Ask anyone who covers prospects and they will tell you that the Los Angeles Kings have one of the best prospect groups in the NHL right now.
For this list, players were given a ranking based NHL Readiness and NHL Potential. NHL Readiness ranks how close a player is to playing in the NHL. NHL Potential ranks what kind of impact that player is likely to have at the next level. For the sake of this article, any player who no longer qualifies as an NHL rookie was not considered a prospect.
Honorable Mention: Jaret Anderson-Dolan, Center, 41st Overall, 2017
The bottom three players in the top 10 are really close together in this ranking for a variety of reasons. Anderson-Dolan is right in there with them. It’s so tight that the order in which they fall is very interchangeable. Anderson-Dolan had a productive first AHL season, but the goal scoring production just was not there. It’s an adjustment to the pros though and it wouldn’t be at all surprising if he won a spot on the Kings out of training camp.
It seems more likely that he gets another season in the AHL though to try to capture some of the scoring touch and confidence that were hallmarks of his WHL career with the Spokane Chiefs. He has leadership qualities, a good motor and a good work ethic, which are all cornerstones of the Kings’ top prospects. He could be an NHL forward before the end of 2020-21, but it wouldn’t be shocking if they allowed him to develop some chemistry and confidence with the AHL’s Ontario Reign.
Honorable Mention: Arthur Kaliyev, Left Wing, 33rd Overall, 2019
In his draft year, a case could have been made that Arthur Kaliyev had the best shot in the OHL. In his draft plus-one year, a case could be made that Kaliyev had the best shot in the OHL. His draft year wasn’t a fluke. Kaliyev followed up a 0.76 goals per game season with a 0.77 goals per game season. His potential upside is through the roof because he just plain puts the puck in the back of the net. Other aspects of his game like his skating, compete level and awareness in the defensive zone still are not in a really great place. This keeps Kaliyev from really cracking into the top 10. It’s really easy to overlook those things when he’s putting points on the board.
The potential is there, the kid scores goals, but he’s still raw so it’s likely to be a few years before Kings fans see him in LA full time. It will be worth the wait though. Due to his June birthday, he will be ineligible for the AHL. He probably returns to the OHL for next season due to the NHL/CHL agreement and the rawness his game still exhibits. As-is, he’s certainly not ready for the NHL. This next season is a key growth year for him. A big-point season in the OHL, where he exhibits growth in the other facets of his game will surely see him in the top 10 by this time next season.
#10: Aidan Dudas, Center, 113th Overall, 2018
What’s going to propel Aidan Dudas to the NHL will be his compete level and his ability to be a three-zone player. Do not let his 5-foot-9 (or 5-foot-8 depending on the source) stature fool you. Dudas is a competitive demon in all three zones with or without the puck. His ability to create offense and score goals at the OHL level is well documented, but he’s one of those players where if the point production doesn’t transfer over (as it so often does not) his other tools make him a useful player for the franchise.
He’s a smart, fluid skater with good offensive and defensive instincts. As reliable as they come, Dudas was chosen to captain his junior team, the Owen Sound Attack. He was used in more of a “checking line” role for Canada at the 2020 World Junior Championships and he excelled in that role. His work ethic and compete level are contagious, (from: ‘Owen Sound Attack forward helping Canada chase gold at world juniors,’ Collingwood Today, 12/31/2019). That quality has shown itself on every team he has ever played on. He very likely starts the 2020-21 season in the AHL, where he will likely excel. As the Kings roster begins to turn over in the next few years, Dudas is likely to be a key role player for the team.
#9: Akil Thomas, Center, 51st Overall, 2018
For Akil Thomas, it’s possible to almost copy the entry from Dudas. He’s a very similar type of player with regards to smart three-zone play and consistent compete level. The biggest differences would be his size and overall point production. Where Dudas has been a good point producer in the OHL, Thomas had been exceptional. He has a career points per game pace of 1.31 in 241 OHL regular-season games. In spite of being a top-line, point-producing center, Thomas was used in a depth line role for Team Canada at the World Juniors. He was a key component of a very good penalty kill unit for Canada and was the gold-medal-winning goal scorer.
The tournament as a whole is a really good representation of what Thomas can be. He can be called upon to play a depth role, but he can also be a guy who scores big-time goals. The ability to kill penalties and be a depth player, while also contributing points will allow him the opportunity to crack the NHL sooner rather than later. Thomas probably gets a chance to make the Kings out of camp in the offseason, but likely starts in the AHL. If this is the case, the Reign could be a lot of fun to watch next season. He likely doesn’t project much higher than a middle-six forward at best at the NHL level but teams need this type of player in their prospect pool.
#8: Rasmus Kupari, Center, 20th Overall, 2018
Rasmus Kupari’s season arguably could not have gone worse. His 27 games with the Reign were not fantastic production-wise, but the slick, Finnish prospect showed flashes of what he’s capable of. The ACL injury in Finland’s first game at World Juniors finished his season. Assuming the injury doesn’t hinder his mobility going forward, Kupari is still possibly the fastest prospect in the system.
