In Part I of this series we did a deep dive on three players labeled as having bright futures – Jaret Anderson-Dolan, Mikey Eyssimont, and Cole Hults. As we move into Part II of our look at the LA Kings top prospects, we turn our attention to the final set of Honorable Mentions.
If you’re unfamiliar with our rankings, for nearly a decade now 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 LA’s top prospects on a regular basis than the team at MayorsManor. Endless hours go into evaluating players in the Kings pipeline and preparing our 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.
Before moving on the official countdown of the Kings top 10 prospects in subsequent articles, let’s close out the Honorable Mentions section with players grouped into two categories – Window is Closing (a group who will be challenged to earn NHL playing time with the Kings moving forward), and Wild Cards (a handful of players who truly could go either way; jumping up the next set of rankings or not even being mentioned at all).
All players listed below are in alphabetical order, without a ranking assigned.
ALEX LINTUNIEMI: Defenseman, Ontario Reign (2nd round pick in 2014, OHL)
There are many aspects to be frustrated about when analyzing this player. Most of it likely stems from hope and expectation. At one point, much bigger things were penciled in for the young Finnish defender. Nearing the four-year anniversary of his being drafted by the Kings, there are just as many questions as answers surrounding Lintuniemi. He has battled through several injuries over the past two campaigns, and spent time in the ECHL. Conversely, this season, he’s already matched the 41 games played and surpassed the 10 points he put up with AHL Ontario in 2016-17.
Looking at the glass half-full, Lintuniemi has rebounded from being at a very concerning point one year ago, to building a more stable footing in the organization. Even so, what about his long-term development? Has he figured out the mental part of being a pro? Can he continued to improve, both on and off the ice… or has he plateaued? As we’ve written about in the past, Lintuniemi skates well for his size, has a solid transition game, and can become physical when needed. One of the key reasons his on-ice game is so appealing is there aren’t many glaring deficiencies. Still, he will likely never justify the spot he was drafted. He’s reached a pivotal crossroad, where he will need to make some serious changes quickly to avoid being passed over by other prospects in the pool.
KURTIS MacDERMID: Defenseman, Ontario Reign (Erie Otters, OHL)
We shocked some people when the rugged 6-foot-5 rearguard made the official Top 10 list last January, slotting in at No. 9. However, MacDermid backed it up by making the Kings opening night roster just four months ago. His toughness, size, and physicality were a welcome addition to a Kings lineup in search of a new identity. Now with 34 games of NHL experience under his belt, MacDermid is embarking on the most difficult part of his professional career – getting back to the NHL and staying as a permanent fixture.
Let’s be clear, Kings management is high on MacDermid. They noticed the way their players rallied around him during training camp and have been impressed with his willingness to stand up for teammates (see here). The third-year pro brings a different type of energy to the locker room and it extends out to the bench at rinkside. Of late, his game slipped a little compared to earlier this season. More specifically, he needs to be a better defender to play regular NHL minutes. Which explains his recent trip back to AHL Ontario for a little re-tooling and polish. This isn’t alarming, it’s rather normal for a 23-year-old defenseman, as players at that position typically take a little longer to fully develop.
One final note on MacDermid. His intangibles are what helps separate him from other prospects competing for the same roster spot, and that could ultimately be a favorable factor when determining his future. He and Kale Clague both bring something different, elements missing from the configuration of LA’s current pack of seven. If GM Rob Blake can re-tool the mix of his other six defenseman more to his liking, then MacDermid would be the perfect complement to next season’s blueline contingent.
JACOB MOVERARE: Defenseman, Mississauga Steelheads (4th round pick 2016, OHL)
Like MacDermid above, Moverare has gone from on the list (No. 10 last January) to now being just outside. Again, though, all is not lost. Moverare has played well this season, is a highly intelligent player, and has been eating up big minutes for OHL Mississauga – including on both the power play and penalty kill. Additionally, he played a solid support role for Sweden at the recent World Junior Championship; ultimately earning a silver medal. This is a player easily categorized as still a work in progress. He continues working on his stride. The question is, can his skating ever be good enough to make the NHL? If so, pair that with his intelligence – and a hockey IQ that’s off the charts – and you’ll really have something.
