Already possessing one of the best prospect pools in the NHL, the Los Angeles Kings will be looking to add more young talent at the 2021 NHL Entry Draft. Before adding to their already incredible prospect pool, I wanted to rank the Kings’ top 10 prospects. To make this list a little more interesting, I’m only looking at players who will be considered rookies next season — this means players like Gabe Vilardi, Tobias Bjornfot, and Mikey Anderson will miss out.
#10 Helge Grans
The most recent signing, Grans, will kick this list off at number 10. Drafted in 2020 with the 35th overall pick, there’s a lot to like about his game. He has all the tools to be an excellent offensive defenseman — he has the size, skating, puck skills, and shot to make a big impact at any level. Unfortunately, his defensive game is still very suspect. His positioning and concentration in the defensive zone are lacking — leaving him a liability at times without the puck. I do think his one-on-one defending is underrated, specifically defending on the rush. He uses his fantastic skating and long reach to keep an effective gap before dispossessing his opponent. The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler describes him perfectly:
The idea of Grans is still way more interesting than the reality of him, but he’s a 6-foot-3, 18-year-old, right-shot defenseman with such legitimate skill that the potential is just so darn exciting.(From “Wheeler’s 2021 NHL prospect pool rankings: No. 1 Los Angeles Kings,” Scott Wheeler, The Athletic
After a mixed bag season for the Malmo Redhawks in 2020-21, it will be interesting to see his development with the Ontario Reign during the 2021-22 season. There’s still a lot of development left for him before he’s ready to play in the NHL but, if he can hammer out some of his defensive issues, he has a very high potential ceiling. Depending on how he develops over the next few years, it’s possible that he jumps some of the players above him on this list. However, with one of the lowest potential floors on this list, he’ll stay at number ten.
#9 Kale Clague
Just barely meeting the criteria for this list — Clague comes in at number nine. A solid two-way defender who moves the puck effectively, he looked like a capable defenseman during his 18 games in the NHL last season. After splitting time between the NHL and AHL last season, he’ll be hoping to establish himself as a top-six defenseman next season. For me, the question isn’t — “will he play in the NHL next season?” But “who will he play for, in the NHL with next season?” It’s unlikely that the Kings protect him for the upcoming expansion draft, and I think Seattle will take a long look at him. It’s also possible that he is traded before the draft. Regardless, I wouldn’t be shocked if he were no longer a King come July 22nd.
#8 Tyler Madden
At number eight is former Northeastern Huskie Madden. This was a tough player to rank. He is an extremely talented forward who has all the tools to be a productive top-six player. He’s an excellent skater, displays good hands, an NHL release, fantastic passing, high-level hockey IQ, and unteachable creativity. Pair all of that with an elite work ethic, and you have a great prospect on your hands. Size was considered his biggest weakness, however, after adding almost 30 pounds in the last year, that weakness is less of a problem. Injuries limiting him to only 14 games last season is the main reason he isn’t higher on this list. We still don’t know if he’ll be able to translate the offensive dominance we saw from him in college to professional hockey.
The Reign should be an exciting team to watch next season, and he will be a big reason why. He’ll likely take on a bigger role next season with players moving up to the NHL roster. If he’s playing his best hockey, fans should expect a play-driving center who can be relied upon in all situations. At worst, I think he projects as a third-line player who can drive offense and help on your second powerplay. If he can add a few more offensive tools — mainly better top-end, breakaway speed, and a harder shot — he could be a bonafide, top-six forward.
#7 Brock Faber
Coming in at number seven is Minnesota Golden Gopher, Faber. Despite not being the flashiest player in the Kings pipeline, fans should still be excited about him. His defensive game is incredible. His stickwork, positioning, and reading of the game defensively are NHL ready. He’s also an excellent skater, which allows him to maintain good gap control. That skating, combined with his other qualities, makes him a nightmare for forwards to beat one-on-one.
