The System: A Look at Six Years of Los Angeles Kings Prospects

How many stuck around? How many left? And is the prospect pool really healthier than it was two years ago?

Two years ago, we did our best to explain how the Los Angeles Kings’ prospect pool had gone from being one of the league’s best (ranked #1 in 2011 by Hockey’s Future) to one of the league’s worst (ranked in the bottom quarter of the NHL by Hockey’s Future, ESPN’s Corey Pronman, and Bleacher Report’s Jonathan Willis, among others).

The Decline of the Kings' Prospect Pool

We included a chart to show what had happened to the Top 20 prospects from each season, including whether or not they had made it big with the Kings. With the organizational reshuffle under way, it’s a good time to revisit that, especially since Corey Pronman’s widely-cited annual rankings have the Kings with the NHL’s 17th-ranked pipeline. Below is the updated version of that chart for 2017!

  1. This chart was updated on September 29 with (a) the completion of the 2017 Top 25 Under 25 countdown and (b) Buffalo’s waiver claim of Jordan Nolan.
  2. The JftC Top 25 Under 25 started in 2013, so Hockey’s Future rankings are used for 2011 and 2012.
  3. Each year’s ranking on this chart only includes players who were (a) considered rookies and (b) under 25 years old. For example, Adrian Kempe was #3 on the Top 25 in 2016, but Tyler Toffoli (#1) and Tanner Pearson (#2) were not rookies.

Let’s look at each category of players.

Current full-time members of the Los Angeles Kings (purple boxes)

Andy Andreoff, Kyle Clifford, Nic Dowd, Derek Forbort, Alec Martinez, Jake Muzzin, Jordan Nolan, Tanner Pearson, Nick Shore, Tyler Toffoli

Since 2015, the only players from the Kings’ system that have “graduated” from prospect status to full-time Kings status are Andreoff, Dowd, Shore, and Forbort. This is probably contributing to the Kings’ improving ranking, because 18 of the the top 20 prospects from last season (aside from Forbort) are, technically, still prospects!

And let’s draw one comparison back to 2011. Of the Kings’ top 20 prospects in that season, an astonishing NINETEEN played at least one NHL game. (Apologies to Maxim Kitsyn.) Within four years, 16 had played in the NHL. Four years out from the 2013 list, we’re at 15, with Kitsyn, Prokhorkin, Ebert, and Roach all overseas and unlikely to play in the NHL. We could get to 16, though, with Tomas Hyka lurking on the Vegas Golden Knights.

(editor’s note: Jordan Nolan was claimed off waivers by Buffalo on September 27.)

Traded by the Los Angeles Kings (black boxes)

Brayden Schenn, Jonathan Bernier, Andrei Loktionov, Nicolas Deslauriers, Martin Jones, Brandon Kozun, Linden Vey, Colin Miller, Hudson Fasching, Roland McKeown, Valentin Zykov, Nick Ebert, Jordan Weal, Dwight King, Erik Cernak

This list has gotten longer in the last couple years. The unfortunate part for the Kings is that LA didn’t get a whole lot for the guys who have been added since 2015. Zykov (for Kris Versteeg), Weal (for Vincent Lecavalier and Luke Schenn) and Cernak (for Ben Bishop) were swapped for assets that are already gone. Two years ago, I wrote: “Lombardi's strategy, essentially, was to trade these players before they could really prove their worth.” This worked very well for Lombardi in the past, and though the results this time were middling, none of those traded prospects have really made the Kings regret it.

On the bright side, the Kings got sooooo much mileage out of Dwight King, and swapping Nick Ebert for Jack Campbell looks a lot better than it did last summer. And if you ignore the goalies and the top-5 pick, LA isn’t missing any of those prospects yet. Would the Kings’ organizational ranking change significantly if Miller, Cernak, and Zykov were still here? Maybe slightly.

Let go (via waivers, termination, or free agency) by the Los Angeles Kings (gray boxes)

Thomas Hickey, Jeff Zatkoff, Bud Holloway, Marc-Andre Cliche, Christopher Gibson, Tomas Hyka, Michael Schumacher, Slava Voynov, Nikolai Prokhorkin, Alex Roach, Maxim Kitsyn, J.F. Berube, Patrik Bartosak, Matthew Mistele, Brayden McNabb

This is essentially the list of players who left the Kings without LA getting anything back, and it’s a bizarre list, isn’t it? It’s waivers, terminations, international departures, prospect declines, and guys you haven’t thought about in years, all in one list of names. Aside from Voynov and McNabb, none of these guys was a full-time King, which makes sense; very few of the players on this chart have reached unrestricted free agency as a full-time NHL player.

Current prospects of the Los Angeles Kings (gold boxes)

Everyone in the 2017 Column! You can also include Kevin Gravel, Michael Mersch, Paul LaDue, and Jack Campbell, who have made their Kings debut but will be 25 on Opening Night, and Andrew Crescenzi and Oscar Fantenberg, who are over 25 but have not made their Kings debut.

Four prospects from our 2015 Top 25 Under 25 are current full-time members of the Kings, and five prospects from five years ago have cracked the Kings’ lineup at some point. Another five — Lintuniemi, Auger, Amadio, Leslie, and Watson — are still looking for their first shot, and all five appear on this year’s countdown. (In fact, for the first time, every player in the Top 25 Under 25 is a rookie or a prospect. No ringers, like past champions Drew Doughty and Tyler Toffoli.)

Existing prospects not becoming full-time NHL players has helped the Kings’ farm system improve in leaguewide rankings. However, the biggest reason for improvement (as Corey Pronman cites in his #17 ranking) is the new talent acquired from the NHL Draft. Gabriel Vilardi and Jaret Anderson-Dolan both went later in the Draft than expected, and they provide top-end talent in a system that needs it. LA also added a handful of other guys who are already Top 25 Under 25 material in the lower rounds of 2017. And don’t forget about Kale Clague, whose stock has skyrocketed since the 2016 Draft.

When looking at that 2015 pool, you can understand why it was rated so low. While the Kings have been pleasantly surprised by the unheralded Gravel and LaDue, we have yet to see an impact player from the class, aside from the workmanlike Derek Forbort. There is still some potential, but all that potential is... still potential! Now the Kings have that potential, plus intriguing NCAA free agents and the aforementioned draftees. Over the next month, we’re going to tell you all about them, and we’ll let you decide for yourself whether this prospect pool will paint a bright future for the Kings.