We’re getting closer to normal in the world of hockey.
After two tumultuous years — that saw a plethora of games cancelled, and even full seasons in some cases — we’re finally seeing things begin to approach a more traditional flow. Thus, it’s the perfect time to issue our 2022 LA Kings Prospect Rankings.
While usually these reports come out in late January / early February, the 2021 edition was delayed several months. As a result, we decided to hold the 2022 rankings back just a few months to allow last year’s rankings a little longer to breathe. If everything works out as planned, we’ll be back on our regular timeline beginning January 2023 (i.e. mid-season).
With all of that said, let’s 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 Mayor’s Manor. 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.
This article is the first in a series, where we’ll take a look at nearly every prospect in the Kings organization. Similar to past years, the goaltenders have been pulled out into their own section, as the position is quite different when it comes to ranking players. In subsequent articles, we’ll present Honorable Mentions, for both forwards and defensemen, along with the traditional Top 10 countdown.
Links to last year’s rankings can be found here:
At the NHL level, Cal Petersen and Jonathan Quick have essentially split the goaltending responsibilities for nearly two full seasons now. Petersen signed a long-term extension last year and has been tabbed as the future starting goalie. With one more year remaining on his contract, Quick appears set to return for the 2022-23 season, barring a major change in direction this coming offseason. 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. To date, he’s yet to wrestle the starting job away from Quick on a full-time basis. How that plays out next season will be interesting to follow.
Another interesting tidbit is the Kings don’t appear to have a solidified No. 1 guy in the pipeline, one that they can spend a few years grooming to eventually push Petersen — say in five years. This is one of the reasons LA was looking to move up in the Draft last summer to take a shot at Jesper Wallstedt.
(new article) 2021 NHL Draft Preview: Goaltender Jesper Wallstedt, Sweden https://t.co/1OxnYqgDwj
— The Mayor | John Hoven (@mayorNHL) July 23, 2021
While Wallstedt was never the top choice on their short list of candidates to be selected at No. 8 (that was Brandt Clarke, as detailed here), there was enough interest in him that LA tried to move up when he was still on the board well after the 10-15 range. They tried to move up and get him, but just couldn’t pull a deal together quickly enough before Minnesota nabbed him at No. 20.
Hearing the Kings were calling anybody and everybody trying to find a team to hook up with when Wallstedt fell much lower than everybody expected. In the end, they couldn't find a dance partner before Minnesota took him.
— The Mayor | John Hoven (@mayorNHL) July 24, 2021
Why is any of this relevant? Two reasons – it speaks to the potential of the pool they have (perhaps very good, yet not elite) and it could offer a glimpse into an area they’ll potentially look to address in a few months.
2022 LA KINGS GOALTENDER RANKINGS
1. JACOB INGHAM: Goalie, Greenville Swamp Rabbits (6th round pick in 2018, OHL)
AHL This Season: 2-2-1 in 5 GP, with a 3.15 GAA and .861 SV%
ECHL This Season: 9-5-2 in 16 GP, with a 2.71 GAA and .909 SV%, plus 2 shutouts
After logging more travel miles last season than any other Kings prospect — including trips to play in Germany, South Carolina, and California — the well traveled Ingham has continued his cross-country trips this seasons, suiting up for both the AHL Reign and ECHL Swamp Rabbits. Little has also changed with the rankings from last year, where Ingham was slotted No. 1 on the list of Kings goaltending prospects.
Just 21 years old, the Barrie, Ontario native is far from a finished product. Given that goalies typically mature closer to 23-24 years old, he still has a ways to go on the development highway — which is why starting as many games as possible in the ECHL is far more important at this stage than serving as an AHL backup.
Standing 6-foot-5 without skates, Ingham takes up a lot of room in net. Coaches tell us, trusting his size has been one of Ingham’s biggest areas of improvement over the past 12 months. He continues to play a quiet and efficient game. However, as impressive as he can be in practice, he still needs to show it consistently in actual competition. Again, hence the key reason he needs to play regularly, earning that valuable game night action.
