LA Kings' Top 25 Under 25: #14 - Derek Forbort

Can the 2010 first rounder break through?

Hey guys! I'm back and here to tell you all about this human skyscraper on the blueline, Mr. Derek Forbort. Reports put him at 212-218ish pounds, and 6'4" or 6'5". Let's just settle on damn big.

Rank DOB Nationality Draft Vote Total
14 3/4/1992 USA
1st round, 15th overall, 2010

Ever since he slipped a purple and gold jersey over his tree-like frame at the 2010 draft, the plan was for Derek Forbort to take over a top spot on the Kings’ defense one day. Though the Staples crowd was a bit puzzled that LA had passed on local boy Emerson Etem, the scouting staff was thrilled. Forbort was the 9th ranked North American skater, and very high on the Kings’ own list. When he was still on the board in the middle of the first round, they moved aggressively up four spots to nab him. They could afford a long-term project for this kind of potential. He was young, raw, and Pronger-sized. He showed flashes of having it all, contributing on offense as well as defense.

The Kings weren’t alone in valuing Forbort highly. He was #11 on TSN’s final draft ranking, which reflects the consensus among scouts. Here's what Bob McKenzie had to say:

"Derek Forbort isn’t as physically intimidating as U.S. Under-18 teammate Jarred Tinordi and he’s not as offensively gifted as teammate Jonathan Merrill and he doesn’t possess the hardest slapshot in the draft like teammate Justin Faulk, but with his size and mobility, scouts believe Forbort has greater potential than any of the stellar blueliners on what may be the best ever U.S. Under-18 squad and, therefore, is a legit threat to be a Top 10 pick."

Flash forward to 2014, and Forbort is still a work in progress. This is reflected in our rankings, which see him fall from #9 the year prior to #14. But let's review his story thus far.

College years

Forbort went on to play big minutes for a well-respected college program (UND), but the hoped-for offensive side of his game never materialized. Still, his combination of size and mobility kept his stock high. The Kings already had two splendid offensive d-men in Voynov and Doughty; getting a big, young, stay-at-home partner for one of them would be ideal. Even though Forbort’s overall game still needed refining, super tall dudes with that kind of potential don’t come along often.
By the summer of 2013, Corey Pronman of Hockey Prospectus thought Forbort could turn out to be "a number four defenseman who plays tough defensive minutes, but not a power play contributor." His game still lacked a mean, physical element, but he won praise for being a very mobile player who had become more solid defensively since he was drafted.
Said Pronman:

"He has really progressed well in his own end, as he makes a lot of stops by closing his gaps and getting in lanes. Forbort is an effective penalty killer, and he makes quality defensive reads. He can make a fine outlet pass as well."
Nick’s profile last year summed up Forbort's appeal:

"While [the Kings] have stay-at-home guys at present, all of them on the wrong side of 30. Two of them are coming off injury-riddled seasons. At some point in the near future, a spot will be available. Forbort is now in a muddled mix of players fighting for one of those spots. In all honestly, his style of play seems to give him a leg up with this management group. A defensive defender that isn't a shithead with the puck? Make sure you knock before entering Sutter's office."Could he hear our pleas? SAVE US, FORBORT.

The AHL learning curve

The lanky defenseman came to the AHL, and we were all hoping he'd take a huge step. What happened was a bumpier ride. As Rob Blake acknowledged in this excellent interview by Frozen Royalty, Forbort needed time to adapt to the greater workload and faster pace of the pro level.

"It’s a day-to-day battle, rather than the short college season," added Blake. "As we got down through the season, he ended up being a pretty prominent defenseman for us. That’s just him understanding what the pro game is all about."

Forbort’s skating, reach, and positioning were praised, but he apparently needs to work on adding a more physical element to his game and and improving his first pass.

But while Forbort developed, the organization still had a pressing need to replace some of the veterans on the blueline. So at the trade deadline, Lombardi brought in another big, 6’4", left shot young defenseman in Brayden McNabb, who by all accounts is slated to challenge for a regular role.

Lombardi made it clear what the thinking was behind the trade:

...You’re not only seeing what you have but what you’ve got coming. And we felt that given where our team was at, that it was going to be at some point here critical that we get a young defenseman who has a chance to play in your top-four."--LA Kings InsiderThe implication is clear: Forbort wasn’t ready for that. So what next?

Big season needed

His second pro season is a crucial one for Forbort. Though he’s only 22 years old, and defensemen often take longer to develop, Forbort is the highest-drafted player from 2010 who has yet to play a game in the NHL. Can he live up to those flashes of potential and make the jump?

The 2015 offseason could provide another opportunity. The Kings have many UFA and RFA contracts due to expire; young, cheap NHL-ready depth would be a blessing. Robyn Regehr’s deal is up, and Alec Martinez will become an unrestricted free agent and might leave us all in tears. (I don't want to think about that.)

Where would Forbort fit? He’s big but not physical, and strong skater without much offensive flair. He has the tools to be a solid stay-at-home defenseman, if not a standout. If he's not the future partner for Voynov, it’s difficult to picture Forbort stepping in as a puck-moving partner for Greene. But even if no spot seems wide open, a club that wants to make another deep playoff run can never have too many capable defensemen waiting in the wings.

Best case scenario: Forbort puts it all together in Manch this season and becomes a candidate for a call-up over the veteran Schultz, then challenges for spot in 2015.

What do you think of Forbort's potential? Tell us in the comments.