Related: LA Kings’ Top 10 Prospects for 2020
It isn’t just his one-on-one defending that is impressive, though. He’s fantastic in the corners and in front of his own net, consistently winning battles in both areas. There isn’t much to his game offensively, although his skating and high hockey IQ allow him to be effective when breaking the puck out. He prefers to make simple plays with the puck and rarely takes risks. His defensive upside alone makes him a likely candidate to become a solid NHL defenseman — if he can add a bit more quality on the puck, he’ll be a solid top-four defenseman for the Kings.
#6 Samuel Fagemo
At number six, we have sharpshooter Fagemo. While he is an above-average skater with nice hands, it’s all about shooting the puck with him. His shot is outright deadly. He’s an incredibly well-rounded shooter, also, he isn’t a one-trick pony and can beat you with a wide arsenal of shots. He announced his goal-scoring prowess to the world in 2020 when he led that years’ World Junior Championships in goals and points. There are still big improvements needed in his defensive game, something I’m sure Reign coach John Wroblewski will fix in no time. Improved playmaking would also help him become a more well-rounded offensive threat; however, I’d view that as a want more than a need.
He’ll likely take on a top-six role with Ontario next season and could become their trigger man on the power-play. If he adds to his overall game in the next few seasons, I think he’s a guaranteed top-six winger. He’ll also be a fantastic power-play specialist who can make a living unloading one-timers from the left circle. He reminds me a bit of former King Tyler Toffoli, they’re both what I consider floating players. They don’t drive offense and don’t play with the puck on their stick a ton — they prefer to navigate into soft areas of the ice waiting for the puck to come their way and when it does, they’re lethal. Like Toffoli, if you put Fagemo with players who can feed him the puck, he’ll score plenty of goals.
#5 Akil Thomas
Coming in at number five is 2018 second-round pick, Thomas. Quietly one of the most impressive players for the Reign last year as he finished second on the team in points. Noise coming from the organization suggests that the organization loves this player, and it’s easy to see why. He plays a mature game, extremely responsible in his own end, rarely getting caught on the wrong side of the puck. Coach Wroblewski described him as “like an Avalanche” when discussing his relentless play. His skill shouldn’t go undervalued, though. He’s a blazing fast skater who displays great hands and wonderful passing ability. He’s a very creative player who can fashion chances out of nothing.
While I don’t think he has the potential to produce massive numbers in the NHL, I think he will be a magnificent third-line center and an elite penalty killer. His ability to fill any role makes him a coach’s dream. After another season or two in the AHL, he should begin establishing himself with the Kings. He’s exactly the kind of bottom-six player teams need if they want to be Stanley Cup contenders. High energy, high IQ players with skill. Fagemo has a higher potential ceiling than Thomas, however, his significantly higher potential floor placed him higher on this list.
#4 Rasmus Kupari
At number four, we have center Kupari. He is an immensely talented player who’s a joy to watch. An amazing skater with silky mitts, he loves having the puck on his stick. Very elegant in the way he skates and stickhandles. If I had to describe his play in one word, it would be “smooth.” He has a high-end playmaking ability that makes him a threat whenever he’s on the ice. There’s still work to be done defensively, especially in the corners and along the boards, but he’s a very intelligent player who keeps himself in good defensive positions. I doubt he’ll ever be a Selke candidate, but he’ll also be far from a liability defensively. His coach with Karpat considers him “a mix of Jesse Puljuarvi and Sebastion Aho.”
After a rough 2019/20 where he struggled to find points during his first AHL season and suffered an ACL tear at World Juniors, he had a nice bounce back in 2021. His 23 points in 32 games were good for third on the Reign. He also featured in seven NHL games, picking up one goal. If he can continue developing, there’s no reason he can’t be a consistent 60-point player in the NHL. He’ll likely split time between the NHL and AHL to start next season but has a good chance to claim a spot on the team by the end of next year.
