LA Kings 2019 Midseason Prospect Rankings: Player No. 3, Plus Notes on Grundstrom and Durzi

With each passing article, we inch closer to announcing the LA Kings No. 1 prospect. In addition to recapping the No. 3 player today, we’ll also be sharing some bonus notes many have asked for over the past few weeks.

This is usually a good time help new readers catch up on what they’ve missed also. If you’re unfamiliar with our rankings, for nearly a decade this content has become a vital source of player information. Nobody outside the Kings organization talks to more coaches, scouts, and General Managers about LA’s top prospects on a regular basis than the team at MayorsManor. Endless hours go into evaluating players in the Kings pipeline and preparing our 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 team’s front office.

This article is the second to last in a multi-part series. For your reference, below are links back to other detailed scouting reports we’ve recently published:

Opening Statements – updates on Mike Amadio, Matt Luff, Austin Wagner, and Sean Walker

Honorable Mentions – profiles on more than a dozen players, including: Mikey Eyssimont, Nikolai Prokhorkin, Bulat Shafigullin, Johan Sodergran, and Matthew Villalta

10. The College Trio – Sheldon Rempal, Daniel Brickley, and Matt Roy

9. Markus Phillips

8. Akil Thomas

7. Jonny Brodzinski

6. Kale Clague

5. Mikey Anderson

4. Jaret Anderson-Dolan

MAYOR’S MANOR 2019 MIDSEASON PROSPECT RANKINGS CONTINUED

3. GABRIEL VILARDI: Center, Kingston Frontenacs (1st round pick in in 2017, OHL)

Look, let’s just cut to the chase. If you want to read about Vilardi the player, and what he could mean to the LA Kings on the ice, we put together a very detailed scouting report one year ago, when he was the No. 1 rated prospect on this list.

Here’s just a small taste from that write-up:

As once scout shared with us, Vilardi’s staking is his worst attribute, and it’s fine – there are zero issues there. He will be an average NHL skater. … Rest easy, Vilardi will be fine. In fact, he would be more similar to Anze Kopitar – in the sense LA’s No. 1 center is not a gliding, fleet footed skater; it’s more about power and strength. Vilardi is not as strong of a skater as Kopitar; yet stylistically, it’s a better comparison than Toffoli or Pearson. … At 6-foot-3, he’s not just tall, he’s lengthy. Strong on the puck down low, Vilardi plays the point on the power play, shoots the puck really well, and is adept at making plays for his linemates. He has elite offensive instincts and an NHL release. … When he hits his ceiling, the Kings will have a player of Ryan Getzlaf ilk.

Today, there are two questions everybody wants to know when Vilardi’s name comes up – When will he play again? Will he ever play again?

The truth is, nobody really knows the answer to either question. We’ve spent the better part of six months tracking his progress and talking to dozens of people closely connected to the situation. From the top of the Kings management pyramid all the way down, the answer is the same: We don’t know yet. So, while some outsiders want to predict what’s going to happen, that really isn’t helping anybody at this point. All parties are encouraged to take a breath and let the process play out.

Vilardi has all the attributes of a high-level NHL player… if he gets healthy.

Is his season concerning? Absolutely, no doubt.

The first sign of trouble came when he had to miss Team Canada’s summer evaluation camp last August. Even then, though, there was optimism he’d be ready to go for Kings training camp in September. When he wasn’t, that’s when things became a little screwy. However, an AHL conditioning assignment in early December once again stoked the embers of optimism. He soon left for Team Canada’s World Junior Championship prep camp and things were definitely looking up. Once again, his back acted up and he was back to square one again.

It’s just a waiting game at this point and everybody needs to be patient. Is he worth the wait? “If Vilardi becomes Vilardi, this team becomes drastically different,” said one Kings executive. “You drafted a kid with those concerns. He dominated the Memorial Cup with a hurt back. It didn’t affect his play. He dominated junior hockey last year.”

Look no further than the 58 points (22G, 36A) he posted in just 32 games last season after being dealt from Windsor to Kingston, just prior to the OHL Trade Deadline. Perhaps those stats alone could cause the eyes of management to grow the size of hockey pucks. Add in the fact that three or four years from now there could be 8-10 players who end up being the best kid selected from his draft class — with Vilardi certainly in that conversation — and you start to get an understanding about Vilardi’s importance to the LA Kings immediate future on the ice.

At the very least, Vilardi would be No. 1 in our rankings again this year, if not for a ‘TBD’ stamped next to his return to action date. As one person put it to us, “For as dominate as he can be, you almost have to put an asterisk beside him until he’s healthy. He has to be ranked lower because of his injury status. Until he gets himself squared away health-wise, we just don’t know.”

For a few final notes on Vilardi, there’s this: Because he wasn’t traded at the OHL Trade Deadline last month, he remains on the Kingston roster (although he is inactive and isn’t expected to play games in the OHL this season). They’re not expected to make the playoffs and their season ends on March 17. We’ve heard there is discussion of him returning to the AHL at some point after that date. He may not play, may just train with the team. If that happens, it will not impact Vilardi’s Expansion Draft status. Because he did not play 11 pro games this season, he will not need protection when Seattle joins the league in a few years. More on that story can be found here.

