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.
The 13th overall player on the Top 25 Under 25 list is Sean Walker. Walker is the kind of a player who can be low-cost, low-risk, and high reward. Walker was not selected in the NHL Draft and instead has had to prove himself at each level of play. He started his NCAA career in 2013 playing for Bowling Green State University. Shortly, he became one of their best defensemen.
In his final two seasons, Walker was named the captain of his NCAA team. In his 160 games with Bowling Green, he collected 80 points, which was quite impressive for a defenseman. Of course, one can argue that anyone in college hockey is poised to score a ton of goals, but when a defenseman has a 0.50 points-per-game ratio, that’s always solid. Besides, it’s a good sign when a player becomes a captain, anywhere, after only two seasons.
All these signs and signals were enough for the Los Angeles Kings to sign Walker to an AHL contract in 2017. In his first season with the Ontario Reign, the Keswick, Ontario native played in 64 regular-season games after he firstly impressed in the training camp and got his opportunity. Walker posted seven goals and 21 assists for 28 points. He also appeared in four playoff games.
One thing was rather clear, as a right-handed defenseman, Walker is not the next Drew Doughty, or any other elite player who may come to mind. But his offensive upside is quite admirable. The Kings signed him to a two-year entry-level contract in 2018. For a guy who wasn’t selected in the NHL Draft and made it to the AHL roster out of training camp in fall of 2017 that was not a bad route.
But all that was just a beginning. Starting the 2018-19 season in the AHL, Walker was soon to be called up to play in the NHL. The Kings handled him the chance to debut on the big stage on October 22 in Texas versus the Dallas Stars. That guy has to have an offensive mindset, right? In his first game he made an impressive stretch pass to find Tyler Toffoli who scored.
His first goal came on the very last day of 2018, on December 31. Walker dangled through and scored his first NHL goal on a wraparound. Not a bad move for a rookie defenseman trying to score his first-ever goal in the NHL.
In his first season with the Kings in the NHL, Walker winded up reaching three goals and seven assists for 10 points in 39 games. We take a look at another of his high-quality offensive plays with this sweet dish right on the tape of Anze Kopitar, who easily beat Anton Khudobin for a tally. Yes, sorry, Dallas, he likes to assist against you!
To play in 39 NHL games and record 10 points is definitely not bad. Especially when Sean Walker was not even certain to make the AHL roster in 2017, just two years back. Now, let’s look at his stats a bit. His points are impressive, only one of his 10 points hasn’t come while at even-strength. In the NHL, Walker averaged 15:26 of ice time per contest. His Corsi for percentage at even-strength was 49.65, his expected goals-for percentage was 51.07. Walker was -8 at even-strength in those 39 contests he played in.
Walker likes to play with an offensive mindset, as aforementioned. Playing in a full 82-game season, he can certainly reach at least 20 points, not even playing on the power play. However, his defensive game is something to still work on. As a 24-year-old blueliner, Walker is not a typical rookie anymore. He has some leadership and character as well. If he can work on his defensive issues and maintain his offensive input, he can be a very pleasant addition to the Kings blue line for years to come.
For his potential and ability to overcome impossible and quietly impress I picked Walker as the third-best player on the list. After all, it’s all about the potential all these guys have. Walker impressed me enough to regard him as something very positive for the Kings future. If he remains true to the route which brought him all the way to the NHL, Walker is legit. As for the right-handed defenseman, where the Kings blue line is pretty crowded, it’s even more impressive to get his tiny chance to shine. And take advantage of it.