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. Today at #17 is one of the fastest skaters in the organization, Austin Wagner.
Age: 21 (June 23, 1997)
2017-18 Team: Ontario Reign (AHL)
2017-18 Statistics: 50 GP, 10 G, 7 A, 17 P (Playoffs: 3 GP, no points)
Jewels Reader Ranking: 19
Jewels Staff Ranking: 14
Last Year’s Ranking: 9
At first blush, Austin Wagner’s first pro season will not elicit much excitement. After increasing his scoring output in each consecutive junior season, his 17 points over 50 games with the Reign were a bit underwhelming. Any scouting report you find on the winger will mention his speed. That aspect of his game certainly did not disappoint last season:
Wagner’s professional career stalled as he missed the first two months of the season recovering from labrum and bicep surgery. It took him some time to adjust to the AHL, collecting only six points (2G, 4A) in his first 24 games.
As his comfort in the AHL increased, so did his scoring, culminating in a hot month of March where he tallied six goals in twelve games, including a three-game goal streak. Not your typical burner, Wagner is not shy about using his 6’1 frame to score the dirty goals.
Like many of the forwards in the Kings’ system, Wagner’s stock dropped considerably on our list from last year. Part of that is due to the rise of newcomers, while his low point totals obviously contributed to his drop in our rankings, as well.
In truth, we may have overrated his final season in junior and ranked him too high in the first place. Which is not to suggest he has no value as a prospect. His speed is a real weapon that he combines with physical force that makes him rather unpleasant to play against. If he continues to develop his defensive game while working on his discipline (62 PIM, following a trend from his junior days), he could potentially carve out a niche as a Trevor Lewis clone.
At age-21, Wagner still has time to round out his game and become a realistic NHL contributor, particularly with the Kings in need of speed and offensive depth. That explosiveness along with his physical play makes him a particularly good fit with LA.
As he begins his second season with the Reign, he will have the benefit of a full training camp to help get his sophomore campaign started on the right foot. With the Reign forward corps featuring mostly organizational soldiers and older pros, Wagner has a golden opportunity to seize a bigger role with the club and increase his production.
His upside with the Kings is likely bottom-six forward, with enough upside to potentially make him a line-up fixture. While he lacks the potential impact of the forwards we will cover later in our countdown, his unique tool set gives him a high probability of seeing NHL action at some point.