Last week, we kicked off our 2021 look at the top LA Kings prospects with a review of the goaltending depth chart. By delaying the series a few months, it 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. Another change this time around is we’ve split the Honorable Mentions section into specific articles for the Forwards and Defensemen, allowing for a more robust review of LA’s current prospects. We’ll move up front in the next article and then begin the official Top 10 countdown.
As we jump into this year’s crop of defensemen sitting just outside LA’s top 10, it’s important to note a few things for context. One, there is a glut of potential second and third-pairing guys. And this creates two issues. First, they’re all sort of fighting for the same few jobs in the NHL. With Mikey Anderson, Toby Bjornfot, Drew Doughty, Matt Roy, and Sean Walker all expected to be in LA for many years to come, there just isn’t much room for these guys. They’re going to need to clearly define their unique skill sets to push for a job. Second, that lack of a true top-pairing guy is also why the Kings are interested in landing one of the top four defensemen in this year’s NHL Draft and/or acquiring a 24-year-old left shot with some experience.
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 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:
2021’s Five Honorable Mentions – Defensemen (listed alphabetically)
KALE CLAGUE: Defense, Ontario Reign (2nd round pick in 2016, WHL)
Last Season: 8 goals, 17 assists, minus-14, 26 PIM in 49 games played (AHL) + 4 NHL GP
This Season: 1 goal, 11 assists, minus-7, 8 PIM in 23 games played (AHL)
This Season: 0 goals, 6 assists, minus-6, 4 PIM in 18 games played (NHL)
Unfortunately for Clague, he’s a year ahead of nearly every major prospect in the organization. The challenge with that is two-fold. First, he’s the only legit prospect on defense who isn’t exempt from the upcoming Seattle Expansion Draft. Second, his Entry Level Contract is now up, so he’s also out of waivers. Meaning, he needs to be on the NHL roster on Opening Night or the team will have to risk him to waivers if they try to send him down to the AHL. Both scenarios are going to bite him this summer, as not only does it appear there isn’t a spot for him on the NHL roster in LA, the Kings also plan to expose him to Seattle next month.
Clague’s entire career with the organization seems almost like one missed opportunity after another. His foot was broken on the eve of his initial NHL call-up in 2019, just a few months after being an AHL All Star. This year, he was penciled in to split time with Tobias Bjornfot in LA and things never really worked out that way.
He’s anything but a wash out, though. Clague has elite feet and when he puts himself out there, he’s a difference maker. He can completely control the game offensively, can drive the play, and run a team’s power play. If making it to the NHL is just as much about getting an opportunity as it is skill, perhaps the best thing for Clague would be to find a new team prior to the 2021-22 season. There’s a reason he was selected 51st overall and he hasn’t lost any of those skills in the few years since. At just 23 years old, Clague still has a very bright future in front of him.
SEAN DURZI: Defense, Ontario Reign (2nd round pick in 2018, OHL)
Last Season: 2 goals, 12 assists, minus-7, 20 PIM in 39 games played (AHL)
This Season: 4 goals, 16 assists, plus-1, 32 PIM in 39 games played (AHL)
Durzi getting hurt right before the Pacific Division postseason tournament will forever remain one of the big “what if” moments when looking at the Reign’s 2021 season. The team was really rolling at the time and losing Durzi for the win-or-go-home game vs. Colorado was a major blow.
Originally drafted by the Maple Leafs, Durzi arrived in the AHL last year as advertised – an offensive threat who needed to work on his defense. After spending a full season with former coaches Mike Stothers and Chris Hajt in 2019-20, Durzi’s transition to John Wroblewski and Craig Johnson this year saw a further evolution in his defensive abilities. He went from somebody at the beginning of 2021 who was a defensive liability to a guy who is fairly dependable in his own zone. Moving forward, Durzi will still want to find a little more snap and pop to his shot to become a full-time NHL player.
