Our annual Top 25 Under 25 countdown has begun! 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 3, 2018, when the 2018-19 NHL season begins.
We’re taking a look at the best and the brightest in the Los Angeles Kings organization in our sixth annual Top 25 Under 25 countdown. Coming in at #22 is Bokondji Imama.
Age: 22 (August 3, 1996)
2017-18 Team: Ontario Reign (AHL)
2017-18 Statistics: 38 GP, 0 G, 1 A, 1 P
Jewels Reader Ranking: 22
Jewels Staff Ranking: Not Ranked
Last Year’s Ranking: 18
A one-point AHL scorer has cracked the Los Angeles Kings Top 25 Under 25, and what’s most surprising about that is… I’m not surprised.
Let’s take a look at why readers were high on Bokondji “Boko” Imama. Maybe it was the promise of a breakout 2016-17 in the QMJHL, when Imama scored more goals over the full season than Nico Hischier. Perhaps it’s a love for his fighting ability; Imama scrapped five times in 38 games for Ontario, including a fight in the season-opening game. It might also be a nod to his relative youth (he just turned 22) and his character (by all accounts, stellar). Both of those likely supported LA’s decision to give him a three-year contract last season, just after acquiring him from the Tampa Bay Lightning for a draft pick. The Kings may be handing less and less ice time to players in Imama’s mold, but his skillset is a welcome addition to the Ontario Reign’s bottom six.
Imama did drop from last year’s #18 ranking, presumably because Imama failed to get on the scoresheet in 37 of his 38 games for the Reign. Imama talked with Jon Rosen during the preseason about the various details that go into converting chances in the offensive zone, but it was clearly easier said than done. It’s a difficult adjustment moving from the free-scoring ways of the QMJHL to the rigorous tests of an AHL schedule, and Imama’s time spent in the penalty box (59 PIM in 38 games) didn’t help. Imama didn’t appear in any games during Ontario’s first-round loss in the Calder Cup Playoffs, and there’s certain to be competition for a lineup spot most nights next year too.
What’s the best-case scenario for Imama? You could’ve found it on Imama’s team last year, in the form of Andrew Crescenzi. Crescenzi went pro after a similarly substantial scoring increase in his final year of juniors, only to be similarly unproductive at the start of his AHL career in Toronto. For Crescenzi, a change of scenery and an increase in responsibility did wonders. After scoring 4 points in 44 games in 2013-14, Crescenzi carved out a bottom-six role on the Calder Cup champion Manchester Monarchs, then became one of the more trusted players on the Ontario Reign before earning a cup of coffee for a depleted Kings squad in December.
Imama’s best way forward is to find a niche that allows him to play every night. That means improved defensive and penalty killing work to go with his current physical style. A player that scores 41 goals in 66 games — at any level — is going to knock a couple pucks in the net sooner or later, and for a 22-year-old there’s room to grow in all areas.