Cernak is a physical freak, as big and strong as someone twice his age.
ZAC LESLIE: Defenseman, Ontario Reign (6th round pick in 2013, OHL)
Leslie’s OHL career didn’t end on a highnote, as he needed shoulder surgery. For some players, it can take at least a full season before they completely put that behind them, sometimes even just mentally. Last year proved to be that rebound season for the two-way defenseman, as he often found himself bouncing in and out of the Reign lineup. By contrast, Leslie has secured a more stable role in Ontario this season, skating in 32 contests, missing just two games thus far. He is also takes regular shifts on the Reign powerplay and his increased playtime has led to more production. At 16 points, he has already more than tripled his total from last season. Overall, he has taken huge strides, largely thought the additional playing time he is receiving following Forbort and Gravel moving up to the Kings. More importantly, Leslie is getting the consistent playing time he needs to properly develop in Ontario. In a nutshell, this 22-year-old defender does a solid job in the offensive zone and is still working on his defensive zone play.
From past scouting reports: He isn’t necessarily great in any aspects, but is good in many of them.
ALEX LINTUNIEMI: Defenseman, Ontario Reign (2nd round pick in 2014, OHL)
This Finnish defender would likely be higher on this list had a wrist injury not kept him out for nearly half of last season, where he was a member of the ECHL Manchester Monarchs. Lintumiemi’s development has continued this year in Ontario, yet he still needs to show people that he has a future in the Kings organization and not allow other people to pass him over on the depth charts. The towering 21-year-old has showed his range and skating ability in 19 contests thus far, notching just three points. The injury bug has bit him a few more times this season, yet it hasn’t been substantial. As one of his coaches put it to us, ‘Lintu works hard and has made progress when it comes to being a pro. He’s in a very similar boat to many young players, in that they need to figure out what it takes mentally and physically to make the NHL. Some do and some don’t.’ We’ll lean toward an optimistic angle here, stating he’s starting to get it and should break out of the Honorable Mention pack the next time rankings are published.
From past scouting reports: He hasn’t bought into the Kings workout program as quickly and with as much conviction as we would like. You only have to look around the LA locker room and see how guys like Toffoli, Pearson, and Carter have transformed their bodies to understand the huge impact it can have on a player’s game. Unfortunately, Lintuniemi just hasn’t gotten the message yet. … Lintuniemi skates well for his size, has an underrated transition game, and can play a physical game. One of the key reasons his on-ice game is so appealing is that there aren’t any glaring deficiencies. … Offensively, the potential isn’t great, but his all-around game suggests the possibilities of him developing into a regular, top-4 defenseman in the NHL are still very good.
CHAZ REDDEKOPP: Defenseman, Victoria Royals (7th round pick in 2015, WHL)
Although this is a name that might surprise some to show up here, several in Kings management commented on his play this season. He has done what every 7th rounder needs to do if they want to ever dress for an NHL game – progress. Currently in his fourth season of junior hockey, Reddekopp has improved his scoring each year, and has already topped his 2015-16 numbers despite having over 30 games left to play in the year. In fact, he has been on quite a tear this season, notching 35 points in just 40 games. Earlier in the season, Reddekopp went on a run where he produced 14 points in 11 games. This offensive growth is a good sign for his development. Tremendous size continues to be his biggest asset; listed at a whopping 6-foot-4 and 220 pounds. The young defender’s growth will likely continue next year as he turns pro, however don’t be surprised if that growth means a pit stop in the ECHL along the way.
DAMIR SHARIPZYANOV: Defenseman, Ontario Reign (free agent signing, OHL)
Somehow, he slipped through the NHL Draft unclaimed, much to the delight of the Kings staff. Sharipzyanov played for the Owen Sound Attack (Mike Futa’s former team), so to think he wasn’t on the Kings radar all along would likely be a bit foolish. LA brass was so impressed with the kid they signed him to a three-year Entry Level Contract in 2015. Not many undrafted prospects earn that kind of commitment. Now a first-year pro, he has split time between ECHL Manchester and AHL Ontario. Sharipzyanov is a defenseman who makes few mistakes in his own zone, while having a good first pass. His offensive game will likely never be anything to write home about, yet Sharpie – as he is commonly known throughout the organization – is just 20 years of age, leaving him plenty of time to mature on and off the ice. Additionally, he should benefit from being in Ontario, where he will get coaching and development support; plus a valuable education from Mike Stothers, which should help him immensely. Most nights, Sharipzianov has also had the luxury of spending time next to Vinny LoVerde, Ontario’s captain and veteran leader.
SPENCER WATSON: Right Wing, Mississauga Steelheads (7th round pick in 2014, OHL)
Some people in Dean Lombardi’s inner circle really light up when talking about this London, Ontario native. At first glance, you wouldn’t think a 5-foot-11 winger (listed as 5-foot-9 not that long ago) taken near the end of the Draft would have a shot at being mentioned here. However, after missing the first two months of the season due to injury, he is putting up about a goal per game since returning to the lineup. This isn’t just some short-term burt either. Watson is coming off of a big season – posting 89 points (43 goals) in 64 games – and is posted to make the most of his final year in juniors. On the ice, he is creative, shifty, and knows how to score. He hasn’t notched less than 40 points in any of his previous OHL seasons. The Kingston Frontenacs moved him to the Mississauga Steelheads (where he is now teammates with another Kings prospect, Jacob Moverare) earlier this year, receiving four draft picks in return. Who knows how much higher up our rankings he would have been able to make it had it not been for starting the first half of the season on the shelf. Like the Kings front office, we’ll -reevaluate over the summer and see how is game has rounded out. Watson will likely start next season with AHL Ontario.
As always, many thanks to the numerous hockey sources who contribute to this series – especially Andy Tonge, our longtime correspondent, and Cody Warner, who has been covering the Ontario Reign since the AHL arrived in California. Their ongoing input regarding players at the AHL level continues to be invaluable throughout this process. Do yourself a favor and give them both a follow on Twitter right now.
If you missed any of the previous articles in this series, click here to catch up.
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