The wait is over; it’s time to reveal the top two players on our 2017 Mid-Season Prospect Rankings. Which player has earned the coveted No. 1 spot?
As we finish off this multi-part series, we’ll begin with a thank you to all those who study our rankings. These articles continue to provide some of the most popular content we produce each year, largely due to the amount of effort that goes into gathering and preparing the evaluations. We’re confident 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.
If you’re just now tuning in, here are links to the detailed scouting reports for your reference:
Honorable Mentions – Erik Cernak, Zac Leslie, Alex Lintuniemi, Chaz Reddekopp, Damir Sharipzyanov, and Spencer Watson
10. Jacob Moverare
8. Justin Auger
5. Mike Amadio
4. Kale Clague
2. PAUL LaDUE: Defenseman, Ontario Reign (6th round pick, North Dakota)
His recent call-up is not a major surprise. According to our sources, the February timing was part of a plan all along, provided that LaDue put in the work prescribed coming out of attending training camp with the Kings earlier this season. In fact, this has been a fairly common theme for the organization, look no further than the February call-ups for Michael Mersch and Kevin Gravel (2016); Derek Forbort (2015); plus Tanner Pearson (2014).
After spending several seasons largely as an under-the-radar prospect, LaDue is undoubtedly the Kings best defensive prospect. Readers here are already accustomed to us singing the praises of this former college hockey blueliner. Going back to October 2014, we had already placed him in our Top 10 rankings and tabbed him as the guy you wanted to watch. Kings management was salivating to get him into the fold by the summer of 2015; however LaDue opted to return to college for his junior season – a decision that he agonized over. It ultimately paid off, though, as he won the national championship with North Dakota last year. And, ironically –perhaps even fittingly – the same building where he achieved his greatest hockey moment to date is also where he is likely to make his NHL debut.
How about this… If Paul LaDue debuts on Tue vs TBL, that's the building where he won the national championship last season w/ @UNDmhockey
— The Mayor John Hoven (@mayorNHL) February 5, 2017
UND dressed in the visitors room at the Frozen Four last year, too. Would be pretty cool for him to walk back in there for NHL debut. https://t.co/ZeRzKtmrZR
— Brad E. Schlossman (@SchlossmanGF) February 5, 2017
A well-rounded defenseman, LaDue is as solid as they come. He’s a man of many talents, despite not overly shining in any single aspect; rather being strong in almost every facet of the game. Sometimes, players struggle when stepping up to the next level. LaDue has had no such issues adapting his game to the pro ranks, as he’s nearly matched his point totals from last season in college, despite playing five fewer AHL games. He is not a conventional prospect either, in that he’s 24 years old right now. Meaning, he is further down the development curve than most of his counterparts on the Reign. With Kevin Gravel in Los Angeles, LaDue has become the guy, along with Vincent LoVerde, who is used in all situations by Ontario Coach Mike Stothers. His hockey IQ is great and he consistently makes the smart play and also is aware enough to make the riskier play when needed. Further, LaDue is the true definition of a two-way defenseman; something on display every night during his college days, where he was trusted to play in all situations. He has a great transition game and can help contribute offensively, yet he’s also a strong positional defender in his own zone. It is not inconceivable to categorize LaDue as the best defensive prospect the Kings have seen since Drew Doughty.
While this may seem like a bit too much, or even too soon, it is more likely just the beginning for LaDue. He continues to play with the confidence of a player many years his senior, something that will serve to help his jump to the NHL. Since the departure of Slava Voynov a few summers ago, the LA blueline has ceased to be the same. LaDue should slide in as the long-awaited replacement to the team’s former anchor on their second pairing. Which is why, as we have noted several times recently, LaDue is nearly untouchable when it comes to trades being considered by GM Dean Lombardi. That’s not to say it’s impossible (we all know the adage, even Wayne Gretzky was traded); but more to the point that it would have to be an overpayment of epic proportions to pry him from the pipeline. This label is not something we throw around lightly either. We used it with Toffoli a few years ago, when people wanted to connect the dots and throw him into trade talks – while all of our internal sources laughed at the mere suggestion. The same thing went with a pair of players last season. And now with LaDue. At the very least, know this; LaDue’s recent call-up was not to showcase him for a trade.
1. ADRIAN KEMPE: Forward, Ontario Reign (1st round pick, MODO – Sweden)
Since winning their first Stanley Cup in 2012, the Kings have retained only two of their first round draft picks. Those selections were used on Tanner Pearson (2012) and Kempe (2014). That alone holds value to the organization and partially explains their steadfast interest in keeping both players as part of the ‘next’ core. However, there is much more to the story when looking at the latter’s development and long-term future with the club. Certainly, Kempe is a versatile forward, capable of playing both wing and center, and possesses tremendous straight line speed along with a terrific work ethic. He plays a 200-foot game and remains a prime contender for his first call-up to the big club any minute now.
As we have noted in the past, Kempe was always more likely to have a full-time NHL role next season. However, that hasn’t stopped some from raising concern with Kempe’s production this year, where he has posted a meager 19 points in 40 contests. However, it is easy to forget that Kempe is still only 20-years-old and continues to grow every day. His game away from the puck has progressed leaps and bounds since jetting over from Europe during the Manchester Monarch’s 2015 Calder Cup win – and one should never discount his contributions to that playoff run, despite only having three games of pro experience in North America before posting eight goals in 17 postseason games.
He turned in a decent rookie campaign for Ontario in 2015-16, scoring 11 goals and adding 17 assists. Kempe also represented Sweden at the prestigious World Junior Championships, where he was arguably his team’s best player – scoring eight points, including two game winning goals, in the tournament. At his best, Kempe is a player who has the puck on the stick, moving into the offensive zone, where his speed is off putting and forces opposing defenses to give him an extra step. Often times, the downside to giving him a step is that Kempe is a sniper by trade, wielding a release that haunts the dreams of opposing goaltenders. His 11 goals in Ontario this season are second only to Jonny Brodzinski. Even so, Kempe doesn’t seem to be playing at his peak just yet.
There isn’t another player with Kempe’s combination of size, speed and scoring expertise anywhere on the Kings payroll, save for a healthy Jeff Carter. The question, though, has never been about whether or not Kempe possessed the tools to do the job. Rather, it has been unclear as to whether or not he is ready to perform game-in and game-out at the NHL level. No doubt, he had a rough start to his 2016-17 campaign, as evidenced by his low point production. Still, he has been playing much better of late, piling up points in the process and remains one of the more explosive players on the Reign roster. Already possessing NHL skating ability, Kempe is among the fastest members in the Kings organization and holds a strong shot – boosted by his confidence to use it when opportunity arises. Like many elite Swedish players, he has a strong vision on the ice and is capable of making extremely difficult passes look rather effortless.
Overall, Kempe is at a point in his development where he needs to produce on a nightly basis and dominate the offensive flow of a game before he gets a real shot to skate alongside Anze Kopitar in Los Angeles. Even so, on a list full of several shockers, there should be no surprise that LA’s reigning top prospect continues to hold his place.
Of course, we could have never completed all of the above work without the endless help from a plethora of hockey sources who contribute to this series – from scouts, coaches, and players, to our own staff of contributors, like Andy Tonge and Cody Warner. Thank you to all, we greatly appreciate your input and assistance.
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