We’re finally ready to announce the name of which Los Angeles Kings prospect has nabbed the No. 1 spot in our bi-annual rankings of the team’s future hopefuls. After working our way through a handful of Honorable Mentions, followed by nine additional players who rounded out the top 10, the big moment is upon us.
Of course, as noted previously, these rankings provide some of the most popular content we produce each year, in large part due to the amount of effort that goes into gathering and preparing the evaluations. We’re confident nobody outside of those employed by the team spends more time talking to coaches, scouts, and general managers about the organization’s top prospects on a regular basis than MayorsManor. Our final slotting of players is also 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.
Without any further ado…
1. ADRIAN KEMPE: Forward, Ontario Reign (1st round pick in 2014, Modo Hockey Ornskoldsvik in Sweden)
At the midpoint of last season, Nick Shore was ranked as the Los Angeles Kings top prospect. Having graduated to NHL duty shortly thereafter and sticking with the big club this year, it would be easy to assume the player slotted in at No. 2 would simply bump up a spot. However, the MayorsManor listings don’t work that way. The bi-annual rankings are a current look at how the organization’s prospects stack up at that moment. You could even say it’s a rather fluid situation most of the time. One thing is certain, though – Kempe didn’t land on top by accident. He has simply taken North America by storm and more than proven why the team selected him in the first round of the 2014 NHL Draft.
After playing a full season in the Swedish Hockey League last season, scoring five goals in 50 games, Kempe came stateside for the final few games of the AHL regular season with Manchester. Once the post-season began, he did nothing but constantly impress. His combination of speed, power, and skill saw him earn a spot among the top six forwards on the Calder Cup winning Monarchs team. While flaws with his positioning showed at times, the positives far outweighed the negatives and the 19-year-old forward has continued to improve. Although he does have plenty of power in his game, Kempe could stand to add some muscle to his frame. His biggest asset by far is his speed, blazing by opponents from his opening shift since coming across the pond.
Following his first few AHL games, Kempe was told by Kings management that he was playing ‘just OK’ – with the message received loud and clear because he was much more competitive and the results showed (8 goals in 17 post-season games). One team executive told MayorsManor, “We wanted him to get a little bit of experience in the American League playoffs, and to be as big of a part as he was – to play the way he did, especially on the road – was a huge step for him because it’s an adjustment coming over playing from European hockey. His fitness testing [exceeded expectations], he had a great camp. He knows he [still has to] learn to play the game. He still needs to push himself on a more consistent basis… but he’s proven he can play with really good players and make them better. We’re very happy with him.”
When Kempe is semi-competitive and gives a completely skill-based effort, he gets mixed results. Several in Kings’ management felt that he had a decent showing at last year’s World Junior Championship, even while notching 8 points in six games – right on the heels of Toronto Maple Leafs top prospect William Nylander, who put up 10 points in seven games. Both players figured to be the focal point of Team Sweden coming into this year’s tournament, then each was injured in Game 1 on Saturday. We’ve been led to believe Kempe has recovered and will play in a huge preliminary contest vs. the United States on Monday – with both teams being medal favorites.
Prior to leaving for the WJC tournament in Finland a few weeks ago, Kempe had 16 points (7 goals, 9 assists) in 21 games. The original plan was for the 6-foot-1 forward to remain in the AHL for the remainder of the season after completing this brief stint with Team Sweden. While we’ve heard nothing to contradict that direction of late, if Jeff Carter’s upper body injury somehow lingers, they may need to rethink that notion. As we’ve reported previously, the Kings envision Kempe as a winger in the NHL, despite being drafted as a center. And, sure, the Kings have a plethora of center depth in their current bottom six (Shore, Trevor Lewis, Andy Andreoff, etc.), yet none are dynamic enough to play long-term with Tyler Toffoli on the second line. Then, what about Jordan Weal, you ask? He’s been a healthy scratch all but nine games this season, that should tell you all you need to know about Sutter’s confidence in the rookie at this time.
Thinking about what Kempe has already been able to accomplish as a teenager suggests the sky is the limit for the young Swede. However, his time in the NHL is still most likely a ways off. At the very least, his potential upside is why it has been reiterated to us multiple times in recent months by several among the Kings brass that if you’re making a list of the untouchable prospects, Kempe’s name is at the very top of that conversation, followed closely by Michael Mersch. Remember that point when ridiculous trade rumors begin to fly in the months to come. A few years ago, we warned of similar nonsense surrounding Toffoli, so take heed. Kempe tops our rankings for a myriad of reasons, not the least of which is his bright future in Los Angeles.
“I expect them [Kempe, Jonny Brodzinski, and Valentin Zykov] to play the right way every night. If they do that, they’re too good not to succeed,” noted one member of Kings management when we were talking about three of our top six prospects playing with the Reign this season.
For more on Kempe, read this article I wrote on him earlier this year for LAKings.com – it includes plenty of quotes and additional information.
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