Welcome to today’s edition of “Top Shelf Prospects” a team by team look at the top prospects in the NHL. Today, as I continue my alphabetical journey through the NHL I bring you a look at the Los Angeles Kings. As always you can find a complete listing of my previous articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, I will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in the 2012 draft, as there have been no games since then, and my reports on them will not have changed. What I will be doing is linking you to those articles, as well as taking a look at prospects that were acquired before this year’s draft; their progress, and their chances of making the 2012-13 roster of the NHL team in question. I will also bring you one sleeper pick. A player who was either drafted in the 4th round or later, or was an undrafted free agent signing who I pick as my darkhorse to make the NHL.
For the Kings I will not be including Slava Voynov, Dwight King or Jordan Nolan as prospects. These three players played all 20 games for the Stanley Cup Champions, and given their performances in the playoffs they should be considered as graduated to the NHL. I will however, be including Andrei Loktionov who is slightly above my normal games played cut-off as he only played 2 playoff games, and is still searching for a full-time place in the Kings lineup.
#1 Prospect Andrei Loktionov, Centre
Born May 30 1990 — Voskresensk, Russia
Height 5.10 — Weight 180 — Shoots Left
Selected by the Los Angeles Kings in round 5 #123 overall at the 2008 NHL Entry Draft
Loktionov has spent the last two seasons bouncing between playing in the NHL for the Kings, and for the Manchester Monarchs in the AHL. At the AHL level Loktionov has been a decent offensive contributor with 75 points in 95 career AHL games. Loktionov was also an important piece of the 2009 Windsor Spitfires, who won the Memorial Cup.
Loktionov’s offensive game is one of a pure playmaker. He has the vision to find open teammates and the passing ability to thread the needle through tight passing lanes and get them the puck. He has excellent puck control and puck protection, and is able to use these skills to control the play and to buy time for teammates to get open. He reads the play very well and has great hockey sense meaning that when they do get an opportunity, he is able to quickly pounce. He gets to the dirty areas of the ice, and is willing to take abuse to make plays. His quick, soft hands are very good in tight, and he scores most of his goals from very close to the net.
However Loktionov also has some deficiencies that have kept him on the constants yo-yo between the AHL and NHL. Skating wise, he has good agility, balance, and edgework which makes him a very shifty skater and someone who is able to get by opponents. However he is below average in terms of acceleration, and his top end speed is merely average. As such he doesn’t pull away from defenders when he does get by them. His wrist shot is merely average in its velocity, as is his release. This will always hold him back from being a big goal scorer at the NHL level, and he will instead need to rely on his playmaking skills.
Despite these issues, Loktionov is still an excellent prospect. Unfortunately for him, the Kings great depth at centre makes cracking the lineup extremely difficult. With Kopitar, Richards, and Stoll manning the top 3 centre spots, the Kings dont have a lot of room for an offensive contributor like Loktionov. Even if one of those players is hurt, the Kings also have Jeff Carter who can play centre for them in a pinch. Like Carter, Loktionov may have to shift to the wing to find a permanent place in the Kings’ lineup.
#2 Prospect, Tyler Toffoli, Right Wing
Born Apr 24 1992 — Scarborough, ONT
Height 6.00 — Weight 186 — Shoots R
Selected by Los Angeles Kings in round 2 #47 overall at the 2010 NHL Entry Draft
Tyler Toffoli has really taken off as an offensive force in the OHL since being drafted in the second round of the 2010 Draft. In 2010-11 he rode a 5 point performance on the final day of the season to win both the OHL Goal and Point scoring Titles. This past season, he repeated for most goals scored in the OHL and was second in points by just 2 points to Michael Sgarbossa. This despite playing 1 less game than Sgarbossa.
