When we last checked in with Jordan Weal, the young center had just barely cracked this list by tying for the very last spot on it. What a difference a year makes, apparently.
After notching 30 points in the final 42 games of his first pro season, Weal was eager to get back to work and build on his success. He wasted no time picking things up in 2013/14 by picking up 9 points in his first 10 games. He never really let down as the season plugged along, and finished the year by leading the Manchester Monarchs in points with 73. Among players with sizable samples of games played, only Linden Vey managed to pick up more points per game than Weal. Even so, Weal played 35 more games as a Monarch than Vey did.
Perhaps the most striking thing about Weal's career to this point is that he has improved basically every year of it. In just one season of his junior career did he see his point totals decrease from the previous season. Even that season could be looked at as progress anyway. The 2010-11 season was Weal's first without Jordan Eberle, and his team was terrible. Weal was the only player on his team with a sizable number of games played to manage a positive +/- rating. Yes, a mostly useless stat, but it's a good way to show just how awful that team was. In spite of his weak supporting cast, Weal went ahead and picked up 96 points, just 6 shy of his total from the season before.
Former Monarchs' head coach Mark Morris has often found himself touting Weal's room for growth as a player:
I think he really takes ownership of his game. He’s a guy that’s willing to go the extra mile to make sure he maximizes his abilities. He studies the game and wants to get better every day; he’ll watch video, he’ll do extra stick handling, he’ll work on his moves. You don’t have to tell him twice what to do. He really takes it to heart and he wants to be that good teammate and a guy that’s coachable. I think that the progress he has made, especially over the last years, has been remarkable.
He’ll come off after a tough shift or bobbling a puck and expresses his disappointment in himself. He’s not a guy that’s going to point fingers; he looks within, and his teammates are starting to see all the growth that’s happened because of his ability to strive for excellence. He’s a guy that’s making great strides and he’ll continue with that attitude.
At this point, Weal sounds like a real steal, but he isn't without his flaws. The knock on Weal has always been his size, and that's never going to change. He combats it by being a strong skater. On the bright side, he was able to tack on some muscle and trim some fat during the past season. He believes adding a bit of muscle will help him maintain his form late in the season, as he won't be so worn down from battling larger players. His small size could hinder him from making the Kings long-term, since they have thus far preferred to use bigger players.
Weal enters the 2014/15 season likely bound for Manchester. This is no disaster, as Tyler Toffoli, Tanner Pearson, and Linden Vey proved just a season ago. For the first time in his pro career, he will be "the guy" on his team. With two full seasons under his belt, he'll be the skilled "veteran" leader, and likely the first in line for a call-up in the event of injury or just plain ol' poor performance. Though Weal doesn't fit the profile of the prototypical King, Dean Lombardi and Darryl Sutter would be doing themselves a disservice by not giving him a real chance at some point.