Top 25 Under 25, Part 4: The Next Wave
Opening Night 2016 for these five? No. Opening Night 2017 and Opening Night 2018? Now you're talking.
10. Jonny Brodzinski (RW, 23)
After three years playing for St. Cloud State, Brodzinski made the jump to the professional ranks in 2015-16. His first AHL season produced mixed results. He got off to a brutal start, with 0 goals and 2 assists in his first 17 games. Brodzinski had 25 shots and hit a multitude of posts over that span, so bad luck was definitely involved. Over his next 48 games, Brodzinski managed 26 points, which is better, if not spectacular.
Kings management has compared Brodzinski to Tyler Toffoli. That makes sense. Brodzinski is a 6-foot, 200-pound right wing. Scouts love Brodzinki's shot, but have cast aspersions on his skating. But the similarity is only skin-deep. Statistically, Brodzinski is simply not even close to Toffoli. It's difficult to interpret Brodzinski's St. Cloud State numbers (because we have little information about the quality of competition in that league), but the fact that he showed almost no statistical improvement in his third college season is a big concern. Brodzinski's 28 points in 65 AHL games, moreover, equals an NHLe of just 17. As a 20-year-old in the AHL, Tyler Toffoli put up an NHLe of 34. There is a stylistic similarity, but the two players are not the same caliber of prospect.
Brodzinski broke his hand during the Calder Cup playoffs, but seems to have made a full recovery. The Kings will hope he steps up his offensive production in his second AHL season. Brodzinski has set a target of 35 goals for himself. If he does that, he will be quite a bit higher on next year's T25U25. While Brodzinski will probably spend most of 2016-17 in the AHL, an NHL call-up or two is not out of the question.
9. Paul LaDue (D, 24)
After checking in at #22 in 2015's T25U25, Paul LaDue makes a dramatic rise into the top 10. What happened? It wasn't any kind of statistical breakout, as LaDue's boxcar stats (19 points in 41 NCAA games) were as steady and unspectacular as ever. But Kings management has become increasingly enthusiastic in praising LaDue. He offers neither offensive flash or much in the way of physicality. But he's a crisp puck mover, a pretty good skater, and defensively sound. LaDue describes his own game as "efficient." Sounds Kingish to me.
Note that LaDue could have returned to North Dakota for his senior season and then hit free agency. The Kings are surely appreciative of his decision to instead turn professional. The Kings will see how LaDue handles his first taste of the AHL in 2016-17. If he fares well, he could conceivably make his NHL debut this year, too.
8. Derek Forbort (D, 24)
Derek Forbort played 14 NHL games for the Kings last year. He didn't do at all badly, posting a 62.3% Corsi, albeit in heavily sheltered ice time. The Kings did not seem to be entirely pleased with his efforts, however. Even as the defensive depth wore thin in the second half the season, Los Angeles preferred to ice the likes of Rob Scuderi. That's not a good sign. Forbort is huge (6'5", 216 lbs) and can really skate--hence LA's decision to draft him in the first round--but he has not matured into the excellent all-around defenseman the Kings envisioned. He's not physical and he's not dynamic offensively. That's problematic, but it's still not too late for Forbort to carve out a solid NHL career for himself as a bottom-pair defenseman.
Forbort should compete for a roster spot this season. Unlike Kevin Gravel, Forbort have to clear waivers to be sent down to the AHL, which should boost his odds of making the team. If the Kings do send him down, I'd guess that another NHL team would probably claim him. So Forbort is likely to spend 2016-17 in the NHL, if not necessarily with the Kings.
7. Michael Mersch (LW, 24)
Michael Mersch's first 17 NHL games did not go so well. Mersch put up a 41.88% Corsi (-14.7% Corsi relative!), which is quite a feat considering that the Kings are an excellent possession team. He produced only three points and appeared to be a step or two behind the pace of the NHL.
On the other hand, that's only 17 games. And in Mersch's more extensive AHL sample, there are some reasons for optimism. His 43 points in 52 AHL games equates to a pretty solid NHLe of 32. That's a substantial improvement from the 23 NHLe Mersch managed in his first AHL season in 2014-15. It's fair to say that he showed significant offensive strides this year, even if that didn't translate to the NHL right away.
Mersch has a shot at cracking LA's roster. Marian Gaborik's injury will surely help his cause. Mersch can be sent down to the AHL without needing to clear waivers, so it's not yet make-or-break for Mersch and the Kings. Still, this is an excellent opportunity for Mersch to establish himself as an NHL regular, and the Kings must be hoping that he'll make the most of it.
6. Mike Amadio (C, 20)
Mike Amadio has skyrocketed up JFTC's T25U25 ranks, and for good reason. In his draft year, he put up a mere 38 points in 64 OHL games, a very modest total. The Kings made him a third-round pick anyway, and he proceeded to put up 71 points in 68 OHL games. That earned him a spot in the T25U25, where JFTC wondered if Amadio would sustain that offensive improvement in his third OHL season. Well, Amadio scored 98 points in 68 OHL games, so yes, he sustained it and then some.
It's true that junior players naturally improve year-to-year, but Amadio's offensive improvement far outpaces the typical progress we would expect from aging. Bear in mind, too, that Amadio's defensive game was considered his major strength when he was drafted. He's a responsible player who excels at faceoffs and penalty killing. It looks like the Kings got an excellent value out of their third-round pick. In 2016-17, we'll see how Amadio adjusts to the AHL. In the longer term, he's looking like an important part of LA's future.