His game is well-rounded and his blend of speed, hands, playmaking and goalscoring makes him a tantalizing offensive prospect. Throw in his defensively responsibility and he projects to be a top-six forward (and possibly top-two center) for the Kings in the future. The ACL injury and the slow start in the AHL this season holds him up on his NHL readiness projection. The Kings can afford to have him get a full season under his belt with other talented young forwards in Ontario this coming season. It’s going to be an exciting group and having them build some chemistry together as they find their scoring touches could bring good future dividends.
#7: Tyler Madden, Center, 68th Overall, 2018
Tyler Madden was the Kings’ “big get” in the Tyler Toffoli trade. Madden could be one of those players in a few years where people ask how the heck he lasted until the third round of the draft. He had a monstrous year at Northeastern in the NCAA. He was tied with six other players at 19 goals this NCAA season and he did it in the least amount of games played. The names of three of the players he was tied with are: Cole Caufield, Tyce Thompson and Alex Newhook.
That is elite company. He’s a great possession skater and is very shifty with the puck when traveling through traffic. The exploitation of the danger areas is his specialty. He’s not afraid to get to the dirty areas and make elite-level plays once he has the puck. Madden managed to do this with consistency in the NCAA, often embarrassing defenders. If there is any knock against him, it’s his slight build. He has not allowed his size to stop him from being impressive, (from ‘Undersized Canucks prospect Tyler Madden playing big for Team USA,’ The Providence, 12/29/18). Madden seems unable to put any weight onto the 150-pound frame he was drafted with, even while being 5-foot-11. The size and speed of NHL defenders make his slight build still his biggest question mark.
Related: Kings Sign Tyler Madden to ELC
Can he continue to have the success he has had throughout his career at the next level, in spite of this potential handicap? The answer to that question is going to determine how bright Madden’s star will shine. If his size ends up not hindering him through training camp and preseason, he could make the team out of camp and rapidly explode into a point-producing star. It’s such a wildcard though that it holds him back in putting him any higher on this list.
#6: Kale Clague, Defender, 51st Overall, 2016
Kale Clague was less than a month into his 18th year when he was picked at the 2016 draft. This meant that the 2018-19 season was his first of AHL eligibility under the NHL/CHL agreement. His second season in the AHL saw steady improvements in all areas but his four-game NHL stint wasn’t anything to really write home about. At this point in his development, Clague projects to be more of a middle-pairing defender who’s capable of chipping in points and possibly some power-play usage. His offensive upside and point potential is likely to be what carries him to the NHL. The biggest downside for him right now is that the Kings have a functionally similar player in Sean Walker.
While Walker is right-handed, Clague is left-handed. That’s going to matter going forward for the Kings because it’s going to have an impact on their decision-making process and how their roster shakes out. Clague has the ability, right now in his career, to fill a role on the team, but teams are starting to only carry one or two defensemen of this type on their rosters. He’s still a little bit too one-dimensional to be considered a 20-minute-per-night defender.
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What Clague will need to do is show some rounding out in his defensive game, and continued improvement in his compete level and ability to think the game. Improvements to these areas will open doors and make available more roles and more ice-time for a player who’s going to be fighting for an NHL job in the preseason. He’s ready to play in the NHL if called upon, but at this point it’s a matter of gauging where his ceiling is going to be.
#5: Tobias Bjornfot, Defender, 22nd Overall, 2019
This positioning for Bjornfot seems a bit low, but there’s a reasoning behind it. He could probably play in the NHL next season, but he’s still a few years away from being the player that he’s going to someday be. That being said, his NHL readiness score is gauged at him being a few years off even though he could probably make the team out of camp. His potential is through the roof, and it’s just a question of whether or not his growth will continue on pace. He still hasn’t even turned 19 yet and he has looked good at the AHL level.
It feels wrong having him this low with how good he has been. It really does boil down the fact that he projects like a top-pairing defender and right now he’s probably an acceptable bottom-pairing defender. The Kings’ blue line has a lot going on, so the team can afford to wait for Bjornfot to mature. All the pieces to his game are there. His 19-point effort this year with the Reign, as an 18-year-old was an impressive starting point.
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Aside from the points, his strong build, excellent skating, and smart stickwork made him a highly effective defender at the AHL level. The decision the Kings make with Bjornfot relative to where he starts the season is going to depend as much on Clague and Anderson as it does on Bjornfot himself. Another season in the AHL wouldn’t be a bad thing. However, if he shows he’s clearly better than his peers it would be wrong not to give him the opportunity to shine with the Kings.
#4: Alex Turcotte, Center, 5th Overall, 2019
Alex Turcotte is arguably the most skilled prospect on this list with the highest potential upside. In his draft year, he was projected to be a future top-line center and that projection has not changed. He was utterly dynamic at the University of Wisconsin this season. So if he’s so good, why is he only number 4 on the list? He’s hindered a little by his NHL readiness score.