Ingham is still working to improve his traffic management. He’s also learning when to use his athleticism with control, playing bigger over the puck. He isn’t locking his feet in as much, and is doing a better job of managing his gap control.
He was recently named ECHL Goalie of the Week. Unfortunately, he was injured soon thereafter and is said to be out of action for a few weeks.
With the contract status of several Kings goaltending prospects needing resolution this summer (more on that below), where Ingham slots in next season is still TBD. Most likely, he’ll start out in the ECHL again, with hopes of serving as an AHL backup in spot duty. Should somebody on this list not return, it could open up a spot for him in the AHL come October.
Is he going to take the ball and run with it? That’s the biggest question… and it’s been the question for more than a year. Despite his rare combination of size and athletic ability, he just hasn’t done enough yet to separate himself in the current pecking order for playing time. He’s firmly sandwiched between Matt Villalta and Lukas Parik. Success would have been him finding a way to either leapfrog Villalta this year (which, admittedly, may have been a tall task) or to create a greater distance from Parik.
From all reports to us, he’s coachable and optimism remains on his future potential. Let’s see where he’s at in another year or two.
Bonus Audio: Ingham on Kings Of The Podcast
2. LUKAS PARIK: Goalie, Rapid City Rush (3rd round pick in 2019, Czech Republic)
AHL This Season: 3-0-1 in 4 GP, with a 3.50 GAA and .893 SV%
ECHL This Season: 13-7-6 in 26 GP, with a 2.56 GAA and .920 SV%, plus 1 shutout
Like Ingham above, Parik has logged his fair share of airline miles in recent years. He was on a seven game winning streak when the WHL shut down in early 2020, had a memorable appearance at the 2021 World Junior Championship, and later turned up in the USHL — putting Dubuque on his back from the first night he showed up in town. Read about his wild journey here:
Last summer, he was not offered a traditional NHL Entry Level Contract. With the Kings nearing the upper limit of contracts allowed, they instead signed Parik to a one-year minor league contract; essentially a deal that allowed him to be assigned to their AHL and/or ECHL affiliates. Having largely spent this season with the Rapid City Rush, the 21-year-old Czechia native is in a similar situation described with Ingham. He needs to get as many reps in as possible right now, and that’s what the ECHL affords both goaltenders. Each of them have also been used in AHL Ontario in a small handful of games.
For Parik, this season has been all about his adjustment to pro hockey. While his key numbers are about where they were in the WHL, he has benefited greatly in the structure added to his game in the ECHL compared to his days in junior. At times, he’s still a bit too aggressive on the ice. Coaches are working with him on finding the balance in aggressive movements and athleticism. They want to harness those elements and make them part of his secondary game, not primary. Ideally, he’d play with structure as his first skill set, saving the athleticism and aggressiveness for when needed.
While we remain extremely high on his overall ceiling, there are diverging opinions within Kings leadership circles on if Parik will reach his full potential. “Parik’s tools are undeniable,” as one source mentioned. “He has high-end potential.”
So, what’s the concern then? From all indications, he doesn’t have an attitude problem; he can simply be a bit stubborn at times. “He’s strong in his beliefs because that’s worked well for him up to this point,” said a different source. “That confidence isn’t always a bad thing either.”
As Parik moves ahead, it will be critical for him to closely partner with the Kings staff regarding his development. From what we’ve gathered recently, he has shown signs of accepting and trusting the group more, so perhaps they’ve collectively turned an important corner. Together, they should all be working on rounding out his game. Now it’s up to him to package some of that information and use it to his advantage – i.e. become a bit more mature, find the ability to self-critique, receive coaching input, etc.
We’re nowhere near ready to give up on Parik. There’s simply too much talent there and he just turned 21 a few weeks ago. Grab some shades because his future could still be very bright. What ultimately happens with his contract situation this summer will certainly help determine a key next step in his ongoing development.
3. MATT VILLALTA: Goalie, Ontario Reign (3rd round pick in 2017, OHL)
AHL This Season: 22-6-5 in 34 GP, with a 2.73 GAA and .910 SV%
To put it bluntly, Villalta remains a tough nut to crack.
