Welcome to the 2017 edition of “Top Shelf Prospects”. During the summer, I will feature a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. I will follow the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no trades). You can find all the articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, I will not be reviewing the players who were drafted this year. There have been no games since then, and my reports on them will not have changed.
I will link 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 2017-18 roster. I will also bring you one sleeper pick – a player who was either drafted in the 4th-round or later; or an undrafted free agent signing who I pick as a dark horse to make the NHL. 50 NHL games played or being 25 years old is the cut-off for prospects. These are not hard or fast rules though, and I may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
TSP: Los Angeles Kings Prospects
For the second time in just three years, the Los Angeles Kings missed the playoffs. While Jonathan Quick missed most of the season, goaltending was not the biggest problem in Los Angeles. Instead, it was a more familiar problem, an inability to score goals that was the Kings downfall. After winning just one playoff game in the last three years, the kings opted for changes. Dean Lombardi and Darryl Sutter are out, while Rob Blake and John Stevens are in. On the ice, the Kings haven’t made any huge moves, at least not yet. Their biggest off-season additions are Michael Cammalleri and Darcy Kuemper.
2017 NHL Draft Picks: Gabriel Vilardi, Jaret Anderson-Dolan, Matt Villalta, Mikey Anderson, Markus Phillips, Cole Hults, Drake Rymsha,
Graduates: Kevin Gravel, Derek Forbort, Paul LaDue (age 25 before next season) Michael Mersch (age)
Top Prospect: Gabriel Vilardi
The Kings drafted Vilardi with the 11th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Vilardi. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#2 Prospect: Adrian Kempe
Left Wing — shoots Left
Born September 13th 1996 — Kramfors, Sweden
Height 6’2″ — Weight 202 lbs [185 cm / 85 kg]
Drafted by the Los Angeles Kings in the 1st round, #29 overall at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft
Kempe’s second pro season was a bit up and and down with 12 goals and 20 points in 46 AHL games, he continued to develop with the Ontario Reign. However his 25 games with the Kings were a bit of a struggle, and he had just two goals and six points.
Kempe is a very good skater, despite an unorthodox skating stride. His very wide stride doesn’t seem to take much away from his speed or his acceleration. It also gives him a little more balance and helps him to fight through checks, as well as to protect the puck in the cycle game. Kempe has decent agility but this is not the strength of his game, as he is more about power than finesse.
Kempe plays the game like a bull in a china shop. He drives the net hard, not caring who he has to bulldoze to get to the areas he wants to go. He is first in on the forecheck, and just loves to punish defenders in the corners. Given his age and a need to fill out his frame, he is still remarkably effective in winning board battles. He protects the puck very well on the cycle and is a menace down low. His wrist shot is very hard and heavy. It also features a good release. Adrian Kempe also has decent vision and passing skills which he uses out of the cycle. His stick handling is decent, but he certainly plays a North-South game, choosing the direct route instead of trying to use too many moves to try and get by a defender.
Kempe plays a strong defensive game. He is an industrious forward who never stops skating. His physical and gritty nature is apparent in all three zones of the ice. He supports his defencemen well, and works down low to keep his man and the puck to the outside.
Kempe is pretty close to NHL ready, and should seriously challenge for a job in training camp. He will need to crack the Kings top nine though, as he needs to keep playing significant minutes. If he is going to play on the fourth line, he should instead be back in the AHL to start the season. If injuries hit, he could be one of the team’s first call-ups.
#3 Prospect: Kale Clague
Defense — shoots Left
Born June 5th, 1998 — Lloydminster, Alberta
Height 6’0” — Weight 178 lbs [183 cm / 81 kg]
Drafted by Los Angeles Kings in the 2nd round, #51 overall at the 2016 NHL Entry Draft
With Ivan Provorov off to the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers, Clague found himself in the role of the number one defenceman for the Brandon Wheat Kings last year. Though he missed some time with injuries, he was dynamic when he was able to play. He had five goals and 40 points in 48 games for the Wheat Kings. This was just one goal and two assists fewer than he had in his draft year, despite playing in 23 fewer games. In the playoffs he had a goal and four points in four games. Klague also had six points in seven games at the World Juniors helping Canada to a silver medal.
