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How the Los Angeles Kings Ended Up With a Bottom-5 Prospect Pool

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Winning (and trying to win more) has its consequences.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

So, ESPN's Corey Pronman has released his annual rankings of the 30 NHL teams' farm systems. The full article is here -- it's behind a paywall -- and the Los Angeles Kings did not do very well. To be exact, Pronman ranked the Kings' prospect pool 27th in the NHL.

HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN?!

Rather than devolving into hysterics, let's take a look at the top prospects over the last five years (by our Top 25 Under 25 rankings and by the spring rankings of Hockey's Future) and see how the pool declined. We'll start with 2011, when LA had the NHL's #1 prospect pool according to Hockey's Future.

LA Prospects 2011-15 (Updated)

First thought: this is a nice visual way to see just how strong that 2011 pool was. Of the top 20 prospects, sixteen have played an NHL game. (That number could reach 19 as soon as next season.) And sixteen either (1) remain in the Kings system or (2) were turned into a separate asset. That second set includes the top three prospects of 2011 according to Hockey's Future, though some (Schenn) were turned into more assets than others (Loktionov).

Now then, if you look at the Class of 2015: two of those guys have already made their NHL debut. Is it possible that 14 more of those guys will crack an NHL lineup someday? Sure. Is it likely? No, and it's even less likely that half of them will become regular contributors in an NHL lineup, as was the case with the 2011 class.

This isn't a new phenomenon, either; the 2013 class looks thin even after two years of development, and only six of those players have played an NHL game. But when you're examining the prospects after a WCF season and not a ninth-place season, it's easier to ignore that concern. So let's look at each class of player on the above chart to see what's contributed to the prospect pool's plunge.

Current full-time members of the Los Angeles Kings (purple boxes)

Kyle Clifford, Dwight King, Alec Martinez, Brayden McNabb, Jake Muzzin, Jordan Nolan, Tanner Pearson, Tyler Toffoli, Slava Voynov

Of course, one way to make your prospect pool worse is to have prospects become... not-prospects. LA hasn't exactly lost prospects at a staggering rate due to the stability of their lineup, but Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson were the cream of the Kings' crop since the 2012 Draft. LA also found a number of regulars from the lower reaches of that 2011 class.

Traded by the Los Angeles Kings (black boxes)

Brayden Schenn, Jonathan Bernier, Andrei Loktionov, Nicolas Deslauriers, Martin Jones, Brandon Kozun, Linden Vey, Colin Miller, Hudson Fasching, Roland McKeown

That's your list of players who Dean Lombardi and Co. traded before they could achieve a full-time NHL gig or, in the goalies' case, a starting job. That points to Lombardi's much-ballyhooed loyalty program (no one who became a Cup contributor got sent packing) but also to the uncertainty surrounding these guys. For one, the above listing contains only two first-rounders (Schenn, Bernier) and one second-rounder (McKeown). Lombardi's strategy, essentially, was to trade these players before they could really prove their worth.

Prime example: In March 2014, Nicolas Deslauriers had been moved to left wing and was in the middle of a breakout season in Manchester. Hudson Fasching was in the middle of a stellar freshman season at the University of Minnesota. Lombardi turned those two, who had never been more valuable than they were at that moment, into Brayden McNabb and two second-rounders. The prospect pool looks worse without those two players, and the trade might not prove to be a long-term victory, but when the goal is to win right away, it's a worthy sacrifice. McNabb will be playing a full-time role for a Cup contender next season.

The McKeown trade, though, is going to be picked on a lot now that Andrej Sekera is an Oiler. Just hope that 2016 1st round pick doesn't turn into anything good.

Waived or allowed to become free agents by the Los Angeles Kings (gray boxes)

Thomas Hickey, Jeff Zatkoff, Bud Holloway, Marc-Andre Cliche, Christopher Gibson, Tomas Hyka, Michael Schumacher, (Nikolai Prokhorkin)

These are the guys who Lombardi didn't get anything for. Hickey's the glaring name on there, of course, but the Kings haven't found themselves in a prospect wasteland because they simply let guys walk. Let's move on... though we may revisit this if Holloway makes an impact for Montreal next year.

(I included Prokhorkin here because he's essentially the Winds of Winter of LA prospects... except that Winds of Winter might arrive next year.)

