LA Kings 2019 Midseason Prospect Rankings: The Top Two Players

After nearly a month-long journey through the LA Kings prospect pool, we’ve reached the end of the road. It’s time to officially reveal the top two players in this year’s Midseason Rankings – including the highly coveted No. 1 spot.

Before we get to the unveiling, though… 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.

For those playing catching up, this article is the latest in a multi-part series. Listed below are links back to other detailed scouting reports 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

3. Gabe Vilardi – also features bonus reports on Carl Grundstrom and Sean Durzi

MAYOR’S MANOR 2019 MIDSEASON PROSPECT RANKINGS CONTINUED

2. RASMUS KUPARI: Forward, Oulun Karpart (1st round pick in in 2018, Finland)

“We liked his skill and skating ability right from the start. Then, as we got to know him better, he’s also one of those guys who is a sponge for information. He just wants to get better.” – Christian Ruuttu recently told us.

Now serving as the Kings head European Scout, Ruuttu receives the bulk of credit for initially putting Kupari on the team’s radar and later pushing for the young Finnish forward to be selected in the first round last June. When we caught up with Ruuttu at the World Junior Championship in Vancouver, he couldn’t stop singing the praises of his fellow countryman – and for plenty of good reasons.

Kupari is exactly what the doctor ordered for a franchise desperately needing an infusion of high-end talent capable of scoring in the so-called new NHL. Still just 18 years old, Kupari possess elite speed and the ability to stretch coverage while backing off defenders. He is an attack-oriented player, featuring a very quick release combined with an ability to shoot the puck in stride while skating at full speed.

After selecting him 20th overall, the Kings wasted no time immersing Kupari into the organization. He was in Los Angeles a week later – where he attended Development Camp, along with dozens of other Kings prospects – and eventually signed to a three-year Entry Level Contract before being loaned to Karpat of the Finnish League for the 2018-19 season. Last season, he appeared in 39 games for Karpat and posted 14 points (6G, 8A). While that may not seem overwhelming at first glance, remember – that’s a men’s league and he was just 17 at the time. Thus far this season, Kupari has 32 points in 39 games. He also went down with a shoulder injury last month that was expected to keep him sidelined for several weeks. He returned five games later and promptly scored in his first two games back.

“You don’t draft a kid 20th overall and not have high expectations,” one Kings executive told MayorsManor. “But, he’s ahead of where we would have expected him this season. We expected him to be a good Liga player and be a difference maker at the World Junior tournament. Not many people would have expected him to be generating so many points per game on one of the top teams in all of Europe.”

It’s been said many times before that players all mature at their own rate, some quicker than others. In the case of Kupari, perhaps the biggest change has been with how he uses his tools. For example, he’s learned to use his speed a little better than before. The intelligence in his game has also evolved. You may not be able to truly improve your hockey sense, but you can play a style that maximums your skill set.

“He’s not just playing speed, speed, speed for speed’s sake,” one scout noted to us. “He’s using his speed to set stuff up. He has such elite skill that just a subtle shift in the way he’s able to use his speed and is able to slow it down just a little, produces more than just a one-to-one benefit to improving your vision.”

Already a powerful skater, by all reports we’ve received this season, Kupari has continually gotten better since being selected by the Kings. He has been dominant in his league play and then when he participated in the World Junior tournament, his skating and vision came to light more and more as the tournament wore on. Even before turning 19 next month, he already has more offensive upside than nearly every other prospect in the team’s pipeline.

In many ways, he plays the game similar to Jeff Carter in his prime. While Kupari likely has more depth on the playmaking side, Carter is at a special level when it comes to scoring goals. It’s not about having the hardest or most accurate shot, Carter is a goal scorer; and goal scorers just score goals naturally. Kupari attacks the middle of the ice a little more than the NHL veteran. Like Carter, though, when he first came to the Kings, the jury is still out on if Kupari is better suited at wing or at center. Many scouts will tell you this Finnish forward is a more natural center and the Kings are hoping he sticks there. The fact he has been one of the top centermen in his league at such young age — a league largely comprised of men – is certainly a feather in his cap.

“The way he skates, you want him in the middle of the ice,” said one member of Kings management who has tracked Kupari closely this season. “Regardless, this guy has the skill set to play both positions.”

Kupari creates such speed through the neutral zone it allows for a myriad of options on offense. He changes direction quickly, he dishes the puck smoothly, and has soft hands. Going back the other way, he also plays sound defensively. His versatility makes him intriguing enough; knowing he will still continue to fill out physically only adds to the possibilities of what’s to come.

