LA Kings 2018 Mid-Season Top 10 Prospect Rankings: No. 3


We’re about to make a little history here at MayorsManor, hope everyone is ready.

If you’re unfamiliar with our rankings overall, for nearly a decade 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 team’s front office.

For those playing catching up, this article is the latest in a multi-part series. For your reference, below are links back to other detailed scouting reports we’ve recently published:

Honorable Mentions – including Justin Auger, Jaret Anderson-Dolan, Mikey Eyssimont, Cole Hults, Alex Lintuniemi, Kurtis MacDermid, and Michael Mersch

10. Mikey Anderson

9. Matt Luff

8. Oscar Fantenberg

7. Austin Wagner

6. Cal Petersen

4b. Michael Amadio

4a. Jonny Brodzinksi

MAYOR’S MANOR 2018 MID-SEASON PROSPECT RANKINGS CONTINUED

3. PAUL LADUE: Defenseman, Ontario Reign (6th round draft pick 2011, NCAA)

Before we get into the meat of our analysis here, let’s quickly loop back to some commentary in our most recent prospect article, where we discussed the difference between Michael Amadio and Jonny Brodzinski, the two players slotted into our rankings right behind LaDue. As noted then, a top-6 winger is generally going to get the edge over a third line center, when all other things are fairly equal. In turn, a defenseman is typically going to be ranked ahead of a forward, barring a decision over a top-line center. To that end, LaDue, Amadio, and Brodzinski could have just as easily been 3a, 3b, and 3c. However, given where LaDue is on the development curve – slightly ahead of both forwards – he is an extra notch up, which earned him No. 3 on our list.

Next, let’s set the table further by reviewing some of what we shared in our detailed write-up on LaDue one year ago, when he was ranked No. 2 among the Kings then-prospects:

A well-rounded defenseman, LaDue is as solid as they come. He’s a man of many talents, despite not overly shining in any single aspect; rather being strong in almost every facet of the game. … LaDue is used in all situations by Ontario Coach Mike Stothers. His hockey IQ is great and he consistently makes the smart play and also is aware enough to make the riskier play when needed. Further, LaDue is the true definition of a two-way defenseman; something on display every night during his college days, where he was trusted to play in all situations. He has a great transition game and can help contribute offensively, yet he’s also a strong positional defender in his own zone. … Since the departure of Slava Voynov a few summers ago, the LA blueline has ceased to be the same. LaDue should slide in as the long-awaited replacement to the team’s former anchor on their second pairing. Which is why, as we have noted several times recently, LaDue is nearly untouchable when it comes to trades being considered by GM Dean Lombardi. That’s not to say it’s impossible (we all know the adage, even Wayne Gretzky was traded); but more to the point that it would have to be an overpayment of epic proportions to pry him from the pipeline.

As we transition into this year’s update, let’s begin by parsing some of what was in that write-up and add some fresh commentary, along with a clarification.

Heaping so much praise on LaDue at the time made sense. He was the best prospect the Kings were holding back then. Over the past 12 months, the team’s pool of future players has since expanded, which has helped slide LaDue down one position. Even so, he remains in the upper echelon of their defensive prospects, as evidenced by looking back at all of the blueline names he continues to be ahead of in the rankings.

The question was always, ‘When will LaDue be a better NHL defenseman than Kevin Gravel?’ Or even, ‘When will LaDue be good enough to play on the second pair in Los Angeles?’

The question was never, ‘Will LaDue be better than Slava Voynov?’

He won’t. Nor was he ever expected to be.

Plus, with the changing landscape, you’re probably looking at more of a third-pairing D and less of a second-pair role.

Our intel on LaDue being all but untouchable last year panned out to be correct in the end. Several teams were believed to be interested in the former college hockey standout (including one potential deal that may have died when his name was brought up). This year, things may not be the same. That’s not to say LaDue is being shopped. Yet, it is far more conceivable that he would at least be considered in a deal now compared to one year ago at this time.