Toffoli is a natural sniper who has an NHL ready wrist shot and snap shot, including absolutely incredible release speed. If given an opening he is just lightning quick with his shots and they are in the back of the net. He also has soft hands and good stickhandling and puck control skills. Toffoli can leave defenders reeling with a dangle, or can bury the puck in close to net. While he’s a natural sniper, he brings more than just that, as Toffoli has the good good vision and passing ability to be a playmaker off the wing. He has excellent hockey sense in the offensive zone, as he has a real ability to slow the game down and make smart decisions. He also has the ability to spot openings and set up for a good shot in the offensive zone. Toffoli just craves goals, and is tenacious in the offensive zone. He is willing to work along the boards and battle for pucks. He is also willing to get to the front of the net and take the punishment necessary to score from the dirty areas of the ice.
The biggest thing holding Toffoli back right now is his skating. He is a below average skater. His skating stride is choppy and unorthodox and this leads to a lack of speed and acceleration. He does however have good balance and is difficult to knock over with a check, and this will help him going forward.
Defensively Toffoli needs to show the same work ethic and tenacity in his own end that he shows in the offensive end. He quite simply doesn’t do that often enough. He can get caught floating and puck watching at times. He also needs to work on his positioning and overall defensive game.
It is good to know though that defensive prowess and skating ability are two things that a player can improve going forward. The offensive skills that Toffoli possesses quite simply can not be taught. He is ready for the next level, but should start in the AHL to work on the issues of his game that need improving.
Prospect #3 and Sleeper Pick: Jake Muzzin, Defence
Born Feb 21 1989 — Woodstock, ONT
Height 6.02 — Weight 216 — Shoots Left
Selected by the Pittsburgh Penguins in round 5 #141 overall at the 2007 NHL Entry Draft
Went Unsigned by the Penguins, and then undrafted in 2009. Signed with the Kings as a Free Agent
Muzzin was a 5th round draft pick of Pittsburgh who was never signed. He re-entered the draft in 2009 and was not taken. Finally in February 2010, the Kings gave Muzzin his first professional deal while he was having a great overage season. Given all that Muzzin certainly qualifies as my sleeper pick. However, he’s also more than that, Muzzin has developped into a defenceman that is now the third best prospect in the Kings system as well. He has surpassed the much more hyped Thomas Hickey (a former fourth overall pick). Muzzin even played 11 games for the Kings in 2010-11.
Muzzin has great size, and is a big, strong, rugged two way defender. He is very good defensively, with solid positioning in his own end, and a willingness to block shots. He absolutely loves to play a physical brand of hockey, and throws hard hits, wins battles on the boards, and clears the front of the net. Muzzin is even willing to drop gloves to defend teammates when it is necessary.
He is a decent skater with good straight line speed both forwards and backwards, and good acceleration and balance. However, he continues to need work on using his edges more effectively and his agility and pivots. His below average edge work and pivoting can lead to him being beaten on rushes by forwards with good outside speed. He tries to minimize this with good positioning, and being able to lay those big hits if the forward isn’t quite fast enough.
Offensively, Muzzin starts his team’s transition game with a good first pass from his own end of the ice. He isn’t the type of defenceman to carry the puck coast to coast, or to lead the rush, but he does pick good opportunities to join in as a trailer. On the powerplay he has decent poise and passing ability, but these are not his strengths. Instead he has a cannon for a slapshot and great ability to take one timers. As such he is more of a Power Play trigger man, than a quarterback.
Muzzin projects as a future bottom pairing defenceman, and he is very close to being NHL ready. However he is waiting for a spot to open on the Kings blue line, for him to really get his chance to shine.
While the three players profiled are good prospects, the Kings system is probably at the weakest point its been at in several years. The high profile graduations and trades made by GM Dean Lombardi have paid off, as seen by the good young team that won this years’ Stanley Cup. Over the last several years Lombardi has been a savvy talent evaluator and most of his moves have turned into gold. The pick of Hickey may have been a bit of a misstep, but it is one the Kings recovered from and have not repeated. Given the age of the big club overall, and its performance, the defending Stanley Cup Champs are looking like they will be a contender to win another for the immediate future.
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