Obviously, the Kings are eager to get him over to North America this summer. Given the current state of their NHL roster, Kupari will have the opportunity to push for a roster spot in camp. However, we expect him to start next year in the AHL, similar to the development path the chose for Adrian Kempe. If he produces and matures at a level similar to the past 12 months, there is a good chance Kupari could be up with the Kings in the second half of the 2019-20 campaign.

1. Cal Petersen: Goaltender, Ontario Reign (free agent signing, Notre Dame)

Make no mistake about it, Cal Petersen is the heir apparent to Jonathan Quick.

To those paying close attention during our write-up on this player last year, the telltale clues were on full display:

Scouts who have watched him from his days in the USHL, through college, and into this year say that he’s shown steady improvement in regards to strength, which in-turn helps his athleticism. He is very sound technically, with off-the-charts mental strength – a few of the key ingredients needed for high-end goaltenders. Additionally, Petersen remains driven to improve and succeed. … His confidence is high, with zero arrogance. One Kings executive noted that Petersen has a different demeanor about him, which suits the position well. Like Drew Doughty on defense, Petersen recovers quickly from mistakes. … Look for Petersen to be the starter in Ontario next season; followed by a promotion to the NHL the year after.

Today, things are slightly ahead of schedule, with Petersen getting a taste of NHL action earlier this season. In 11 games played with the Kings, the 24-year-old netminder posted a .924 save percentage and looked every bit the real-deal he’s been hyped as since joining the organization.

“Cal is the real deal,” began one member of the Kings management team during a recent discussion. “He has all the qualities of a starting goaltender in the NHL.”

More than just exceptional ability at the position, Petersen is regarded as a student of the game, somebody who understands the game, has a relentless work ethic in practice, and has exceptional leadership qualities. He plays a quiet and composed game, which has a calming effect on his teammates and coaches. Even in the face of what may appear to be chaos in the defensive zone, Petersen has the ability to remain focused, calm and positionally sound. His personality helps separate him from most good goalies. Many goalies make it to this level and then struggle when attempting to elevate their game to the next level. Petersen has what’s tough to teach – composure and the ability to effectively deal with everything going on around him at any given time.

In many ways, Petersen is pushing toward the top end of his potential in the time frame hoped for, maybe even earlier. Some of that credit can certainly be attributed to the Kings goaltending gurus, Bill Ranford and Dusty Imoo. It’s beyond remarkable just how good the dynamic duo have become through the years; as evidenced by the work they’ve done with one goaltender after another. They’ve just about become a factory. You give those two a high-functioning goalie prospect and they put him to the top end of his potential in the quickest amount of time – and without even rushing him. People have come to expect excellence from that department and they continually deliver. It shouldn’t be as easy as they make it seem.

When the Ontario defense has been lacking in front of him at times this season, Petersen has handled it just fine. He’s simply gone about his business the same way he has from the very start. Even when he was getting shelled with 40-50 shots per game, the focus has been on keeping him mentally sharp for the next game and having him live in the moment. To that end, Imoo is said to keep his communication with Petersen at the same rhythm and frequency, regardless of if he’s playing in the AHL or NHL, or if he’s winning or losing games. He’s not about ramping up the communication of messaging. Instead, he tries to keep things grounded.

Even Superman has a weakness, though, and that’s Kryptonite. With Petersen, it might be his puck handling – something he continues to work on regularly in practice. He can actually shoot the puck, he can move it. He has the tools for it. This is simply one of those skills that takes time to properly develop. When you’re playing pro hockey, everything happens so fast. And when you’re playing the puck, the pressure is on, so it’s natural to panic a little bit. By all accounts, Petersen has gotten better in this area and the coaching staff is confident he’ll continue to show improvement moving forward.

Multiple people in the organization have also shared that Petersen is top notch when it comes to being interested in and/or receiving feedback and direction.

“He’s wise beyond his years,” said one coach. “I know guys who are students of the game, but it can become a burden to themselves. Studying too much can be a mental block on the ice. When a goalie hits pro, and all the pressures happen, and even the most calm guys start to overanalyze. Cal has a really good balance, though.”

As one Kings executive noted, for all the positive traits Kupari brings to the table, Petersen gets the nod at No. 1 simply because there is too much value in a guy who is projected to be a starting goaltender in the NHL. He’ll be up with the Kings next season, and the sky is the limit from that point forward.

This brings to a close the 2019 Midseason Rankings. We cannot say thank you enough to the numerous hockey sources who contribute to this series each and every year. Without the input from our contacts in leagues all across the world the MayorsManor scouting reports would not be anywhere near the level they have become. Again, thank you!

If you missed any of the previous articles in this series, click here to catch up.

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Comments

  1. Stephen Ferracioli says:

    Thanks Mayor. Another great series of scouting reports.

  2. …super nice kid as well!