While the growth in his game has been obvious over the past six months, one of the more underrated tools in Durzi’s toolbox is his character. The 22-year-old blueliner is the consummate teammate and is well respected by teammates and coaches. Several have noted to us that he’s just one of those guys who you want alongside you if you’re going into battle.
COLE HULTS: Defense, Ontario Reign (5th round pick in 2017, NCAA)
Last Season: 8 goals, 22 assists, plus-23, 18 PIM in 34 games played (NCAA)
This Season: 1 goal, 4 assists, minus-3, 5 PIM in 19 games played (AHL)
For as much growth as we saw from Durzi this year, we’re equally concerned about some stagnation in Hults’ game over the abbreviated 2021 season. Readers of past Prospect Rankings on MayorsManor will likely remember we’ve been very high on him for several years and when he was named Big Ten Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year in May 2020, it looked like he was rounding into form right before turning pro. Since then, things haven’t exactly gone as planned. Offseason surgery slowed him coming into camp, yet the issues don’t appear to be all injury related. His overall mobility continues to raise questions, as his deficient feet were one of the reasons leading to him being drafted where he was. While he was able to overcome most of that at the collegiate level, there’s still plenty of work to do when moving up to the AHL.
For all intents and purposes, Hults is now in a live training environment for possible future NHL consideration. He’s also bunched up with a handful of other players looking to gain any possible advantage in the pecking order. Thus, he’s encouraged to be receptive to advice from various coaches in the LA system, as well as embrace the overall development process. At 23 years old, he isn’t in danger of being passed by quite yet. As a guy on the older side of the curve, though, time can’t be wasted. He needs to capitalize on every moment and work toward leveraging his robust skillset. Scouts and coaches continue to marvel at his hockey brain, superior vision, and elite stick. If he can find a way to harness those abilities and earn the trust of the coaching staff in his second pro season, we could easily see Hults move into a reliable role on the Reign blueline.
JACOB MOVERARE: Defense, Frolunda Indians (4th round pick in 2016, Sweden)
Last Season: 7 goals, 12 assists, plus-17, 14 PIM in 51 games played (Sweden)
This Season: 0 goals, 5 assists, minus-14, 82 PIM in 50 games played (Finland)
This Season: 1 goal, 14 assists, plus-2, 0 PIM in 26 games played (AHL)
Nobody on this list comes with more excitement, nor more questions. Going all the way back to when he was drafted as a 17-year-old in 2016, Kings Director of Amateur Scouting Mark Yannetti has praised Moverare’s hockey IQ — even telling us at the time, Moverare had the highest IQ of any defenseman in that year’s draft. Now, five years later, add Reign coach John Wroblewski to the list of Moverare fans. He couldn’t stop singing his praises this season, and for good reason. During his first stint in North America, Moverare displayed all the poise and polish he did in Sweden en route to an SHL Championship.
His 6-foot-3 frame fits the mold of a solid NHL blueliner. The question has always been about his skating. However, despite not being the fleetest of foot, Moverare seemingly never gets beat. Even when making an occasional mistake with the puck, his recovery is off the charts. He also blocks shots and will do whatever it takes to prevent goals.
One of our favorite quotes gathered for the Prospect Reports this year came when discussing Moverare with somebody in management — “He’ll swallow people up defensively. When he gets you, you’re done. He never loses body position.”
An elite defender, Moverare plays with steady stick and his presence far exceeds a normal 22-year-old blueliner. Not only is he the ultimate teammate, his game seems to be more tailored toward the modern NHL defenseman. He shouldn’t be pigeonholed as a shutdown guy, though, as he’s still a facilitator of offense. “He’s a true defenseman, in that he takes great pride in keeping the puck out of his net, which is kind of a rare commodity right now,” noted one scout. “At the same time, he’s not sacrificing offensive acumen for that. His IQ and awareness are off the charts.”