It’s all there. His speed, awareness, playmaking and shooting capabilities are all top-notch. But, he’s still young and still raw in some of the finer points of the game. The Kings signed him to his entry-level contract on March 11, so they clearly want to see him in a pro system sooner rather than later. While the talent is there to be an NHL player, Turcotte has a lot of players to compete against in the system who have more professional experience than he does. It’s another one of those cases where his time table for being capable of playing in the NHL is separate from his time table for becoming the player he will someday be.
It is unlikely that the Kings opted to forego the opportunity for him to gain another year of NCAA development, to put him in the AHL. If he doesn’t dazzle in the preseason he could start the year in the AHL. A hot start in the AHL could see him recalled quickly. However, he could still be a year away from being a full-time NHL player.
#3: Mikey Anderson, Defender, 103rd Overall, 2017
Mikey Anderson should make the opening night roster. He doesn’t have the best top-end among defensive prospects in-system, but he’s the most NHL ready of the group. Had this season continued, there’s every reason to believe that Anderson would have stuck around after an impressive six-game stint. In five of those games, Anderson logged over 18 minutes and didn’t really look lost or outclassed on the ice. It’s hard to say where his ceiling really is. He’s probably a middle-pairing type guy, at best, for the Kings.
Anderson certainly does not have the type of ceiling that Bjornfot has and he’s not a more skilled hockey player, overall, than Turcotte. However, he’ll be 21 years old when the 2020-21 season begins, with enough growth and experience under his belt that he seems more likely to acquire a full-time NHL job sooner. His grasp of the more physical aspects of the game and willingness to get down and dirty in the greasy areas makes him a valuable asset as an NHL defender. Because of this, his NHL readiness score gets full marks, pushing him up this list considerably beyond talent ceiling alone.
Don’t sleep on his ability to put the puck on net from the point of attack. Anderson is good at making sure the puck finds its way to the net through traffic. His past history of showing leadership qualities and personal responsibility make him a good blue-collar piece in the Kings’ machine of the future. Anderson is not likely to be a star for the Kings, but he’s certainly going to be a King next season.
#2: Samuel Fagemo, Wing, 50th Overall, 2019
Samuel Fagemo is going to be a 30-goal scoring wing in the NHL. Over the course of the last two seasons in the SHL he has averaged a shot on goal for every 5:22 of ice time he receives. He has averaged a shooting percentage of 12.74%. At those rates, put in a top-six wing role on an NHL team, averaging over 16:00 per night, Fagemo could average three shots per game and score over 30 goals per season.
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All these numbers and extrapolations would be meaningless if the eye test didn’t back up the conjecture. But at the World Junior Championships this season, the only player who averaged better per-game production was Alexis Lafreniere. That’s it, the tournament MVP and future first overall pick of the 2020 draft was the only guy who outproduced him. Fagemo banked away 8 goals and 5 assists in 7 games for the Swedes.
His 7 goals and 6 assists in 11 games were a key component in Frolunda winning the European Champions League tournament this year. He’s got good hands, excellent creativity in space and the ability to find that space for himself. His shot toolbox is multifaceted and he can put the puck on net, accurately, in a multitude of ways. It might seem like a hot-take having Fagemo this high, but the numbers and the eye test back it up. His NHL potential is on par with Turcotte from this list because Fagemo appears to be a future perennial 30-goal scorer. His NHL readiness score is also high because he has spent his last two season in the SHL (Swedish League) playing against seasoned professional hockey players. The guy is on the path to hockey stardom. The only thing left to do is see if he can do it in North America.
#1: Gabe Vilardi, Center, 11th Overall, 2017
Back in 2017, Gabriel Vilardi was whispered to be a dark horse to be taken in the top two picks instead of Nolan Patrick or Nico Hischier. It was assumed that he would certainly go top five. He was the top player in the OHL by a sizable margin and that held a lot of weight with some folks. At the time it was staggering watching his draft stock tumble as he ended up being picked 11th by the Kings. The road since that day has been long and torturous. He missed a huge chunk of the 2017-18 OHL season but once he got going with Kingston he was unstoppable. Then there was the lost 2018-19 season. When Vilardi finally got back on the ice that season he exploded to 25 points in 32 games in the OHL.
In his Kings debut, in February, it did not take him long to score his first NHL goal and first NHL assist. Through the next nine games, he would add five more points to his total and show Kings fans why the team drafted him, why he had been so hyped up in his draft year, and that he was ready to make their patience with him pay off. Vilardi rockets back to the top of the prospect pool for the Kings because he has shown that the skill and talent that made him a top prospect three years ago are all still there and he’s finally ready to show them to the NHL. The powerful 6-foot-3 forward, who also has the finesse and skill usually found in smaller players is ready to break out and be the star he was always meant to be.
Jack Dawkins is a freelance scout, analyst and avid watcher of “way too much hockey.” He has joined The Hockey Writers team to cover all things Washington Capitals, New Jersey Devils, Minnesota Wild, Los Angeles Kings, Arizona Coyotes and Florida Panthers. He’s an absolute data hound and loves using stats and analytics to calculate and extrapolate data for analysis.