That’s right, it’s time once again to take a look at the LA Kings prospect pool.
Although our annual rankings normally come out before the NHL Trade Deadline, with the all around uniqueness of the 2021 hockey season, we made the call to push these reports to early summer. After most of 2020 was essentially wiped out, this allowed for extended viewings from the various 2021 seasons being played around the globe — even if some of those seasons were rather short in comparison.
This article is the first in a series, where we’ll take a look at nearly every prospect in the Kings organization. Like last year, the goaltenders have been pulled out into their own area, as the position is quite different when it comes to ranking players. In subsequent articles there will be a noticeable change in how we present players who didn’t make the Top 10 list. Rather than simply posting a small handful of Honorable Mentions, we’ll have separate articles for Forwards and Defensemen. We’ll then begin the Top 10 countdown.
And with that, we begin…
For more than 10 years now, this series of articles 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.
Links to last year’s rankings can be found here:
At the NHL level, Cal Petersen is knocking on the door of taking over for Jonathan Quick. As noted many times over the past few years — going back to when he was the No. 1 ranked prospect in the Kings system back in 2019 — Petersen was tabbed as the heir apparent from the moment he was signed as an unrestricted free agent out of Notre Dame. He’s coming off a spectacular performance at the IIHF World Championships just a few weeks ago, where he backstopped Team USA to a bronze medal and was named as the tournament’s Top Goaltender. That’s quite an accomplishment for his first international appearance, especially on such a grand stage. The last American netminder to earn the award was Connor Hellebuyck and he’s gone on to be one of the best goalies in the NHL, including sitting as the reigning Vezina Trophy winner. If Petersen can show a similar track going forward, it will be a huge boost to the Kings future playoff hopes.
FUN STORY ON PETERSEN: He frequently attended Robb Stauber’s goaltending school as a youngster.
2021 LA KINGS GOALTENDER RANKINGS
1. JACOB INGHAM: Goalie, Greenville Swamp Rabbits (6th round pick in 2018, OHL)
Last Season: 33-8-5, 2.96 GAA, .917 SV%, 2 SO in 46 games played (OHL)
This Season: 4-8-1, 3.15 GAA, .892 SV%, 1 SO in 13 GP (ECHL) + 1 AHL GP
There isn’t a player in the entire Kings organization who logged more travel miles over the past ten months than Ingham. Coming out of last summer, he headed to Berlin to train with AEG-owned Berlin for about a month. Then it was off to South Carolina to start his North American season with the ECHL Swamp Rabbits. A few trips to LA ensued over the next few months, as goalie movement was a regular occurrence throughout the 2021 season, largely thanks to the taxi squad, as the Kings tried to find playing time for everybody under contract.
Which is also a big reason why the goaltending rankings should be taken with a bit of a grain of salt this time around. None of the players listed here had a full season and their practice habits were disrupted. The same can’t be said for forwards and defensemen, who just played a condensed schedule in most cases. For a goalie, the game is about rhythm and repetition — two things that weren’t available in ample supply during the pandemic.
Perhaps Ingham best-handled the adversity thrown at him. When looking strictly as statistics, he struggled at times, yet that is fairly normal for a first-year pro. It’s even more understandable given everything that was thrown at him since signing his Entry Level Contract in April 2020. After being considered one of the top goalies in the OHL with Mississauga and Kitchner, the highlight of Ingham’s first pro season likely came in unusual circumstances. He was flown to SoCal at the last minute and asked to start a game for the Reign on very short notice, due to a spinning of the Kings goalie carousel after Jonathan Quick went down with an injury. Ingham only gave up two goals that night, making 34 saves, and picked up a 6-2 win.
Have suitcase, will travel…
LA Kings goalie prospect Jacob Ingham is headed back to ECHL Greeneville. This will be his third stint with the Swamp Rabbits this season.
After clearing protocol, he played his first game for the Reign on Wednesday, making 34 saves in a 6-2 win.
— John Hoven | The Mayor (@mayorNHL) March 19, 2021
Having just turned 21 earlier this month, Ingham has barely scratched the surface when it comes to achieving his full potential. A big body who takes up a lot of net, he’ll most likely spend most of next season in the ECHL once again. The Kings are expected to sign a veteran goalie for the Reign — somebody who can come up to the NHL and win games for them should Petersen or Jonathan Quick be unavailable — which could squeeze him out of an AHL spot.
Coming into 2021, the goal was to continue calming his game down and making his body more square, using his body for better coverage. Looking ahead, the key for Ingham is to get as many games as possible under his belt; further refining his athletic ability.