Yes, his numbers have improved from last season’s totals. The goals-against average has dropped from 3.43 to 2.73. Is that him or a more experienced team playing in front of him? Most likely, it’s a combination of both.
Here’s an odd stat – in 74 AHL games over three seasons, Villalta has a single shutout. By comparison, in 116 AHL games, Cal Petersen had seven shutouts.
We’re just still not sure about the ultimate destination for Villalta. He has the size (6-foot-3) and range to at least be an NHL backup. Some draw a comparable to Jack Campbell, where he has those intangibles needed to get teammates excited about playing for him. That’s not a bad career. It’s also not a lot to get overly excited about when evaluating prospects. He’s been good, not great. And the lack of consistency has been pointed to repeatedly in our analysis of Villalta through the years.
This season, he’s continued to develop the structure used in games and has a growing belief in it; it’s both mental and physical. He’s been working with the Kings staff on the technical issues in his game, with a goal of being more consistent. He still needs to manage his body and workload as a starter. He did in the OHL, yet there were less demands on his body then compared to being a professional. He needs to continue to manage his training, practice habits, and game management.
Although he’ll be an RFA this summer, coming off of his Entry Level Contract, Villalta will still have one more year of waiver exemption. Thus, he can play another season in the AHL without LA being worried about losing him.
To his credit, he’s getting better at not letting bad goals in and has played well enough this season to keep Parik and Ingham at bay. His starting spot hasn’t been challenged by either prospect, nor veteran Garret Sparks. In the end, though, Ontario’s upcoming postseason run should be rather telling. If Villalta can rise up and steal games, taking the Reign on a magical run through the Calder Cup playoffs, perhaps his future will gain some illumination. A mediocre performance would be the catalyst to more definitively say enough is enough.
4. DAVID HRENAK: Goalie, St. Cloud State Huskies (5th round pick in 2018, NCAA)
NCAA This Season: 16-11-4 in 31 GP, with a 2.26 GAA and .914 SV%, plus three shutouts
What a difference a year makes.
Despite taking his team to the national championship game last season and breaking several school records during his first four years in net, Hrenak and the Kings couldn’t come to agreement on a contract last summer. Word is, at one point they were discussing a pro contract similar to what Parik signed; meaning, not a multi-year NHL Entry Level deal. Due to the pandemic, Hrenak and other NCAA players were given another year of college eligibility. He returned to St. Cloud, again backstopped them to a top 5 ranking most of the season, and they made the playoff field of 16 teams.
Kings college prospect update:
From what we understand, despite participating in the morning skate earlier today, David Hrenak will not play this weekend for St. Cloud (due to non-COVID health issue/injury). He could possibly return for Frozen Four, should SCSU advance that far.
— The Mayor | John Hoven (@mayorNHL) March 25, 2022
Regardless of what happens next with the Huskies, as we announced on a recent Kings Of The Podcast episode, we’re hearing there is a strong chance the Kings will be offering him an ELC this summer. He has the age and experience to fit nicely into LA’s pipeline at this point.
This was, by far, his most consistent season. He’s also shown growth in his game, has matured, and continues to be the ultimate teammate. Simultaneously, he still needs to show improvement with how he mentally deals with / rebounds from adversity. This season, the Kings organization partnered with St. Cloud’s goaltending coach, Matt Bertram, to share some best practices via remote learning sessions. The SCSU staff deserves a large portion of any success Hrenak has had with improving his game. They’ve been the driving force in his development this season; especially working on his consistency, looking for him to be equally as good on Saturdays as he has been on Fridays. Hrenak is a talented player with a big frame, and has a natural ability to stop the puck. Coaches have been working on trying to make his ‘save and recovery’ process into a single sequence, rather than two moments.
After all the work the SCSU staff has put into him, several on the Kings development side are eager to potentially work more closely with Hrenak this summer. As a college goalie, he’s spent the least amount of time of his peer group with LA’s staff over the past few seasons. The majority of their conversations have been via video work, in conjunction with the staff at St Cloud. Signing him to a one-year ELC this summer would provide a low-risk way of getting him into the fold and then letting him earn the bigger contract.
