Our annual Top 25 Under 25 countdown continues, and this week you’ll see some of these players in action! The rankings were determined by a combination of reader voting and our staff’s own voting. We then combined the reader rankings (50%) and the staff rankings (50%) to determine the top 25. To be eligible for the countdown, a player must be 24 or younger on October 5, 2017, when the 2017-18 NHL season begins.
We’re taking a look at the best and the brightest in the Los Angeles Kings organization in our fifth annual Top 25 Under 25 countdown. The tallest member of our countdown comes in at #11: Justin Auger.
2016-17 Team: Ontario Reign (AHL)
2016-17 Statistics: 61 GP, 11 G, 9 A, 20 P
Current NHL Projection (via NHLe): 82 GP, 7 G, 6 A, 13 P (based on AHL total)
Jewels Reader Ranking: 8
Jewels Staff Ranking: 17
Justin Auger is tall. Like, really tall. At 6’7, he is still an inch taller than Matt Schmalz (2015 5th round draft pick) and several inches taller than anyone else in the pipeline. It’d be nice to say that there’s more than meets the eye with him but based on his AHL stats so far, it might be the case that there isn’t.
As Sarah pointed out earlier this summer:
[...] with three full seasons of pro experience under his belt without even a single call-up to the NHL, his likelihood of being seen as a legitimate NHL prospect is low. He spent a bulk of his time in Ontario as a middle-six forward, and while he’s put up decent numbers for a depth forward, there just isn’t a spot for him unless he can learn to be more consistent.
Depth-wise, the Ontario native has been passed by Adrian Kempe and Jonny Brodzinski, who have both shown more flash and promise offensively than Auger.
Auger is an interesting guy in that he’s not known for his offense or his hitting. He’s one of those almost “tweener” guys who might be able to crack the NHL given a slew of injuries on wing. More highly-touted prospects might stand in his way, though. While Brodzinski and Kempe have both played center, John Stevens may feel more comfortable keeping them on wing as they adjust to the NHL pace. And then there’s Michael Mersch. As another “tweener” type winger who has actually shown pretty decent consistency offensively in three years — though previous management seemed to sour on him — Mersch presents another obstacle for Auger to make the Kings’ lineup.
Like Mersch, Auger could possibly fill a role on the fourth line as a "plug." After all, there doesn’t seem to be much difference between either of them and Andy Andreoff or Jordan Nolan beyond experience. Neither Auger nor Mersch is exempt from waivers, so if either does not make the team this season, they could potentially be claimed by another team before they can return to Ontario.
Though Auger’s scoring fell off this season (he had 19 goals and 17 assists in 2015-16), Auger did finish the season with one of his strongest performances. In Game 4 of Ontario’s first-round series against San Diego, Auger was moved up to the top line with Brodzinski and TJ Hensick, the team’s two leading scorers. The Reign got three goals on Jhonas Enroth to force Game 5, and Auger scored two of them with an assist on the third.
If he’s capable of doing that when playing with NHL competition in the preseason, it’ll help his chances of being known for more than just his size.