Clague is an outstanding skater. He has great top-end speed and acceleration in both directions allowing him to be an effective two-way defender. Clague can join the rush or make pinches in the offensive zone and still get back quickly on defence. He pairs the speed with good agility, pivots, and balance. This allows him to cover a huge amount of ice and transition quickly and easily from defence to offence or vice versa. He could stand to improve his lower body strength to improve his balance and win more board battles, as well as be better in clearing the front of the net.
Clague skates the puck up the ice well. He has good stick handling ability and can use his agility to avoid forecheckers and create space to lead the rush. He can also start the transition game with a strong first pass out of the zone and often follows that pass to continue the attack. A natural power play quarterback, Clague can walk the line, throws strong, crisp passes, and has excellent vision. His slap shot is decent, but not overpowering. It can be improved by adding some muscle to his frame. He already understands how to keep it low and on net, and how to get his shot through traffic. Clague also has a strong wrist shot which he uses to get the puck on net when facing pressure at the blue line.
Clague’s defensive game is good for an 18-year old, as he often plays against the other team’s top lines. He works extremely hard to battle in the corners, but could use a bit more strength and balance. He has a quick stick and pokes pucks away from opponents on the rush, and intercepts passes to create transition. Clague has good positioning and defensive gap control, keeping opponents to the outside. He could work on being more physical in his own end, but that can also come with increased strength.
Clague will likely head back to junior and be one of the top defencemen in the WHL. He should also take on a key role for Canada at the World Juniors, and is a potential captain for that team. Expect him to be a year or two away from NHL duty.
#4 Prospect: Jaret Anderson-Dolan
The Kings drafted Anderson-Dolan with the 41st overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Anderson-Dolan. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#5 Prospect: Cal Petersen
Goalie — Shoots Right — Catches Right
Born Oct 19 1994 — Waterloo, IA
Height 6’1 — Weight 182 lbs [185 cm/83 kg]
Drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in round 5, #129 overall at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft
Signed with the Los Angeles Kings in June 2017
Petersen finished his third season as the starting goalie of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. His college career was phenomenal, and he added to it with a .926 save percentage and 2.22 goals against average while starting 40 games. The Irish leaned heavily on Petersen, who started every game. His back-up played only one period all season.
Coming in at just 6’1 tall, Petersen is a little short when we look at the trend of bigger goaltenders in the NHL. He does make himself look big in the net though, by getting out far to challenge shooters. He is a good skater, with powerful legs. This allows him to avoid being deked out when he does challenge a shooter. He also is quick side-to-side on cross-ice passes.
Petersen has quick legs. He is very tough to beat down low. He has excellent technique and get in and out of his butterfly quickly. The goaltender protects the top of the net with a lightning quick glove hand. His rebound control is very good for a young prospect.
Petersen should move to the AHL this season. He will battle with Jeff Zatkoff for the starting job with the Ontario Reign. Petersen has all the skills to be an NHL goalie, but will need a couple of years of development. His signing is a real coup for the Kings.
#6 Prospect: Mike Amadio
Center — shoots Right
Born May 13 1996 — Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario
Height 6’1″ — Weight 196 lbs [185 cm / 89 kg]
Drafted by the Los Angeles Kings in the 3rd, #90 overall at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft
Amadio had a strong first pro season. He put up 16 goals and 41 points in 68 games for the Ontario Reign. He also proved to be versatile, being used in all situations by the team.
Amadio is very good skater. He has strong acceleration, and good top end speed. He can beat defenders with a change of pace and once he gets by them can create seperation. Amadio also has excellent edge work and agility. He can change directions on a dime, and this is a weapon he can use to get by an opponent. He must get stronger though. Amadio’s lower body strength and balance means he can sometimes suffer when battling with stronger opponents.
