Now that readers have had a few days to digest this week’s Honorable Mentions article, it’s time to continue our multi-part series looking at the 2017 LA Kings Top 10 Prospects list. And we’ll begin the countdown with some reports on players rounding out the bottom-half of the list, guys coming it No. 6-10.
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.
MAYOR’S MANOR 2017 MID-SEASON PROSPECT RANKINGS
10. JACOB MOVERARE: Defenseman, Mississauga Steelheads (4th round pick 2016, OHL)
In the history of our lists, it is certainly not common to find players in the top 10 just seven months after being drafted; and if so, they usually aren’t mid-round picks. Moverare is a rare exception, as his play has continued to wow those within the Kings’ organization. Tabbed by Mark Yannetti as the defenseman with the highest hockey IQ in the draft – yes, you read that correctly – it shouldn’t be much of a surprise to see this player transitioning so well to the North American game in just first year across the pond. Now playing alongside fellow Kings prospect Spencer Watson, Moverare left his home in Sweden to play for the OHL’s Mississauga Steelheads. Still, you’re probably wondering, ‘If he’s so smart, why was he a fourth rounder?’ The knock was, has been, and likely will be for some time going forward, is on Moverare’s subpar skating. However, if he follows the development path Tyler Toffoli took to improve his skating, Moverare may be a staple on the Kings’ blue line for years to come.
Perhaps to a lesser degree, aiding his stock are the (much-talked about) holes left by Slava Voynov and Willie Mitchell, thus placing an even higher premium on puck-moving defenseman in the pipeline. While Moverare, listed at 6-foot-2, has just one goal thus far, his debut season in the OHL, his 22 points in 39 games are nothing to scoff at for a first-year import. Given that the Kings noxiously keep their players in development for extended periods of time to ensure they are ready, he has plenty of runway to continue improving his game. Ideally, perhaps Moverare could model his game after fellow Ostersund native Alexander Edler of the Vancouver Canucks.
9. KURTIS MacDERMID: Defenseman, Ontario Reign (Erie Otters, OHL)
MacDermid is a bit of an enigma when it comes to Kings prospects. Even in the recent past, with LA noticeably short bodies on the back end, it seems that his name was never part of the discussion. Nonetheless, he debuts at spot nine on our list, in large thanks to his physically intimidating style of play. No stranger to crossing the line with opponents, MacDermid makes a place for himself inside the psyche of the other team. Overall, the second-year pro has taken big steps in his game over the last three years and the Kings development staff have found a way to mold his raw skills into a budding young prospect.
He is a strong defenseman who isn’t afraid of throwing his body around. However, that also has come with a price. MacDermid has been handed down two lengthy suspensions for dangerous hits in his career, including a 12-game ban last year. There’s a fine line between playing physical and going overboard, and MacDermid appears to be learning how to find a better balance for his aggressive nature. No one wants to see him give up the physical aspect of his game, yet he must maintain better control of his body on the ice. Last season, MacDermid proved that he could be reckless on the ice and often found himself in the penalty box. Thus far in his 2016-17 campaign, he’s limited the penalties without removing the physicality. To be clear, though, he is fully capable of fighting at the drop of the hat and handles himself quite well during a scrap.
He definitely has the size and strength of an NHL player. His defensive game could still improve a bit, as well as his skating, things that haven’t deterred Ontario coach Mike Stothers from giving him extra minutes recently, with Kevin Gravel and Derek Forbort now in Los Angeles. MacDermid sees limited power play time, but he is very effective and getting his wrist shots through towards the net. He’s also chipped in a bit more offensively, scoring four goals, already tying his total from last year. No doubt, his game has matured. If he can continue to maintain his edge, build on his offensive growth, and refrain from taking unneeded penalty minutes, his stock could skyrocket heading into the summer.
8. JUSTIN AUGER: Forward, Ontario Reign (4th round pick 2013, Guelph Storm OHL)
From that late-June day in 2013 when Auger was drafted by the Kings, it was no secret that the hulking winger would be a project. Some players are ready for the rigors of the NHL as a teenager, and others require more care and attention in their development. File Auger in with the latter. In his third season in the AHL, Auger has done enough to impress Kings’ brass, but he’s still not quite there.
The biggest improvement for Auger has been using his body effectively. With his size and his reach, it’s not often that Auger is out of the play anywhere on the ice, and with that ability he has been used in all situations for Ontario Head Coach Mike Stothers. At Auger’s size, 6-foot-7 (off skates!), he can be a scary player, capable of using his strength and speed to bull his way to the net. Also, he produces solid work in the corners – something the Kings value – and when playing in that part of the rink he is often coming out with the puck, or using his body to shield the puck until a teammate can arrive. Underrated aspects of Auger’s game include his control of the puck and his shooting. As demonstrated in the preseason earlier this year, for a big guy, he has soft hands around the net and is capable of quick stick handling.
