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.
Coming in at number five on our countdown, we have another former low draft selection who might be ready to take a big stride towards the regular job in the NHL. That’s Austin Wagner. The Los Angeles Kings drafted him as the 99th overall player in the fourth round of the 2015 NHL Draft. That hasn’t made a ton of noise. But now, Wagner is a prime candidate to make the roster for the Opening Night.
Following his draft, Wagner spent two more seasons at the WHL level playing for the Regina Pats. The Calgary native then signed a three-year entry-level contract with the Kings in 2017. In his 238 games in the WHL, Wagner collected 169 points. Scoring wasn’t always his best ability, it was rather his two-way hard-working play which provided him with a chance with the Kings.
Wagner spent his first season of the original three-year contract in the AHL, where he appeared in 50 games with the Ontario Reign. In those 50 contests, Wagner posted only 17 points. Despite his points not hitting up sky-high levels, the Kings saw the potential Wagner has. It was his eye-catching speed and hard-working ability with which he impressed. Yeah, the scoring was something that the staff needed to work on with him.
In the following season, Wagner managed to spend only nine games at the AHL level, not more time there was required. The Kings called him up to the NHL, where he ended up playing in 62 games, mainly as a bottom-six guy. Wagner averaged only 8:56 of ice-time per game. Still, he managed to post 12 goals and nine assists for 21 points.
Even though the left-winger spent most of the time playing on the fourth line and the penalty kill, in five-on-five scoring and production he had one of the best ratios in the NHL. The speed was always there, the Kings know he is an elite skater. However, the main goal for the team was to improve his shooting, around-the-net work, and better his one-timers.
“We’ve still got a long ways to go before I want to be where I want to be, and I want to be a 30-goal scorer. I want to be a 20-plus goal scorer every year. Obviously, 10’s great to get, but I still want to hit 20. It probably won’t happen this year, but I’m going to keep working here, keep my head down and keep doing the little things right,” said Wagner in March.
What’s next for the 22-year-old forward? He might have revealed it himself. He wants to be a goal scorer. He is not known for it, but the Kings tried to work on it with him as he hit 12 goals with very low ice-time. Still, it’s the speed which slowly, or fastly, starts to dominate the current flow of the NHL hockey. A player like Austin Wagner won’t lose in an attempt to find his route to NHL success nowadays.
According to our combined voting, we rank Wagner as the fifth-best Kings prospect. He should certainly have some ice-time during the regular season next year to continue his progress. Maybe once he will hit his sought-after 30-goal mark.