Mainly a play maker, Amadio has good vision and passing ability. He uses strong stick handling skill, and his speed to control the puck on the cycle, waiting for a teammate to get open. Once a teammate gets free, Amadio hits them with a pass. He can be even better in possession if he gets stronger on his skates. While Amadio has a decent shot, and a quick release, he could stand to use that shot more often.
Even as a rookie, Amadio was given important defensive responsibility in the AHL. This continues the usage he had for North Bay. He was often used to check the other team’s top two-lines. Amadio is strong in cutting down passing and shooting lanes, and provides back pressure to support the defence. He has a high hockey IQ, and anticipates plays and causes turnovers. He was good on face-offs for a rookie.
Expect to see Amadio back with the Reign next season. He can get stronger, and continue to refine his offensive game before he is ready to play in the NHL. He projects as a possible third line centre for the Kings down the road.
Sleeper Prospect: Spencer Watson
Right Wing — shoots Right
Born April 25th, 1996 — London, Ontario
Height 5’11” — Weight 170 lbs [180 cm / 77 kg]
Drafted by the Los Angeles Kings in the 7th round, #209 overall at the 2014 NHL Entry Draft
Watson played an overage season for the Mississauga Steelheads. While he had some injury issues, he still put up 28 goals and 53 points in just 41 games. He also added 15 goals and 25 points as the Steelheads advanced to the OHL final, before losing to the Erie Otters.
Watson shows good skating ability. He has good jump in his first step, decent acceleration and above average top end speed. Dangerous off the rush, Watson beats defenders one on one. His speed forces defenders to back off. When they do he is able to take advantage of the added space to unleash his shot. Watson has very good agility and can make quick, precise cuts that allow him to elude defenders. Watson has worked to get stronger and improve his balance throughout his junior career. He will now test himself against pros.
Watson is a pure sniper who has a fantastic wrist shot, and outstanding release. He also has a very good one-timer. Watson has a high hockey IQ; he sees the play developing, and is able to slip into openings in the defence in order to get open for a shot. At just 5’11” Watson is a little undersized, but he is willing to go to the dirty areas to score goals and has the soft hands to bury rebounds and tip-ins close to the net.
Watson’s play making game is underrated at this point because he’s such a great sniper. The passing skills and vision are also there to be a very dangerous player both off the rush and in the zone. He digs in corners, but he really needs to add more weight to his frame to be better at it. He developed his patience and poise with the puck. By taking an extra half second to evaluate his options, Watson is far more effective offensively.
Watson is inconsistent. There are times he supports well in back pressure, and anticipates the play well causing turnovers and starting the transition offence. However, there are other times he has a tendency to puck-watch and does not make the smart play. Maintaining a consistent effort level in his own zone will be something to work on. He made strides in this area throughout his junior career, but must continue to improve at the next level. It is the main reason he played an overage season, instead of going to the AHL at 20.
Watson should move up to the AHL this season. He may be a bit of a project, but he has the type of pure offensive skills that could be extremely valuable to the Kings if he is able to develop properly.
With Forbort, Gravel, and LaDue all considered as graduated, and Eric Cernak traded over the last year, the Kings defensive depth took a real hit. Clague is an excellent prospect though. Mikey Anderson, Markus Phillips, and Cole Hults were solid picks to re-stock the system. Jacob Moverare, Chaz Reddekopp and Matt Roy are coming through the system. The signing of Cal Petersen was massive, as the Kings lacked a solid goalie prospect last season. They also added Matthew Villata in the draft.
Gabriel Vilardi plays the perfect style to fit in with the Kings. He may not be in the NHL this season, but he will be part of the team soon. Kempe and Amadio also play that heavy Kings style, while Watson can snipe, and Anderson-Dolan set up plays. They are joined in the system by Austin Wagner, Alexander Dergachyov, and Alex Lintuniemi.
Main Photo: LONDON, ON – MARCH 26: Gabriel Vilardi #13 of the Windsor Spitfires celebrates a goal against the London Knights during Game Two of the OHL Western Conference Quarter Finals at Budweiser Gardens on March 26, 2017 in London, Ontario, Canada. The Knights defeated the Spitfires 5-2 to even the series 1-1. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)