Our seventh 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 and the staff rankings to determine the top 25. To be eligible for the countdown, a player must be 24 or younger on October 2, 2019, when the 2019-20 NHL season begins.
For a long time with the Kings, signing college free agents wasn’t really a thing that happened. There was no room for them on the roster, for one, and it seemed like Dean Lombardi never really prioritized signing them, even when the prospect pipeline was looking increasingly bare. Lombardi appeared to sign just three NCAA free agents during his Kings tenure: Brian O’Neill (2012), Corey Elkins (2009), and Patrick Mullen (2009).
Rob Blake, however, has turned frequently to the NCAA to bolster the Kings’ pipeline. Just days after he was officially installed as general manager, the Kings announced the signing of Alex Iafallo, a highly touted college prospect. Blake has also signed Cal Petersen, Sheldon Rempal, Blake Lizotte, and Daniel Brickley, all in a little over two years’ time.
Brickley was one of the most highly touted NCAA prospects, coming off of three consecutive years of being named to a WCHA All-Star (or All-Rookie, in his first year) team during his time at Minnesota State-Mankato. In the one NHL game he appeared in at the close of the 2017-18 season, Brickley looked poised and not out of place in his limited ice time.
While many of us penciled Brickley in for perhaps sixth/seventh defenseman duties for the Kings for the 2018-19 season, or at worst, an assignment with the Ontario Reign with a recall at the first available opportunity. And although he was one of the last cuts of the preseason — he was assigned to the Reign on October 1, 2018 — and although the coaching staff was pleased with his overall camp, Brickley didn’t excel in Ontario the way that onlookers would have hoped.
Brickley had a difficult year as a rookie, finishing with 12 points over 42 games. With the appropriate disclaimers about plus/minus not being a perfect or even entirely meaningful stat, Brickley’s minus-31 was not only the worst on the Reign, but the worst of all skaters in the entire AHL (San Antonio Rampage defenseman Jake Walman also had a minus-31 over the course of 66 games played). He struggled on both sides of the puck no matter where he was placed in the lineup or who he played with. Additionally, Brickley missed nearly two months of play in January and February with a lower body injury.
In his brief stint in the NHL this past season, Brickley spent most of his playing time with Oscar Fantenberg (38:04 time on ice together at even strength) and, quite frankly, the duo got caved in, being on ice for 40 shot attempts against, versus 24 for the Kings. Brickley also spent time paired with Drew Doughty and Sean Walker, but not a significant enough amount of time to truly be able to glean anything from the numbers.
Much like trying to analyze the season of any of the players on the Kings, it’s tough to look at Brickley’s performance and know if that’s the true version of the player — a step behind, not able to elevate his game to the professional level — or if he was brought down by the Reign’s overall failure to thrive.
Brickley, like nearly everyone else in the Kings organization, needs a hard reboot, and maybe a clean slate, going in to the 2019-20 season. Perhaps if things are better from top to bottom, if Ontario doesn’t lose its best players to the Kings, if a healthy Brickley can focus on playing a consistent defensive game — maybe then he’ll be able to realize the potential the organization saw in him when first inking him to a contract.
Votes for Brickley were fairly spread out, with more readers placing him in the back half of their ballots — 23 readers placed him in the 20-25 range. JFTC’s cast of contributors were a little more spread out, with individual votes all the way from the number five spot to 23rd in the ranking.