Earlier this week, we kicked off our multi-part series looking at the updated LA Kings Top 10 Prospects list. Already served up were five honorable mentions – including a bevy of defenseman, like Erik Cernak, the team’s top pick at the 2015 NHL Draft. Now, we’ll offer some insight into the players who secured spots No. 9 and 10 in the rankings.
As a reminder, these bi-annual rankings provide some of the most popular content we produce each year because of 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.
MAYORS MANOR 2015-16 EARLY SEASON PROSPECT RANKINGS
10. PATRIK BARTOSAK: Goaltender, Ontario Reign (5th round pick in 2013, WHL)
This guy is a rarity, for sure. Nearly all of the Kings top prospects, of late, have come from the OHL or NCAA, while Bartosak was in the Western Hockey League before turning pro in the summer of 2013. He begins this season under heavy pressure (actually, he begins this season on the sidelines following hand surgery, but that’s not the point), as he’s been elevated to the No. 3 goalie in the Kings system, and the top guy in the AHL. His partner last season in Manchester, J.F. Berube, had been considered the Kings top goaltending prospect throughout last season and into the Calder Cup playoffs. However, the organization eventually opted to expose Berube to waivers and lost him to the New York Islanders just a few weeks ago.
Simply put, three factors led to that decision. First off, several in management believed Berube had a tendency to let in about one soft goal per game. Second, Berube’s lack of NHL experience (read: zero games played), didn’t provide the organization enough confidence to allow him the opportunity to open this season as Jonathan Quick’s backup (hence, the acquisition of Jhonas Enroth). You may recall GM Dean Lombardi made a similar decision in 2013 when he felt Martin Jones wasn’t ready to take on the backup role yet. That time, he insisted on receiving an experienced goaltender back in the Jonathan Bernier trade and, further, invited Mathieu Garon to training camp. Neither worked out and Jones was eventually in L.A. just a few months later – way earlier than Lombardi initially desired, but needed when Ben Scrivens flamed out quickly.
The third factor, and the one holding the most weight going forward, is Bartosak himself. Thrust into the Monarchs starting goaltender position after Berube was hurt in Game 3 of the Calder Cup Final, the Bartosak shut down the Utica Comets and helped secure the team’s first championship. At that point, it became clear 22-year-old Czech-born netminder was ready to live up to the hype surrounding him when he was first drafted. After missing the second-half of his 2012-13 season with a shoulder injury, Bartosak went on to be named junior hockey’s Goalie of the Year coming off his stellar campaign with the WHL’s Red Deer Rebels. In 28 AHL games played last season, largely in a support role, Bartosak compiled a 2.23 goals against average and .919 save percentage. His 13-8-5 record may be a bit misleading, as when he did sub in for Berube, the Monarchs seemingly never scored for him. Overall, he seals the ice well and his lateral movements are good. He also possesses an above average glove hand. Noted goalie whisperer Kim Dillabaugh may have summed it up best with a comment he shared while we were gathering research for a feature story on LAKings.com, saying, “[Bartosak] has a lot of characteristics and assets that we believe are necessary to be the lead goaltender.” His biggest test comes now. After having sat on the bench most of last season, it’s been more than a year since he was a regular starter in the WHL. Can he regain the focus needed to the lead the Reign throughout the regular season and into a successful defense of their Calder Cup championship? Only time will tell.
9. PAUL LaDUE: Defenseman, University of North Dakota (6th round pick in 2012, USHL)
Few in the organization will admit it, even off the record, yet there has to be some disappointment that this 23-year-old blueliner opted to return to college for his junior season. That isn’t a knock on North Dakota at all. In fact, the one saving grace in LaDue’s decision is the fact he’s at one of the top programs in the country, a point Assistant GM Rob Blake has reiterated numerous times. Even so, that didn’t stop Blake and several from the Kings’ Development Staff in their pursuit of LaDue following UND’s loss in the NCAA’s Frozen Four semifinals several months back. They flew in and met with the player, his parents, and his coaches to lay out what they had to offer. In the end, the draw to return to school was just too much for the 6-foot-2 defender to overcome. Having grown up in Grand Forks, wearing the UND jersey was his dream since early childhood.
In previous rankings we’ve tabbed LaDue as a bit of a sleeper on our lists, but he simply isn’t flying under the rader any longer. Not only is he considered to be a top-pairing defenseman for one of college hockey’s best programs, LaDue is considered by many to be the best overall at his position in the entire National Collegiate Hockey Conference. With a very strong transition game, he is very subtle in what he does on the ice. While he isn’t super elite in any specific area, he’s good at everything – and that’s without any real pro structure to his game via guys like Mike O’Connell and Nelson Emerson in the Kings Developmental Group. Like last season, LaDue is expected to play in all situations for UND, yet he really excels in defensive situations.
Offensively, there is still room to grow. As a freshman, he put up 21 points (six goals, 15 assists) in 41 games. Last year, despite missing some time with an ankle injury, he still produced 22 points (five goals, 17 assists). This past summer, college defenseman Mike Reilly was the talk of NHL circles, as there was a minor bidding war going on with teams attempting to sign him (including Los Angeles and Chicago). As one source put it to MayorsManor, “Reilly will consistently outscore LaDue in the NHL, but I would not trade LaDue for Reilly.” You can read up further on LaDue in a feature story I did on him for LAKings.com last season. Overall, we remain extremely high on his potential of developing into a Willie Mitchell-type player for the Kings.
Blake’s Take: Rob Blake on his meeting with LaDue in North Dakota
LaDue Opens Up: Why he opted to return to school and put off turning pro
In the next article, we’ll reveal No. 6, 7, and 8 – and the unique connection they have. As always, we would also like to pass along 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 is invaluable. Do yourself a favor and give him a follow on Twitter right now. then spend a few minutes looking back at some of our other top prospect articles linked below for your convenience.
3 MUST-READ ARTICLES:
Manchester Monarchs Leave AHL On Top Of AHL’s Throne – Andy Tonge’s final game report
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