Current prospects of the Los Angeles Kings (gold boxes)

Valentin Zykov, Adrian Kempe, Nick Shore, Derek Forbort, Jordan Weal, Nic Dowd, Paul Ladue, Alex Lintuniemi, Justin Auger, Michael Amadio, JF Berube, Michael Mersch, Zachary Leslie, Nick Ebert, Jonny Brodzinski, Matt Mistele, Kevin Gravel, Andy Andreoff, Spencer Watson, Patrik Bartosak, and more

Now then, here's who we have left. It's not a bad group, but there are very few surefire NHLers and even fewer potential stars. Why is this the current state of the prospects? You could attribute it to the set of prospects who were traded, but only Deslauriers, Miller, Fasching, and McKeown would have appeared on our 2015 Top 25 Under 25 list. Four players do not tank a farm system. Rather, you can point to the draft picks... not the ones LA made, but the ones they didn't make.

Here's a list of every pick LA has traded in the last five drafts (excluding picks they acquired then traded again):

  • 2011, 1st round/19th overall (Oscar Klefbom): to Edmonton as part of Dustin Penner trade
  • 2011, 6th round/170th overall (Chase Balisy): to Nashville as part of LA trading up for Nick Shore
  • 2012, 2nd round/60th overall (Devin Shore): to Philadelphia as part of Mike Richards trade
  • 2012, 3rd round/90th overall (Daniil Zharkov): to Edmonton as part of Penner trade
  • 2013, 1st round/27th overall (Marko Dano): to Columbus as part of Jeff Carter trade
  • 2013, 2nd round/57th overall (William Carrier): to Edmonton as part of LA trading up for Valentin Zykov
  • 2013, 3rd round/88th overall (Anton Slepyshev): to Edmonton as part of LA trading up for Valentin Zykov
  • 2013, 7th round/208th overall (Anthony Brodeur): to New Jersey for 2015 7th rounder
  • 2014, 2nd round/60th overall (Alex Lintuniemi): to Buffalo as part of Robyn Regehr trade
  • 2015, 1st round/13th overall (Jakub Zboril): to Boston as part of Milan Lucic trade
  • 2015, 2nd round/43rd overall (Erik Cernak): to Buffalo as part of Regehr trade
  • 2015, 4th round/104th overall (Mikhail Vorbyov): to Philadelphia as part of LA trading up for Austin Wagner
  • 2015, 6th round/164th overall (Roy Radke): to Chicago for Daniel Carcillo

And here's a list of every pick LA has acquired and used in the last five drafts:

  • 2011, 3rd round/82nd overall (Nick Shore): traded up
  • 2012, 6th round/171st overall (Tomas Hyka): for "future considerations"
  • 2013, 2nd round/37th overall (Valentin Zykov): traded up
  • 2013, 4th round/103rd overall (Justin Auger): for Simon Gagne
  • 2013, 5th round/146th overall (Patrik Bartosak): for Davis Drewiske
  • 2013, 7th round/191st overall (Dominik Kubalik): for 2012 7th rounder
  • 2014, 2nd round/50th overall (Roland McKeown): for Linden Vey
  • 2014, 2nd round/60th overall (Alex Lintuniemi): as part of McNabb trade
  • 2014, 5th round/157th overall (Jake Marchment): as part of Kevin Westgarth trade
  • 2014, 7th round/209th overall (Spencer Watson): for Daniel Carcillo
  • 2015, 2nd round/43rd overall (Erik Cernak): as part of McNabb trade
  • 2015, 4th round/99th overall (Austin Wagner): traded up
  • 2015, 7th round/187th overall (Chaz Reddekopp): for 2013 7th rounder

Interestingly, LA hasn't made fewer picks than they would otherwise have made. They let go of eleven picks and got eleven new ones, while trading and then re-acquiring two additional picks. However, losing those three first-rounders made a huge dent. The Kings' playoff success has exacerbated the lack of high-end talent; due to late draft slots and the aforementioned trades, they've made zero top-28 picks in the last five drafts. Their current stable contains five top-60 picks: Zykov, Kempe, Forbort, Lintuniemi, and Cernak. It's simply hard to have a top-end system when you constantly choose after everyone else has picked their favorites.

This isn't an indictment of what Dean Lombardi has done, by the way. In the end, LA will take the two Cups they've won over winning the prospect pool rankings, and no one wishes the Kings had Marko Dano instead of Jeff Carter. It's simply an explanation for why, when we start revealing our Top 25 Under 25 rankings for 2015, you might not be blown away by what you see.

Oh yeah, did I mention we're doing that soon? Stay tuned.

Notes:

  1. HF's 2015 rankings only included 16 players. The 17-20 slots are filled by players who appeared in last year's Top 25 Under 25.
  2. Players who no longer rated prospect status according to Hockey's Future (such as Drew Doughty) were removed from the Top 25 Under 25 rankings for 2013 and 2014.
  3. HF Sources: 2011 rankings2012 rankings2013 rankings2015 rankings.
  4. JftC Sources: 2013 rankings2014 rankings.