2. LUKAS PARIK: Goalie, Dubuque Fighting Saints (3rd round pick in 2019, Czech Republic)
Last Season: 22-7-2, 2.85 GAA, .917 SV%, 1 SO in 32 games played (WHL)
This Season: 15-8-4, 3.35 GAA, .867 SV%, 1 SO in 28 GP (USHL)
It would be too easy to just put the rankings together, post them, and then let people fill in the cracks with whatever they see fit. However, that’s not how we do things at MM. In the spirit of transparency, we’ll add some additional context here. The rankings were actually all but done several months ago – in terms of the actual slotting. However, in recent weeks, as we looped back with a handful of people to tie up any loose ends or try to squeeze out any last tidbits of info, something emerged that usually doesn’t happen too often; there was a last minute reshuffling among the top two guys here. Unfortunately, by sharing this, a few may interpret that as Parik did something wrong and that’s simply not true.
Make no mistake about it, Parik is not somebody to sleep on. The biggest differentiator at this point is pro games played and it’s also an item that will change with the 2021-22 campaign, as he recently signed his first pro contract. Parik’s most likely destination will be the ECHL next season, for all the reasons explained above. He certainly could get some AHL games, yet the organization will be looking to put him in a situation where he can play… and play a lot.
Dubuque, you love your goaltenders. He won 15 of our 24 victories this season in goal, and captured your hearts. Lukas Parik is your @StaffingSedona Hardest Working Player of the Year! pic.twitter.com/KdFX11fo5h
— Dubuque Fighting Saints (@fightingsaints) May 6, 2021
Similar to Ingham, Parik had a bit of a wild year. With the uncertainty surrounding the WHL, and a desire to remain in North America to work on his game, the 20-year-old European netminder made the unusual move of signing on to play in the USHL. The opportunity to play on a regular basis is very important for any netminder, as they need to keep their mechanics in check. With Dubuque, Parik joined a team that was just 1-11 when he arrived and he helped bring them all the way back to earning a playoff spot — even pitching a shutout in the game where they clinched.
In addition to his impressive run with the Fighting Saints this year, Parik was the among best goalies in the WHL during his rookie season of 2019-20 and came up big in back-to-back years at the World Junior Championship for an undermanned Czech Republic team. In 2020, he posted a 39-save performance against Team USA and in 2021 he backstopped his squad to a 2-0 upset victory over the heavily favored Russians. It’s turning into a three-horse race between the top three players listed here and it will be very interesting to see how quickly Parik can adjust to the pro life. His next major hurdle will be taking his off-ice training to the next level. Given how hard he works at everything else, this should become an area where Parik begins to excel this summer.
3. MATT VILLALTA: Goalie, Ontario Reign (3rd round pick in 2017, OHL)
Last Season: 10-6-2, 3.27 GAA, .899 SV%, 0 SO in 22 games played (AHL) + 8 ECHL GP
This Season: 8-8-1, 3.43 GAA, .889 SV%, 1 SO in 18 games played (AHL)
Quietly, there’s some concern that the taxi squad situation may have hindered Villalta more than others this season.
As a first-year pro in 2019-20, we described him as a work-in-progress last year and somebody who would have benefited from a full season in the ECHL; ideally getting 35+ starts, similar to the path Quick and many other goalies have taken. Instead, Villalta spent little time in the ECHL making the adjustment to pro life and found himself as the starter in Ontario following Petersen getting bumped up to the NHL when Jack Campbell was traded to Toronto. It was a role he likely wasn’t ready for, despite showing fairly well during his brief time with the Reign.
This season, Villalta likely didn’t get what he needed, as he was more or less at the mercy of the taxi squad. Meaning, he may not have been adequately prepared for some games due to how goalies were used in practice. “Taxi squad practices weren’t normal, which prevented some individuals from being properly prepared for games” as one person in the organization noted to us.
On the plus side, he transitioned his body during the 2020 shutdown – taking the advice of the development staff, who wanted to see more power and strength from his on-ice action. With that, though, he still needs to make adjustments in his game to figure out how to balance those improvements with still needing to maintain a calmness and poise between the pipes.
One could get caught up in an age-old argument when evaluating Villalta’s performances most nights this season — was it him or the defense in front of him? And that blueline was far less than impressive during most of the team’s early games. As guys with more talent were added to round out the roster (i.e. Kale Clague and Jacob Moverare), there was a noticeable improvement in Ontario’s overall play. Occasionally, especially early in the season, Villalta looked like he was trying to do too much in net. Perhaps that was to compensate for what he was seeing in front of him.
