Top 25 Under 25, Part 5: The Icing on Top
By now, you've gone through process of elimination and figured out who the Top 5 are. No surprises, these are the cream of LA's crop.
Over the last couple of years, the Los Angeles Kings' prospect pool dwindled quite a bit en route to two Stanley Cups and a couple of attempts at reclaiming glory. However, these next five have really earned their spots in our rankings.
5. Kevin Gravel
Outside of Drew Doughty, there hasn't been a defenseman in the top five for a few years. However, with significant improvements each year through college and showing no signs of slowing down once turning pro, Kevin Gravel has impressed both fans and management alike. Once compared to a young Rob Scuderi, Gravel excels at using his reach and being positionally sound. He makes quick judgments and is rarely caught overthinking plays. In his very brief cup of coffee last season, Gravel didn't look out of place or like he was struggling to keep up with NHL pace at all. All eyes will be on the closest thing to a blue chip prospect LA has in Ontario this season.
4. Nick Shore
If there is a more polarizing player in the Kings' system, you'd be hard pressed to find one who draws more fans' ire and more fans' defense than Nick Shore. Not known to be a flashy player ever in his career, Shore succeeds at being a shutdown center. He has thrived in his limited role primarily on the third line, with his corsi so sterling, it's almost enough for the fancy stats crowd to go, "Justin Who?" While he limits other teams scoring goals, he himself is rather limited in that department as well. A shoot-third player, Shore is often frustrating to watch as he'll pass up opportunities to either make the safe play or defer to a teammate before he finally decides to take the shot himself. Scoring isn't everything, but it certainly is something when he's only managed two goals in 100 NHL games, which seems odd for a guy who managed to put up 30 goals in 50+ AHL games just a few seasons ago. The growth of Nic Dowd and a glutton of similarly skilled players could make for an interesting competition in the bottom-six this year.
3. Adrian Kempe
While Detroit seems to have cornered the market on hidden Swedish gems, LA finally snagged one of their own. Perhaps not necessarily "hidden" as he was selected 29th overall in 2014, the forward has shown marked improvement since coming to North America. His smooth skating style helped him fit right in and he showed little struggle in adapting to the smaller rink. Injuries to the Reign's best centers early in the season allowed Ontario coach Mike Stothers to experiment moving Kempe to center, a position he hadn't played since juniors, where he merited an extended look in a pivotal role. Finishing with a disappointing 28 points in 55 games, Kempe will look to build on his improved defense and score more consistently. A long shot to make the big club, Kempe had a surprisingly impressive preseason showing. Showing great poise, the Swede earned extra time with the NHLers, staying up until very nearly the last possible moment. At just 20 years old, Kempe still has some growing to do but he'll certainly be one to watch. Could he be the next Tanner Pearson?
2. Tanner Pearson
Speaking of, the 2012 30th overall pick is coming off a disappointing season in which he only scored 15 goals, Pearson will be expected to step up his game, lest he find his name in the mix of trade rumors yet again. With good foot speed and creativity in his arsenal, the 24-year-old Ontario native has all the tools for a turnaround, it may just be a matter of opportunities playing with more skilled players, such as That '70s linemate Tyler Toffoli. Which brings us to our top ranked player under 25.
1. Tyler Toffoli
No surprise here, Toffoli was the unanimous #1 pick by readers and staff alike. The baby faced winger with a penchant for cupcakes scored 31 goals last season, edging out Anze Kopitar for the team goal scoring title. While we shouldn't expect the junk food loving 24-year-old to score 30 goals again, another two dozen plus pastries aren't totally off the menu. A solid play driver, Toffoli's defense used to leave the coaching staff feeling sour. However, his score, zone and venue adjusted 59.2% CF numbers seem to suggest he's found an ideal recipe. A dangerous penalty killer, Toffoli has the potential to make opposing fans salty with his shorthanded goal scoring ability. What a sweet treat he is for LA Kings fans.