Further, Auger is a player who understands his own game. He does not try to skate end-to-end with the puck, nor does he attempt to beat multiple players by himself. He has shown the intelligence to use his biggest asset, his long reach, and has become a stalwart on the Ontario penalty kill. There has been no significant spike or drop-off in Auger’s statistical output dating back to his days in the OHL, always hovering around a half-point per game. His 15 points this season is on pace with his career production numbers, but something is probably going to have to give for the 22-year-old to get a real chance in Los Angeles. Roster spots are limited, and where he would slide in remains a cloudy picture.
7. AUSTIN WAGNER: Forward, Regina Pats (4th round pick 2015, WHL)
Is quickly earning his way on to everybody’s radar. He impressed scouts while playing for Team WHL during the CHL’s Super Series versus Russia (scoring twice) and earned an invitation to Canada’s World Junior evaluation camp, before eventually being cut. Wagner’s best asset is definitely his speed – something the Kings can absolutely use more of in the coming years. While using the term “game-changer” might be a little extreme, his speed is noticeable, as he almost always the fastest player on the ice. He can be extremely effective on the penalty kill and is hard on the forecheck.
Offensively, Wagner is not somebody you would label as a true sniper, or pure goal scorer, yet he is well on his way setting new career highs again this season. Had 28 goals in 70 games last year and has already notched 20 in 37 this year. Again, his speed can generate a lot of breakaways and odd man advantages. And, no doubt, there is an edge to his play – which can sometimes lead to undisciplined situations.
The more you get to know him on and off the ice, the more you like him. Scouts and coaches praise his love of the game. Wagner played in his first major junior game at the ripe old age of 15. Last season, his third full season with Regina, culminated in a career high 62-points. He also led the WHL in short-handed goals with seven. With continued progress year-in and year-out, the 6-foot-3 forward is in the process of rounding out his game. His positional play and play away from the puck are areas of improvement that will likely come over time, which may be accelerated if he turns pro next year. Look for Wagner to have an early lead on a roster spot for Ontario next year, where he will continue to develop his prowess for penalty killing.
6. MICHAEL MERSCH: Forward, Ontario Reign (4th round pick 2011, Wisconsin)
Mersch’s spot on this list will most likely come as a big surprise to anyone who keeps up with our regular insight here at MM. He is one of the most talked about and sought after players in the Kings system, and is also the guy fans seem to clamor for the most in Los Angeles. Last year, he finished as the second ranked prospect in Dean Lombardi’s treasure chest, behind only Adrian Kempe. On one hand, Mersch hasn’t slid down the rankings because he is not as good of a prospect as he was last year, but certain players in the organization have surprised and improved their positions. When it comes to earning a spot in the NHL, he had his shot coming into the 2016-17 season. After getting a taste of NHL action last year, the hopes were that Mersch would be ready for a full-time role with the Kings this past October. However, he simply didn’t earn it in camp and has been in AHL Ontario ever since.
With 10 goals and 11 assists (21 points) through mid-January, Mersch has merely garnered a decent first half of the season. He is not the type to blind you with speed, but succeeds with an imposing presence in front of the net and relentless effort. He is currently sidelined with a knee injury suffered on January 14. Prior to being put on the shelf, he was still producing goals in typical Michael Mersch fashion, by finding loose pucks right in front of the net. If he is able to return in the mid-to-late February time frame estimated, Mersch should be a key threat for Ontario during their playoff run.
Within LA management, the belief is that he worked very hard all last summer; Mersch did exactly what was asked of him. Yet, skating is still the issue, and it’s questionable at this point how much more improvement he can still squeeze out. Largely, Mersch is who he is, and that is not meant in a derogatory way. Luc Robitaille was never known as the fleetest of foot either. Mersch remains a big body who works well in front of the net and along the boards. Can he keep up with the pace of NHL games? The jury is still out on this topic. Unless something drastically changes, though, it does not appear he is a likely candidate for a call-up to the Kings this season. Which is really too bad because, at the very least, he could probably add a net-front presence on the power play, something lacking with the Kings current roster configuration. Don’t mistake the above scouting reporting either. Mersch is still in the mix for future opportunities. Clearly other guys are closing the distance – or even passing him by – but all is not lost. With six months of dedicated work after he returns from injury, if he can manage to find a step, like other prospects have done before him, he could shoot right back up to the upper part of our list.
In the next article, we’ll be inside the top 10 and well on our way to revealing the Kings No. 1 prospect. Has Kempe held on to the top spot or has somebody else jumped over him?
As always, we would also like to pass along many thanks to the plethora of hockey sources who contribute to this series – from scouts, coaches, and players, to our own staff of contributors, like Andy Tonge, Cody Warner, and Rhys Holinaty.
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