Now in the final year of his ELC, Villalta is already at the all important crossroads. Yes, he likely would have been better off developing with less of a spotlight on him. In some ways, one of the things hindering Villalta is the constant comparisons to Petersen and Campbell, who came before him. Their situations were different, most notably in age. Petersen didn’t face the same challenge, as he was 23 years-old during his rookie year in the AHL. That’s far closer to a finished product, as most goalie gurus will tell you around 23-24 is usually when netminders figure it all out; putting the mental, physical, and emotional puzzle together. Jamie Storr a generation ago and Carter Hart more recently would only be two of a plethora of goaltenders who had to develop under enormous scrutiny, rather than thousands of miles away — out of sight, out of mind — while they honed their craft.
Even so, Villalta doesn’t really have the luxury of time on his side. Not only is his next contract on the line, his spot in the pecking order is up for grabs with Ingham already nipping at his heels. His practice habits have come into question by some and that’s an area he’ll need to address moving forward, notably with a pair of other goalies in a similar age bracket looking to leapfrog him. Overall, we’ve heard good things from Kings management about Villalta’s skill set and unique attributes, yet they’re clamoring to see more consistency from him in 2021-22.
4. JUHO MARKKANEN: Goalie, SaiPa Lappeenranta (4th round pick in 2020, Finland)
Last Season: 1-0-1, 0.96 GAA, .962 SV%, in 2 GP (Kettera Imatra, Mestis)
This Season: 4-2-2, 3.14 GAA, .870 SV%, in 9 GP (Kettera Imatra, Mestis) + 2 GP in SM-liiga
Nearly every scouting report begins with the fact he is the son of a former NHL goalie (Jussi Markkanen), so let’s tackle that first. His father actually spent more of his career with SaiPa in the top Finish league, and that’s where the younger Markkanen is looking to play next season. All things considered, he had a good 2020-21 season, where he was able to play games and get training in with a variety of different teams. In what shouldn’t be much of a surprise given his bloodlines, Markkanen’s strengths include having solid technique with a good frame. Scouts say he is also surprisingly strong down low, with quick feet. He reads the play well and catches the puck, rather than being a ‘shot blocker’ goalie. As with many young players, he needs to develop better core strength; he must get stronger to carry a heavier workload and be ready for competition against older players. Markkanen just missed out on making Finland’s World Junior team last time around, yet was recently invited to their summer evaluation camp for next year’s event. He’s expected to start the season as the No. 2 guy for SaiPa with intentions of fighting for more playing time.
When the Kings drafted him last October, we shared these scouting notes. Since then, we continue to hear good things about his athleticism and and raw ability.
Unfortunately, Markkanen will probably have to miss Development Camp in LA this summer. He’s scheduled to be with the Finnish national team beginning in mid-July, then SaiPa opens their camp August 1. A similar situation will apply to fellow Kings prospects Kasper Simontaival and Aatu Jamsen.
5. DAVID HRENAK: Goalie, St. Cloud State Huskies (5th round pick in 2018, NCAA)
Last Season: 12-11-6, 2.76 GAA, .906 SV%, 2 SO in 32 games played (NCAA)
This Season: 17-10-0, 2.66 GAA, .904 SV%, 2 SO in 27 GP (NCAA)
Like every other goalie discussed here, the pandemic enters the conversation when discussing Hrenak’s future. The Kings hold his rights until the end of his college career. In any other season, this would have been his senior year at St. Could, with the Kings needing to sign him or lose him to free agency. In this case, both parties are getting an extra year to decide, as the NCAA did not count the 2021 season toward student-athlete eligibility. Thus, in a very wise move, Hrenak has opted to return to the Huskies for another season — pushing any decision the Kings need to make on him out until at least April of 2022.
From an on-ice perspective, Hrenak has done just about everything a college goalie can do except win a National Championship… and the Huskies lost in the final game of 2021 to UMass. He’s been the backstop of the program for several years now, he’s set the school record for wins, he’s come up big in dozens of games against the top programs in the country, and was the No. 1 netminder while St. Cloud was riding high as the No. 1 team in the country for long stretches. As noted in previous scouting reports, he plays a very simple, straight-line game, and will want to continue improving in the finesse areas. Given the four young goalies LA already has on their depth chart, his play this season will largely determine if he’s eventually offered a contract.
At the very least, Hrenak provided one of the most memorable performances in Kings Of The Podcast history. To this day, people still ask us when he’s coming back on again.
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