2016 Top 25 Under 25, Part 1: The Tier of Uncertainty
A fallen prodigy, an Danish import, a victim of numbers, a former castoff, and a new Husky. What a way to start.
It’s time to announce our annual Top 25 Under 25 rankings. Two changes from last year: we’ll be doing it all in a week, AND reader rankings are playing a role. Without further ado, here’s Part 1 of the Top 25 players under the age of 25 in the Los Angeles Kings organization.
missed the cut: Chaz Reddekopp, Jacob Friend, Joel Lowry, Matt Luff, Matt Roy, Matt Schmalz, Steven Johnson.
Honorable mention: Nikolai Prokhorkin. Our International Man of Mystery is currently playing for a stacked SKA St. Petersburg squad in Russia, battling for ice time with the likes of Ilya Kovalchuk, Pavel Datsyuk, Sergei Plotnikov, Viktor Tikhonov, and 2015 third-rounder Alexander Dergachyov. Will he ever actually play for the Kings? I’m not holding my breath, but the Kings technically own his rights, and he would have made this countdown if his chances of playing here didn’t seem so remote.
Now then, for players who actually cracked our top 25.
25. Jack Campbell
The lowest spot on our countdown seems like an appropriate place for the only goalie eligible for this countdown. Seeking goaltending depth, the Kings traded defenseman Nick Ebert (who was also once #25 on this countdown) for Campbell, the 11th overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft. We got to see Campbell for the first time in Sunday’s Hockeyville game against Edmonton, though he did stop all 12 shots he faced out of our sight in Colorado. Campbell is coming off a nightmarish season, but he’s getting every chance to find his footing in Ontario after clearing waivers. It might be his last chance.
(reader ranking: 22)
24. Patrick Bjorkstrand
The Danish winger is the newest face on this countdown; Bjorkstrand signed a one-year deal with the Kings on July 14, 2016. Like Campbell, Bjorkstrand has already been sent down to the Ontario Reign, and like Campbell, he’s got a lot to prove. Bjorkstrand has zero experience in North American hockey, though his brother Oliver made a splashy debut with Columbus last season with eight points in 12 games. Bjorkstrand had his best of his three years in the KHL with 22 points last season, and the team thought enough of his skating and two-way play to bring him out. At worst, he should be able to provide depth in the AHL.
(reader ranking: 25)
23. Zac Leslie
Leslie is the one returner in this part of the countdown, and it’s not great news for him; after rising from #25 in 2014 to #17 in 2015, he’s right back down to the fringes. The bigger issue for Leslie isn’t what we think of him, of course; it’s the number of other defensemen that will be challenging him for an AHL spot this season. For every Ebert, Schultz, and Raine who departed Ontario this season, there’s a Trotman, Sharipzianov, or Lintuniemi coming in, and Leslie’s offensive upside never really manifested itself last season. He’s only 22, but if he gets demoted to Manchester again, his window of opportunity with LA might close.
(reader ranking: 23)
22. Andrew Crescenzi
Some players benefit from lower expectations. The piece that came back to the Kings when they traded Brandon Kozun, Crescenzi has gone from 5, to 15, to 21 points in the AHL, and he became an every-night player for a team that likes his style of physical, defensive play. Is he ever going to crack the Kings’ lineup? That’s extremely unlikely. But Crescenzi is a prototypical bottom-six center, and even if it’s just in the AHL, there’s always a place for one of those in the organization. Meanwhile, Kozun is in Russia. How about that?
(reader ranking: 21)
21. Mikey Eyssimont
Kevin Gravel. Nic Dowd. Jonny Brodzinski. And now, Mikey Eyssimont. The first two have exceeded most expectations, making their NHL debuts last season and looking good for this year’s Opening Night roster. Brodzinski fought through a tough start to become one of Ontario’s top goalscorers over the second half of last season. Now, Eyssimont looks to become yet another of the Kings’ St. Cloud State success stories. A fourth-round draft pick in 2016, Eyssimont is still a couple years away from the pros, but he had an impressive freshman campaign with the Huskies. Our draft profile notes that he lacks high-end skill, but just scores goals. He missed out on the readers’ top 25, but a step forward (with our eyes on him!) will move him well up this countdown.
(reader ranking: 28)
Tomorrow: 20-16. Our top 20 matches your top 20. Will our next five match your five?