LA Kings 2014 mid-season prospect rankings – top defensemen

Kevin Gravel SCSU Kings MayorsManor
If you’ve landed on this article without reading the two previous entries in the series, you’re sort of joining the movie mid-way though. So, you may want to go back and catch up.

Twice a year we publish the LA Kings Top 10 Prospect Rankings. Our multi-part look at the team’s top young talent has become some of the most popular content we produce all year because of the amount of work that goes into each write up. As mentioned previously, the slotting of players is carefully determined after extensive conversations with people connected to the team – including executives, coaches, scouts and even players.

While different people around the world of hockey approach these type of rankings using a plethora of systems and methodologies – i.e. how NHL-ready is a player, what’s a guy’s long-term upside, who fits the team’s needs best, etc. Our rankings are based upon overall value. Put simply, all things being equal, which player would you have to have if you were another GM looking to swing a deal. Thus, these are who we view as the Kings’ most prized assets.

In part one of the series we offered the six honorable mentions who just missed the cut this time around (linked here).  Then, the countdown begin with a look at prospects ranked 6th through 10th (linked here).  Now, we continue to count down to the LA Kings top prospect with the next two players on the list. And both happen to be defensemen.

5 – DEREK FORBORT: Defenseman, Manchester Monarchs (1st round pick in 2010, North Dakota)

From the day he was drafted, Forbort was said to be a project – and, not surprising, when I spoke with a Kings executive over the weekend to get an update on Forbort, the first word used was ‘project.’ Now, that being said, a different member of the management team recently told MayorsManor the ‘transformation that we’ve seen in Forbort this season is nothing short of remarkable.’ In brief, what’s going on here is the somewhat natural development that takes place with young defenseman. Most Kings fans don’t want to be patient with a kid like Forbort because they were spoiled with how quickly Drew Doughty made it to the NHL. However, the truth is, Doughty – by far – is the exception, not the rule. Defensemen typically don’t mature until they’re about 25 years old. Forbort is only 21. There’s still a lot to like about his game, and the fact he is 6-foot-5 gives him some extra leeway.

Forbort turned pro at the right time. After three years at North Dakota he was ready for the next challenge. Certainly that’s a top collegiate program, but there’s only so much they can do given their time and resources. Now that he’s getting full-time development in the Kings’ system, it’s understandable (and a good sign) that he’s taken significant steps forward. Never known as a guy with an aggressive edge in his game, Forbort has had two fights this year, showing that he’s willing to mix in new skills to his bag of tricks.

Where this American-born product is really starting to shine could be in areas that often go unnoticed. He’s defending with length and his positioning has vastly improved. He’s still projecting as a second-pairing player, so some will ask why Gravel is ranked higher, and it has to do with risk. There’s still risk with Forbort, while Gravel has a better chance of making it to the NHL. The real test will come next year, when both are in the AHL. That will put them both back on even playing field for comparison purposes. They’ve been compared during their days in college, through their time with Team USA at the World Junior tournament, and next year will be the true test – as teammates – to see if they’ll trade spots in the rankings.

Listed sixth in our pre-season rankings this year, it was mentioned that he needed to ‘take a noticeable step with the Monarchs to avoid slipping further down the list.’ To his credit, Forbort has done exactly what was hoped for and team executives think more highly of him today than they did one year ago. He hasn’t looked out of place in Manchester, although he’s still not NHL ready. He has a great first pass and will chip in a few points here and there, but his bread and butter will always be on the defensive side of the puck.

4 – KEVIN GRAVEL: Defenseman, St. Could State University (5th round pick in 2010, USHL)

When you’re drawing comparisons to Rob Scuderi, you’ll be highly thought of by the LA Kings, and probably most other NHL clubs, as well. Gravel’s situation was different than Forbort’s last summer. While it’s generally believed Forbort should have turned pro a year earlier, the conventional wisdom was returning for his senior year at SCSU should have helped Gravel. It probably hasn’t though, as some believe he’s hit a temporary plateau there. On the plus side, he was given a chance to be a leader on a championship caliber team. He’s ‘learning to be the man,’ as one scout put it.

