For anyone unfamiliar with this list, over the past five seasons 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 team’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, Brayden McNabb and 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.
Since our midseason update during the 2014-15 campaign, several changes have taken place – including prospects moving up, sliding down, a pair getting traded in separate deals (Colin Miller and Roland McKeown), plus one being claimed on waivers (J.F. Berube); not to mention Nick Shore graduating to a full-time NHL player. As we always do, we’ll begin this edition of the rankings with a list of five Honorable Mentions before we kick off the countdown to the top 10 in subsequent articles.
HONORABLE MENTION (in alphabetical order, no ranking assigned)
MIKE AMADIO: Forward, North Bay Battalion (3rd round pick in 2014, OHL)
Like so many other Kings prospects coming from the junior hockey pool of late, Amadio (pictured above) plays in the Ontario Hockey League, where he was heavily scouted prior to being drafted. When you look at his offensive output and capabilities, it’s easy to see why the Kings selected him in the third round. The big questions moving forward will center on his defensive ability and if he can pack more muscle onto his 6-foot-1 frame. He was selected in the second round of the OHL Draft by North Bay and scored the first goal in Battalion history. Last season, he led the team with 71 points (24 goals and 47 assists) in 68 games, as well as producing a team-best topping plus-30 rating. Come playoff time, he was a point-per-game producer, notching 15 points (six goals, nine assists) in 15 games. Kings management felt he did not have a strong Rookie Camp in September. Thus, it will be interesting to track where his career goes next.
JUSTIN AUGER: Forward, Ontario Reign (4th round pick in 2013, OHL)
As a member of the Calder Cup Champion Manchester Monarchs last season, Auger showed great flashes during his first pro campaign. His combination of size, speed, and power made him nearly impossible to handle when he drove to the net. Although his play faded later into the year, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the big man see even more growth in his game during the 2015-16 campaign. It’s not all his fault that he’s slipped out of the top 10. Several other prospects simply improved more than he did over the same time span. Still, he played well. When all is said and done, he starts this season in the secondary prospect pool. Even so, Auger may not be as sexy of a prospect to talk about as some of the high-end skill guys, yet don’t sleep on him as a solid depth player. At 6-foot-7, it wasn’t long after he was drafted that people behind the scenes were using phrases like “lacks effort” and “doesn’t compete hard enough” when you asked about his play. However, last summer, the Kings Development Staff began to notice a change in him. Still not the biggest hitter, he does use his size along the boards and in front of the net. As noted in previous reports, despite lacking top-end skill, his overall package makes him a legitimate NHL prospect.
ERIK CERNAK: Defenseman, Ontario Reign (2nd round pick in 2015, Slovakia)
No other prospect in recent memory has been as intriguing and frustrating in his first few months since being drafted. 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. This allowed him to hold himself well playing with Kosice HC (Slovak league) in 2014-15. He has raw tools that can’t be taught, and put in the Kings’ system, with one of the best Development staffs in the league, it wouldn’t surprise anyone to see Cernak develop into a stud defender at the NHL level. Now comes reality; that’s going to take some time to get there. One of the darlings of Development Camp last July, he was largely exposed once Training Camp got underway in September. That’s a comment that has little to do with his long-term future and more to do with his immediate status. After some initial confusion about whether it would be better for him to play this season in the AHL or the OHL, it was recently been decided to bring him back to Ontario and give him a longer look. Baring a major discovery, we expect him to be back in the OHL before Christmas. The reality is, the two games played during Rookie Camp aren’t even as good as the AHL, and he was one of two players who noticeably struggled. Beyond that, it’s a numbers game. Ontario already has Jeff Schultz, Jamie McBain, Vincent LoVerde, Kevin Gravel, Kurtis MacDermid, Zac Leslie, Nick Ebert, and Kevin Raine on defense. For his development, Cernak should be sent to Erie (OHL) as quickly as possible and start to play big minutes on the smaller North American rinks.
ALEX LINTUNIEMI: Defenseman, Manchester Monarchs (2nd round pick in 2014, OHL)
It would have been too easy to label this young Finnish defender as a prime candidate for a breakout rookie season in the AHL. Yet, the cold hard truth is 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 Jeff 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. It is a point so valued by the organization, he is starting the season in ECHL Manchester – something nobody could have predicted even six months ago. Putting that issue to the side, 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. He had a brief stint in the AHL to close out the year, and picked up an assist on his first pro shift. 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.
KURTIS MacDERMID: Defenseman, Ontario Reign (undrafted)
He is a surprising name to find, even on the honorable mentions, but that speaks to his growth over the past 12 months. Some within the Kings organization saw MacDermid as somebody who would struggle to even make the NHL as a 7th defenseman, but his progress has turned heads after a big year with the Erie Otters. One of his best assets is something you can’t teach – size, and MacDermid has found a way to utilize it well to his advantage. After an impressive Rookie Camp, all indications are he has already been penciled in to play in the bottom pairing for Reign coach Mike Stothers every night. If that playing time can lead to increased confidence and help advance his skills, his upside may be higher than once believed.
Others to watch: Alexander Dergachyov (forward, KHL), Nick Ebert (defenseman, AHL Ontario Reign), Zac Leslie (defenseman, AHL Ontario Reign), Austin Wagner (forward, OHL Regina Pats), and Spencer Watson (forward, OHL Kingston Frontenacs). … Dergachyov is “a real force,” as he was described by one scout. Selected in the third round of last June’s NHL Draft, he was coming off of a silver medal performance with Russia at the 2015 World Junior Championships. … Although Dergachov was also selected by Shawinigan in the QMJHL Import Draft, he opted to return to Russia this season, rather than play junior hockey in North America. He’s currently skating with SKA (St. Petersburg) of the KHL, the same team that is home to Ilya Kovalchuk and Alexei Ponikarovsky. … Watson’s size will be a constant factor in his ability to succeed in the AHL and then NHL. Listed at 5-foot-9, the truth is, if he can play, he can play. Yet, if you’re small and your skating is an issue, you’re going to have problems. He was a point-per-game producer each of the last two seasons. Still, some scouts were concerned he had the type of skating that could be hard to improve. Now, we hear it’s already better than what they expected. … It certainly wasn’t the rookie year Ebert was hoping for. He struggled to find the ice in AHL Manchester despite some smooth skating and hard shot that make him an offensive threat. If he’s ever to move up this list, play in his own zone must improve. … Building on a similar theme for many of the players in the Honorable Mentions section, Leslie had a disappointing year, even if it was for reasons somewhat out of his control. Now fully recovered from shoulder surgery, the blueliner could impress and find himself further up this list come midseason. A two-way defenseman, he isn’t necessarily great in any aspects, but is good in many of them.
As always, many thanks to the plethora of hockey sources who contribute to this series – especially Andy Tonge, our longtime correspondent. His ongoing input regarding players at the AHL level continues to be invaluable throughout this process. Do yourself a favor and give him a follow on Twitter right now.
If you missed any of the previous articles in this series, several are linked below for your reference.
3 MUST-READ ARTICLES:
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