Our annual Top 25 Under 25 countdown has officially entered the top ten! 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. Our youngest prospect makes his debut at #6: Jaret Anderson-Dolan.
2016-17 Team: Spokane Chiefs (WHL)
2016-17 Statistics: 72 GP, 39 G, 37 A, 76 P
Current NHL Projection (via NHLe): 82 GP, 13 G, 12 A, 25 P
Jewels Reader Ranking: 5
Jewels Staff Ranking: 7
After being drafted, most players have to wait a few years before being their team’s star attraction. But with most of the NHL-level Los Angeles Kings in China, and 2017 first-rounder Gabe Vilardi on the mend, Jaret Anderson-Dolan is the highest-profile player remaining for tonight’s preseason game against the Anaheim Ducks. It’s a rivalry game! It’s on TV! And while some veteran (tryout) players might be familiar to us, no one on the ice is more important to the Kings’ future than the youngest player with the longest name. (You can call him JAD.)
Of course, “highest-profile” doesn’t necessarily mean best. Anderson-Dolan has already received more attention than a typical second-rounder because (1) he was a potential first-round selection and near-consensus top-40 prospect who dropped to #41 and (2) his upbringing — he was raised by his mothers, plural, in Spokane — stood out as unique among any player in recent memory. Coming in after Gabe Vilardi, he formed the “2” in an exciting 1-2 punch, as the most intriguing forward prospects since Adrian Kempe simply because LA hadn’t picked a forward in the first couple rounds since then. So Anderson-Dolan has already found himself with numerous eyes on him, and the Kings expect quite a bit from him now that JAD’s former junior coach is an LA assistant. Director of amateur scouting Mark Yannetti certainly heard enough about it.
"You can't get [Don Nachbaur] to shut up about Anderson-Dolan," Yannetti said after the draft. "There was no additional information gleaned from him because he had already told us [everything]. There is a body language change and a voice inflection change whenever he is talking about Anderson-Dolan. He believes in the kid as well as the player on a level that becomes sickening, maybe, if you spend too much time talking to him."
The good news is that his game might be able to back up that “sickening” level. Anderson-Dolan was a relative late bloomer — his draft ranking among North American skaters jumped from #40 at midseason to #21 at year’s end — but he and eventual Edmonton first-rounder Kailer Yamamoto formed a potent combination at the top of the Spokane Chiefs lineup. With Yamamoto potentially pushing for a season-opening stint with the Oilers, Anderson-Dolan might have to prove he can still score 39 goals without Yamamoto on his wing. The odds are good, though; Anderson-Dolan can create opportunities for himself with speed, and as McKeen’s Hockey puts it, “there is no part of his game that projects to less than average at the highest level.”
The preseason is giving Anderson-Dolan a chance to prove he belongs, and so far he has put forth a good account of himself. Anderson-Dolan scored — on his 18th birthday, no less — in his first game against the Vegas Golden Knights, showcasing a nifty bit of movement and a strong release on the power play. (He hit the post in the second game, where LA was shut out.)
Anderson-Dolan also has played on the Spokane penalty kill, and given how many penalties have been called on NHL teams this preseason, I’m looking forward to watching whether he’s handed that responsibility for the Kings tonight. As for even strength play, LA’s new focus on going to the net, cross-ice passing, and using the space behind the goal should fit seamlessly with Anderson-Dolan’s agility and decisiveness.
Of course, no prospect is a sure thing, and the second-round picks of this decade prove it. The selections prior to JAD since 2010 are bookended by Tyler Toffoli, easily the most productive Kings draft pick of the decade, and Kale Clague, LA’s top defensive prospect. The jury is still out on Alex Lintuniemi, drafted 60th in 2014. Every other selection has been either traded for more immediate help (Valentin Zykov, Roland McKeown, Erik Cernak) or waived (Christopher Gibson). Given LA’s lack of big-splash moves in the last couple years I’d assume that the Kings are done dumping high-end prospects, and even for Zykov and Cernak, LA traded them after some questions began to emerge about their ceilings. Anderson-Dolan’s timing is good; even if he struggles in the next year or two, the Kings are unlikely to move him for a rental.
Jaret Anderson-Dolan (41st overall by LAK in 2017) is a great player with a wonderful story. pic.twitter.com/lUu27DehwD— Ziggy (@Ziggy_14) August 15, 2017
Which means Anderson-Dolan has every opportunity to follow a steady development path. I’d love for him to mirror Anaheim prospect Sam Steel, a WHL center who went from a point-per-game scorer to a two-point-per-game scorer in his post-draft season, but even a modest improvement would see JAD crack the WHL’s top ten in goals. We’ll keep our expectations similarly modest, because Anderson-Dolan has a lot of time to prove he can contribute down the middle for LA. If he wants to start proving it tonight, though... we won’t have a problem with that.