Bonus Audio: Hrenak’s memorable performances on Kings Of The Podcast history
5. JUHO MARKKANEN: Goalie, SaiPa Lappeenranta (4th round pick in 2020, Finland)
SM-liiga This Season: 1-10-1 in 15 GP, with a 3.27 GAA and .873 SV%
U20 SM-sarja: 1-1-0 in 3 GP, with a 5.48 GAA and .790 SV%
Swiss-A: 3 GP, 1-2-0 with a 4.25 GAA and .922 SV%
Swiss-Sw: 2 GP, 0-1-1 with a 3.96 GAA and .869 SV%
Markkanen played on four teams last year and has topped that this season by suiting up for teams in five different leagues, plus he also spent time with Finland’s U-20 team. Here’s the key thing to know, though – he’s 19 years old and is very far from a finished product. It’s beyond too early to draw any solid conclusions about his viability as a legit NHL prospect. Pushing the idea even further, he’s the X-factor on this entire list. Two years from now, he just as easily could be the crown jewel in the Kings class of goalie prospects… or he could still be fifth on the list.
Yes, he is the son of a former NHL goalie (Jussi Markkanen), so it isn’t much of a surprise that he has solid technique with a good frame. As noted in previous reports, he’s also surprisingly strong down low, with quick feet. He reads the play well and catches the puck, rather than being a ‘shot blocker’ goalie. The positive to being well-traveled is that he’s had the opportunity to train and practice with a variety of different coaches and teams. Conversely, he just hasn’t played much since being drafted two years ago, nor has he been able to establish many routines. There were high hopes he’d get more playing time when he moved from Liiga to the Swiss league recently; it just hasn’t happened yet, as the team he joined was winning, making it hard to steal games from the entrenched starter.
The move away from home, where his dad owns the team and is the GM — which made his position in net more comfortable — isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Pushing him at this stage of his career should only help him.
Further, Markkanen has also spent time this season working with Sebastian Elwing, goaltending coach for the AEG-owned Berlin Eisbären. He’s also been working with Swiss goalie coach Michael Lawrence — who has worked extensively with Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Elvis Merzlikins. Coming out of those sessions, we hear things like “Markkanen has an NHL brain and feet. He still needs to develop more structure, similar to Jonathan Quick and Cal Petersen.” The skating skill and ability to read plays is there. He’s not a big guy, so he’ll likely end up playing similar to Nashville’s Juuse Saros, where there is a razor thin margin for errors, he’ll challenge shooters, and read plays well.
One thing that’s also worth noting — even though it’s a relatively small sample size — his .922 save percentage in the Swiss NL is actually quite impressive, despite the high goals-against average. It’s a run-and-gun league, where goalies face a high volume of shots. In fact, only two other netminders there have a save percentage above .900 on the year.
Unfortunately, Markkanen missed Development Camp in LA last summer and that could be the case again this year. He could potentially be with the Finnish national team in June/July. He was invited to their World Junior camp last time around, before ultimately being cut (he was third or fourth on the depth chart at the time, likely little has changed). Much of the details surrounding Finland’s plans for the upcoming WJC are still unclear, as they haven’t even announced a coach yet. The last coach signed with Jokerit and Kari Jalonen, who was said to be taking over the Finland’s U-20 team for the next two years, has now signed with the Czechia National Team. Who steps in to head the U-20 program will largely impact where Markkanen sits on their upcoming depth chart.
In terms of next steps, he’ll likely play in Europe for at least another two seasons. The Kings aren’t in any hurry with him, especially considering how young he is and how much stronger he’ll need to become. LA management is hopeful they’ll at least be able to find some time in his schedule to squeeze in a week or so with him in SoCal sometime in the months ahead. Getting him quality time on the ice with Bill Ranford and the Kings staff of goalie coaches should be helpful in Markkanen’s continuing developmental path.
Lead Image via ALo Images, Reign player photos via Daniel Stopani.
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