Unfortunately, he’s currently out with a knee injury, which will slow down any momentum he’d hoped to build heading into a critical summer for his development. Morerare has size (listed at 6-foot-2), skill, along with a sense/feel for the game that separates him as prospect. As we’ve reported since his draft day, improving his strength and skating will be necessary before Moverare will be able to test his skills at the next level. Once he turns pro, give him one full year. He will most likely be in AHL Ontario next season, where the rubber will meet the road, in terms of his development. He will either rocket skyward or be easily passed over by other guys. The next 12 months will truly be make it or break it.
Window is Closing
JUSTIN AUGER: Forward, Ontario Reign (4th round pick 2013, Guelph Storm OHL)
Listed No. 8 in our Top 10 Rankings one year ago, this behemoth of a forward has now slipped into the Honorable Mentions bucket. Although Auger had a brief call up earlier this season (playing two games with the Kings), he most likely won’t be back up anytime soon. Several people from the Kings development staff still believe he is an NHL player. Others don’t see it happening. Once labeled a long-term project, Auger has put the work in; yet even after nearly four years as a pro, he still isn’t at that true NHL level.
ZAC LESLIE: Defenseman, Ontario Reign (6th round pick in 2013, OHL)
[NOTE: During the final preparation of this article, Leslie was traded to the Vegas Golden Knights for future considerations. This didn’t come as a surprise, especially if you read our last scouting report on the former OHL blueliner.]
MICHAEL MERSCH: Forward, Ontario Reign (4th round pick 2011, Wisconsin)
There isn’t one guy in the entire Kings organization, including their NHL players, who we consistently get questions about than Mersch. His coach in AHL Ontario absolutely loves him and will shower him with compliments at every possible turn. Rightfully so, as well. Mersch is a model citizen who has done everything asked of him, and has proven to be a fairly consistent goal scorer for the Reign.
So what’s the hold up? Why has Mersch been passed over during multiple callups this season?
Two years ago, Mersch was ranked as the second best prospect in the organization, behind only Adrian Kempe. Last year, he was down to No. 6. Now, he is on the outside looking in – and for one simple reason, foot speed. His skating was a known issue when he came out from Wisconsin, after playing four years with the Badgers. In the LA system, his game just doesn’t translate to the NHL. For example, his spin move out of the corner that works so well in the AHL doesn’t work up one level. He’s a great kid; he may have also just missed his window with the Kings organization. A change of scenery would likely do him a world of good.
Because we love to exceed your expectations, here are some extra tidbits we’ve picked up along the way on five prospects lurking just below the radar:
Defenseman Chaz Reddekopp is ready to turn pro next season. He’s a big body, who still needs fine tuning, and may start out in the ECHL. Injuries set him back a bit this season. Expect a big push this summer. He’s likely a few rungs behind Moverare. … Defenseman Austin Strand, signed as a free agent in November, is having a point-per-game season for WHL Seattle. He is also gaining attention because he is a right shot D, the almost unicorn-like player in hockey these days. Expect a plethora of buzz on Strand prior to Development Camp in July. … Goaltender Matthew Villalta, a third round pick last June, is putting up insane numbers for Sault Ste. Marie in the OHL this season. He is an excellent prospect, still very young though. If the Greyhounds go on a Memorial Cup run in a few months, this is the kid you will hear a lot about. … Right wing Spencer Watson turned pro this season after five years in the OHL. Not much to report right now; he’s spent the bulk of time with ECHL Manchester (putting up 30 points in 29 games).
Next up, we’ll begin the official countdown, with a look at who is ranked Nos. 9 and 10.
As always, many thanks to the numerous hockey sources who contribute to this series – especially Andy Tonge, our longtime correspondent, and Cody Warner, who has been covering the Ontario Reign for us since the AHL arrived in California. Their ongoing input regarding prospects continues to be invaluable throughout this process. Do yourself a favor and give them both a follow on Twitter right now.
If you missed any of the previous articles in this series, click here to catch up.
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