#3 Arthur Kaliyev
A personal favorite of mine, Kaliyev, kicks off our top-three. It’s been an amazing 2021 for him so far — he started the year off by winning a gold medal at the World Junior Championships, scored his first NHL goal, and led the Reign in points. This success should come as no surprise, though. His skill level is ridiculous, specifically his shot. He already possesses an elite NHL shot by all measures — power, accuracy, release, he’s got it all. He also showcased an underrated playmaking ability in the AHL this season as he led the Reign in assists. Most importantly, he showed big improvements in his two weakest areas, skating and defensive responsibility. Still not the finished article in either category, he showed a willingness and ability to improve his weaknesses.
If he continues developing his game as he did last season, it won’t be long before he’s a big-time player in the NHL. Another powerplay specialist, he can be the trigger man on the teams’ top unit. It’s not unrealistic for him to become a consistent 30-goal scorer who reaches the 40-goal mark some seasons. I expect him to be an anchor on the wing for the next decade in LA.
#2 Alex Turcotte
In the penultimate spot sits Turcotte. I don’t think this player always gets the credit he deserves; a few minor injuries have hampered some of the excitement around him recently and that’s a shame. This guy has the potential to be the most complete player drafted in 2019. Offensively, he has the tools to be a high-level playmaker in the NHL. He’s a great skater, with soft hands, great vision, and elite passing. While it’s unlikely that he’s ever an elite goal scorer, he has a nice release and a willingness to score dirty goals that shouldn’t be overlooked. It’s more than skill with him, though — he has all of those “intangibles” that coaches love to talk about, the skills you can’t teach. His motor never stops, his hockey IQ is elite in both ends, and his compete level is incredible.
I imagine he’ll take on a big role with Ontario next season as he continues his development in the AHL. I expect him to start the season in the minors, however, I’m sure we will see his NHL debut at some point in the next 12 months. It will be interesting to see if he stays at left-wing next season, as that will indicate where the organization sees his long-term future. He’s close to being NHL ready; another year in the minors to refine his game should be all he needs before establishing himself on the Kings. I expect him to develop into a consistent, 60-plus-point producer who also can shut down other teams’ top players.
#1 Quinton Byfield
Was there ever any doubt that Byfield would be number one on this list? This kid is special, he’s one of the few players to have true franchise-changing potential. You rarely see a player come through with his blend of size, speed, hockey IQ, and skill. When at his best, he’s the kind of player who can completely take over a game, he can grab the puck and dictate the flow of play for an entire shift. He excels at using his size and skill to open up space, before carrying the puck to the net himself or finding one of his teammates. He loves having the puck on his stick and is nearly impossible to dispose of when he gets going.
He was very impressive in the AHL last season. Understandably, it took him a while to get going, but once he did, he never looked back. He played heavy minutes for the Reign by the end of last season and did so with ease. As he grew in confidence, we began to see some of the dominant play he can bring. We can expect him to be on the Kings next season as he’ll be ineligible for the AHL next season — it will be NHL or OHL for him, and there’s no chance he goes back to juniors. I wouldn’t expect him to begin dominating play consistently next season, as there’s still room for development from him physically and mentally. He needs to add muscle and learn how to physically impose himself at the NHL level, a difficult task for any young player. This guy will be a dominant, point-per-game player at the NHL level — it might not come for another season or two, but it’s coming.
One of The League’s Best
Looking through the Kings prospect pool is amazing. They’re stacked with top-end talent and their biggest problem will likely be finding a spot for all these players. Watching these players develop over the next few seasons will be a joy for fans. If the team can add a few more pieces in the coming years, we will see the return of playoff hockey in LA for many years. The future looks bright for the Kings and will only get brighter with the eighth overall pick this summer.
My name is Austin Stanovich, as a lifelong player and fan I’m hoping to bring my own unique perspective on the hockey world, specifically covering the Los Angeles Kings. As a SoCal native I grew up a Kings fan, and after graduating from Long Beach State in 2020 I’ve joined The Hockey Writers crew as a columnist for the Kings.