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 #23 is Austin Strand.
Age: 21 (February 17, 1997)
2017-18 Team: Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL)
2017-18 Statistics: 69 GP, 25 G, 39 A, 64 P (Playoffs: 5 GP, 1 G, 2 A, 3 P)
Jewels Reader Ranking: 21
Jewels Staff Ranking: Not Ranked
Last Year’s Ranking: Not Ranked
The Kings have been determined the last two years to re-build their prospect pipeline. Not only have they stubbornly preserved nearly all of their draft picks over that time, they have been opportunistic in recruiting un-drafted free agents. While many of these players will fizzle out before reaching the NHL, last season showed they could also pay immediate dividends.
Defenseman Austin Strand is more of a long term project, but there is a lot to like. At 6’4”, 216-pounds, the right-shot defender had a dominant over-age season in the WHL, leading the Seattle Thunderbirds defense with 64 points over 69 games, after recording only 58 points across his first three seasons combined. Despite his large frame, Strand’s biggest asset may be his skating. Noted for his excellent transition game, Strand’s 25 goals were second among all defensemen in the WHL.
At age-20, it was imperative that Strand dominate major-junior competition if he were to garner any attention from NHL clubs. After a pre-season tryout with the Edmonton Oilers, Strand entered the 2017-18 season with a new sense of confidence, recording 26 points in his first 24 games. That early performance was enough to convince the Kings to sign him to a three year, entry-level contract.
A veteran of three Memorial Cup tournaments, including a WHL championship in the 2016-17 season, Strand will now enter his first pro season. He attended his first development camp with the Kings in June and is expected to compete for a spot on the loaded Ontario Reign blueline during training camp.
Strand made huge strides over the past year, but will need to continue to push forward if he hopes to establish himself as a pro. With size, speed and a big shot in his tool kit, the talent is certainly there to separate himself as a legitimate prospect. As mentioned, the Reign’s current stable of defensemen sits nine-deep, so the rookie could find himself pushed to the ECHL to get him ice time.