Before you go any further, catch up on the prospects who could (but probably won't) fall to the Los Angeles Kings in the draft. If you've read that, good! We're going to start examining the players who are expected to be available when LA makes their 2015 first-round pick. To start...
Who is Kyle Connor?
There's no debate about who the best available American forward prospect is in this year's draft; Jack Eichel, the consensus second-best player in the class of 2015, is a near-lock to go to the Buffalo Sabres. After him? There's a little more competition, but most rankings show one name ahead of the rest: Kyle Connor.
Consensus Ranking: #12-13
Highest Ranking: #5 (overall), HockeyProspect.com
Lowest Ranking: #13 (North America), NHL Central Scouting
Why he might be gone before #13
There are a number of talented American forwards projected to go in the first round after the top ten, but none of them have the combination of speed and skill that Connor brings to the table. Connor used these attributes to earn USHL Player of the Year honors as he paced the league in scoring (80 points in 56 games) for the regular season champions, the Youngstown Phantoms.
Why he might be available at #13
There aren't many knocks on Connor, but do the teams ahead of LA have the patience to take a player who isn't seen as NHL-ready? Colorado, Florida, and Dallas pick directly ahead of the Kings, and none of them have won a playoff series in this decade. All three of those teams are also running two quality young centers in their top six; Connor can play wing as well, but if they think positionally, they might look elsewhere. As with the rest of the guys outside the Top 11, all it takes is a run of defensemen higher up or an off-the-board pick or two, and he'll be there for the taking.
Why the Kings might draft him
The impact of this draft pick going forward for the Kings can't be overstated. The impact of this draft pick on the next two years or so? Negligible. Whoever is drafted by the Kings probably won't get a look on the big club until at least 2017, when at least a couple of forward spots should open up. So why not go with a guy who's got a known NCAA path in front of him? Connor's a Michigan commit, and the Kings haven't been shy about taking college guys at any spot in the draft (though their last first-rounder with that situation was Derek Forbort). Last year, the Detroit Red Wings grabbed Dylan Larkin at #15 and watched him turn in an outstanding freshman season with the Wolverines; Connor, who's played with Larkin before, might be even better.
As for how he'd fit in LA's plans? You mean, aside from the fact that he's a terrific offensive talent? Well, Connor's reportedly taken great strides in his defensive play in the past year, which would normally be an area of concern for the Kings. Connor is also a true burner, with speed that would at least match that of every King and would bring a terrifying element to the first line in a few years. Oh, and speed can cover up those defensive lapses. Here's his coach, Anthony Moreen, talking about that particular development:
He's not one of those guys that as a coach you have to continually keep preaching about the defensive side. 'I want you to keep scoring but you got to get better defensively.' He wants to be better defensively. Last two years Kyle never took penalty kills and he is now. He was a guy who never played in the last minute of one-goal games when we were up a goal and he does now. I think that's a tribute to how much he's gotten better defensively.
Why the Kings might pass him up
Are the above "strides" enough for the Kings, when contrasted with players who have an advantage in either their size or their defensive instincts? (Said players do exist and will be covered in our next few profiles.) LA has never really been wowed by players whose speed is their biggest asset, and they're more than happy to take guys whose skating is actually their biggest detriment. And while you can never have enough Tyler and Tanner types, it could easily come down to the Kings looking for a different dimension in a potential top-line forward. After all, Connor isn't a big, strong dude... yet.
For the lazy, your one-sentence summary:
Kyle Connor needs to work on his size and strength if he wants to fit with the Kings, but his speed and record-setting offensive production could make him the most tantalizing offensive prospect outside the top ten.