ASSETS ADDED VIA JAKE MUZZIN TRADE WITH TORONTO

Before we complete this year’s series of articles with an upcoming reveal of the Top 2 prospects in the LA Kings organization, it’s worth taking a look back at the January 28th Jake Muzzin trade.

Within minutes of the deal being announced people were already asking us where the two players acquired in the deal, Carl Grundstrom and Sean Durzi, ranked among the Kings prospect pool. As timing would have it, we had just recently finalized our Top 10 list and rearranging things at that point would have screwed up the article flow. Nonetheless, we’ll share those answers now, along with some scouting reports on each player.

CARL GRUNDSTROM: Forward, Ontario Reign (2nd round pick in in 2016, Sweden)

“He’s everything you want in a player. He’s driven, teammates love him, and he approaches the game like a pro,” one high ranking scout noted to us. For the Kings, they also got a player who is almost NHL ready.

On our 2019 Rankings, he’d slot in just behind Akil Thomas, who is No. 8 on the list. That’s also where any parallels between the two players end. Grundstrom is real close to making his NHL debut, while Thomas is still a few years away.

Listed at 6-foot even, he carries a solid frame and doesn’t shy away from physical play. Grundstrom can play the left or right side, and has already seen time on both wings since joining the Ontario Reign eight games ago. He’s strong with a low center of gravity and knows how to slip shots through to the net. Like nearly every AHL forward, his defensive game is still a work in progress. Honing his craft under a stickler like Sheldon Keefe during his time with the Toronto Marlies almost surely laid a nice foundation for Ontario coach Mike Stothers to now build upon.

He’s as close to a guaranteed NHL player as you can get. Grundstrom’s ceiling is also such that he’ll likely slot in as a third-line player on a Stanley Cup contending team. Could he get second line minutes in LA next season? That’s very possible, but only because their NHL roster is currently very much in flux (and will be over at least the next 18 months). Like Alex Iafallo, where Grundstrom plays initially might not be a good indication of where he’ll end up a few years down the road.

If Jaret Anderson-Dolan is a benchmark third line player, Grundstrom is a good third line player. Look for him to make his debut in Los Angeles before this season draws to a close in April.

SEAN DURZI: Defenseman, Guelph Storm (2nd round pick in in 2018, OHL)

For a comparison, Durzi is similar to Kale Clague, in that he plays an honest game. He’d also sit around the same spot on our list as Clague – itching to get in, but just outside the Top 5. They also might look good together on the Kings power play someday.

A right shot defender, Durzi will not require protection in the Seattle Expansion Draft. Just 20 years old, he’s still learning his craft in junior hockey this season. A recent trade from Owen Sound to Guelph may stir exciting memories for some astute Kings fans, as Drew Doughty and Dustin Brown both called the Storm home during their time in the OHL.

The Maple Leafs may have over-drafted him in 2018 by selecting him in the second round, yet that was his second time through the Draft. After being passed over the first time, his offensive numbers increased to more than a point-per-game, while his defensive play showed signs of improvement. According to our sources, the Kings paid a lot of attention to Durzi in advance of the 2017 Draft and considering using a late round pick on him. To be clear, this doesn’t mean he was ‘almost drafted by LA’ as some may construe. It simply means there was a short list of names for said pick; Durzi was part of that group.

He borders on having elite puck movement. Scouts agree that Durzi possesses excellent vision. He’s able to make quick outs and stretch passes; more importantly, he knows when to do it. Frequently, in the new NHL with speed, you see guys who are really high thinkers transition the puck slowly. Meaning, they look past one option to make a better play; in doing that, they’re slowing the game down. The really good players make those plays and speed the game up. Durzi creates pace and speed through puck movement, whether he’s passing to the simple option or the advanced option. His hockey IQ is at the upper end of the scale – not just in the way he thinks, but also in the pace he creates.

A native of Mississauga, Ontario, Durzi is a player you can pencil in on the second power play unit without even blinking. If he reaches his full potential, he could work his way up to the first PP unit. At this point, he just isn’t durable enough.

Back to the comparison with Clague, while their similarities and deficiencies were similar, Clague was a better defender at all similar stages of their development. Sure, Durzi’s defense has gotten better since that first draft year, but there still needs more improvement.

“His defense isn’t close to good enough,” one scout relayed to us recently. “If his defensive game doesn’t get better, that’s what will keep him out of the NHL.”

On the positive side, this is where the Kings development staff has really shined for several years now. Ontario Reign coach Mike Stothers – along with guys like Mike O’Connell, Nelson Emerson, Sean O’Donnell, etc. – have done wonders when it comes to teaching guys how to defend.

It should also be noted that although Durzi doesn’t play physical, he’s involved in physical play. For example, he often plays in traffic and he’s willing to take hits to make plays. He’ll hold the puck a little longer, allowing the play to develop, even it means he’ll take a hit. He’s not a soft player by any means. Durzi is all about delivering the puck to the right guy at the right time, even if that means absorbing contact. This has also led to little nagging injuries at times. This can be overcome moving forward by building up his body; adding both strength and muscle to his frame.

The Kings two biggest worries about Durzi were said to be that he doesn’t defend well and his potential durability. Fortunately, both of those liabilities are solvable. One, he’s in full control of; and the second one they teach really well.

RELATED CONTENT:

Gabe Vilardi Notebook: Pro Debut Thoughts, And Not Expected in LA Until 2019

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