Like Forbort, Gravel will need to show his gritty side once he turns pro a few months from now. Before then, he’ll have a chance to take his team deep into the NCAA playoffs – and that should benefit his long-term development as a leader and as a player.

Listed at 6-foot-4, he’s slightly shorter than Forbort, but still has plenty of size. As noted in previous write-ups, don’t look for flash in his game. Rather than craving offensive ability, look closer to find a guy with a solid hockey IQ, defensive ability, and shot blocking skills. If a home grown prospect is ultimately inserted into the line-up to take the place of Matt Greene, Gravel could be that guy. While not as physical as the former, Gravel does use his stick to break up plays and displays tremendous poise with the puck. There’s nothing hurried about his game.

A true stay-at-home defenseman, Gravel has become even better in his own zone this season. In his four years with the Huskies, he’s made himself a top penalty killer, who does an excellent job at stopping pucks. However, his biggest improvement has come with the puck on his stick. Not known as an offensive-minded defenseman, he came into the year saying he wanted to read plays better before passing to his teammates and it looks to have paid off. The Michigan native has already posted six goals on the season – after only recording one goal each of his first three years at SCSU. Perhaps the most amazing stat though is the fact he has only been whistled for one penalty all year. That’s nearly unheard of for a defenseman in his role.

Along with a high scoring left winger, the organization’s other top need is for a young stay-at-home defenseman to eventually replace guys like Robyn Regehr. Gravel could perhaps be the player to grow into that role, given his size, poise, and defensive discipline. He may not be as flashy as some of the other prospects, but Gravel is the type of blue liner every team needs to win.

The final piece in this series will reveal the Kings top three prospects, including the coveted number one slot. Until then, be sure to check out some of the great content below.


LA Kings 2014 mid-season prospect rankings – honorable mention

LA Kings 2014 mid-season prospect rankings – numbers six through 10

Gravel has more than a puncher’s chance at the NHL – feature story with quotes

David Hofreiter, Mike Murangi and Andy Tonge also contributed comments in the preparation of this article.

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  1. Nice articles about both guys! The one thing I will emphasize is the tough play of the former wcha and new nchc! Just ask Miami, which was picked high to start the year! I believe Kevin will adjust well to the AHL! When compared to junior hockey in Canada, true aged college players go through quite a lot! Both gravel and Forbort have been true aged college players. Let alone someone like Dillon Simpson, who started at age 17 in college, a year prior to true age. My favorite under aged true ager was Curt Giles, who showed up at the Duluth, MN univ. In early fall with a learners permit to drive a car around!!!!!

  2. From a previous article, you would be hard pressed to know which of these two guys they were writing about at the time:

    “He defends long. There are plenty of six foot five guys, plenty of six foot three guys, who don’t defend long. He uses his stick with little subtleties, creating a defensive perimeter. If you watch the defensemen in the minors and in the NHL, they allow forwards to stickhandle in what I call their defensive triangle. It’s like a boxer’s reach. If a boxer has a great reach and he doesn’t use his jab, guys can come inside and start busting him up. Same with a hockey defenseman. If he has a great reach, but a lazy stick, or he holds it too close to his body, or he’s not active with it, guys can stickhandle inside his triangle, which now turns him from a 6-foot-5 defenseman to a 6-foot defenseman, no matter how physical he is. With WHO, I saw that he defended long. I thought he defended long against the rush and I thought that he defended long in the zone, in the defensive half-court. I saw hints of a complete defensive game, where he might not have been as physical as some guys, but he established the same type of perimeter, just in a different way.”

    I think this is well said about both players game! This is especially true in today’s NHL, where dmen are not given the liberty of days gone by to hit people in all sorts of situations! I’m sorry, but actually brutally hitting someone these days is exciting to see, many times attempts to do so leave dmen completely out of position or they follow through with the hit and take a new 21st century penalty!!!

  3. You may have to do a do over article after the trade today for McNabb.