Be clear on one thing, LaDue’s lack of playing time this season – limited to just 7 NHL games – is not a reflection of the team’s interest in him as an NHL player. Through our sources inside the team’s front office, we confirmed as much this week, even as recently as the past 24 hours (after we first reported that he would be sent back to the AHL following the Kings trade with Arizona). LaDue is still in the team’s mid-term plans, as they value his style of play. He can skate, and he plays at a tempo they covet. Don’t forget, LaDue is also a right shot defenseman, something highly sought after in the NHL these days. Christian Folin simply has NHL experience and he’s currently holding down the spot LaDue is fighting for while the team is in the middle of a playoff push.

For any naysayers still concerned about the big picture, here is a quick timeline explanation. LaDue pushed for a job in training camp 2016. As several inside the Kings executive circle have pointed out to us, LaDue blew people away with how good he was. Then-coach Darryl Sutter even gave him high marks at the time and there was discussion about keeping him up with the big club. He went back down, though, before eventually being called up during the second-half (playing a total of 22 games with the Kings last year). Many people, including right here at MayorsManor, had LaDue penciled into the Kings line-up to start the 2017-18 campaign. It didn’t pan out though because team officials weren’t happy with what they saw in camp last September. Did he not put in enough work last summer? Did he think he had a guaranteed spot on the roster? Did other players (see: Oscar Fantenberg) slide in and push harder for the spot?

Every year is different because the mix of players in camp changes. Maybe he was the same actually and others around him just got better, or maybe he had regressed a little. At his age, 25-years-old, every day counts. You’re still trying to establish yourself. And every day brings a new evaluation. You’re not under the microscope nearly as much when you’ve played three seasons in the NHL. Until then, when you’re fighting for a job, every day – every hour – is almost critical.

Regardless of the reason, LaDue was sent to the AHL again, where he had a fantastic start to this season. He played big minutes and actually saw some minor changes in his game. He was so good, in fact, that he had most certainly earned a call-up by Thanksgiving. However, with the Kings D-core remaining healthy for the first few months of the season – and with a goals against average that wasn’t screaming any help was needed – LaDue had to stay put. Once things finally started to shake free in December, GM Rob Blake was then left contemplating LaDue’s waiver eligibility (i.e. once LaDue played 38 more NHL games, he would require waivers to go back to the NHL, something that severely limits a team’s roster flexibility). While it may not have been ideal for the player, it just made too much sense for management to leave him where he was in Ontario until mid-January (when there were less than 38 games remaining on the NHL schedule). Fine, that all makes logical sense; but then what? Why hasn’t he played much over the past month or so?

We can tell you this, management has liked what they’ve seen from him during his limited number of games in 2018.

So, what’s next then? There is a possibility Blake moves a defenseman before Monday’s NHL Trade Deadline (ed. note: probably less than 50% chance, but it’s there). There is also the possibility LaDue sees some more time with the Kings in March. One way or another, know this, they aren’t putting Gravel on waivers just to make room for LaDue in the NHL.

For now, there are still some elements LaDue can work on in Ontario. For example, he would benefit from moving the puck a bit faster. Occasionally, LaDue also gets to places on the ice too quickly. In fairness, that specific issue is something that can be difficult to correct through coaching and development. Overall, he simply needs to continue adjusting. Sometimes highly successful players take time to adjust to the next level. You cannot look at Doughty as the measuring stick. He is the exception to nearly every rule. LaDue was one of the top college hockey players in the country when he left North Dakota. It takes time to adjust, even if time is not his side. LaDue still has a ton of upside.

While various left shot defensemen have done an admirable job filling in a few different spots for the Kings this season, those players are still more effective when in their natural positions. Thus, LaDue’s value remains high. Yes, he arrived on the scene two years before he should have. And, yes, part of his past 12 months have included some injuries, both upper and lower body; situations that didn’t help his cause. Still, he needs to fight harder.

LaDue certainly is not the new Michael Mersch. This isn’t meant as a knock on Mersch, more of us simply pointing out that LaDue still has a future with the organization and he would absolutely not clear waivers. His time is not up yet. From a prospect perspective is he more akin to Jordan Weal or even Nic Dowd. LaDue is somebody who has enough talent to be in the NHL, he just needs to push out a guy on the Kings roster to make spot for himself. Can he accomplish what the latter two could not? We’ll most likely find out in October.

We’re down to the final two players in our 2018 Prospect Rankings.

Stay tuned for the conclusion to our series.

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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