We named him as Ontario’s Outstanding Defenseman when asked to hand out several awards for the 2021 season. Now comes the difficult part. Will he be back for next season? From what we’re hearing, there are several teams aggressively pursuing him in Europe, where he’s a UFA. His Entry Level deal is up with the Kings, so he’s getting a new contract from somebody this summer. It could be in Los Angeles. It could be a return to Frolunda, or a contract with any number of different teams across the pond.
Last we heard, he was training in Spain with fellow Kings prospect Lias Andersson. Perhaps the latter can convince him to be his wingman in SoCal again for the upcoming season. Moverare cleans up others mistakes and controls the tempo of the games. Something Ontario could certainly use as they’ll continue to have a fairly young roster in 2021-22.
KIM NOUSIAINEN: Defense, KalPa (4th round pick in 2019, Finland)
Last Season: 6 goals, 13 assists, minus-7, 26 PIM in 51 games played (Finland)
This Season: 9 goals, 18 assists, plus-15, 14 PIM in 54 games played (Finland)
Nousiainen almost didn’t make this list – not because he wasn’t worthy, but because we agonized over naming him an Honorable Mention or putting him at No. 10 in the overall rankings. It was that close. While several of the other players featured in this article could have their stock described as ‘in a holding pattern’ (at best), it couldn’t be further from the truth when it comes to Nousiainen. He has a rocket strapped to his back and nobody is quite sure just how high his ceiling will ultimately be.
He’s also one of the few players on this list where a true A-B comparison is available when looking at his year-over-year stats, as he played for KalPa both years. As noted in the two stat lines above, he improved in every single category.
Kim The Fin continues to soar this season… https://t.co/hGIlha6hpn
— John Hoven | The Mayor (@mayorNHL) May 25, 2021
Standing 5-foot-9 without skates, Nousiainen isn’t built like a typical defenseman — even in the new NHL. Even so, he plays heavy and fearless. He continues to find a way to get things done and is turning more and more people into believers.
With only one year remaining on his deal in Europe, it’s possible Nousiainen could arrive in North America as early as 2022-23. His immediate future looks to be tied to the Finnish national team, where he’s scheduled to participate in several upcoming tournaments. This comes after he was a late addition to the group for the recent World Championships and showed well. The Kings are also satisfied with his situation with KalPa, so those two scenarios for 2021-22 should provide ample opportunity to continue his development path.
FUN FACT: Nousiainen hadn’t been on the ice for a goal against during Finland’s run in the World Championships up until Canada scoring in overtime to take the gold medal. Earlier in that same game, he had assisted on Finland’s goal to put them up 2-1 in the third period.
Nousiainen is often mentioned in the same breath as former NHL defenseman Kimmo Timonen, especially when it comes to style of play, etc. Ironically, Timonen was also drafted by the Kings – even through he never played any of his 1,100+ NHL games for Los Angeles. The two Finnish players are linked in a variety of other ways, as well. Not only did they grow up in cities about 30 minutes apart, they both played their early hockey for KalPa. Timonen came to the U.S. when he was about 23, so if Nousiainen comes over in a few years, the comparisons will likely continue.
Other Defensemen in the Kings System:
BRADEN DOYLE (2019 selection) – For the second straight season, led all USHL Dubuque defensemen with 24 points in 51 games. Joins Harvard in the fall.
BEN MEEHAN (2020) – Led USHL Cedar Rapids with .72 points-per-game in 2019-20. Had the second most assists from the UMass blueline in 2021. Should see an expanded role during his sophomore season.
MARKUS PHILLIPS (2017) – After a wild 2019-20, where Phillips started in the ECHL before eventually returning to the OHL for his over-age year, things settled down in 2021. He suited up in 31 of Ontario’s 40 games and now has one year remaining on his Entry Level Contract.
AUSTIN STRAND (UFA 2018) – Like so many other defensemen outside the Kings Top 10 rankings, Strand has yet to utilize his tools in a manner that separates himself from the pack. His size and shot should distinguish him more definitively from others fighting for a roster spot in LA.
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