Welcome to the 2019 Top Shelf Prospects series. As we go through the Summer of 2019 LWOH will be featuring a team-by-team look at the top prospects in the NHL. We will be following the order of the first round of the NHL draft (as if there were no traded draft picks) and you can find all the articles here. Since we had an extensive NHL Draft preview, we will not be reviewing the players who were drafted in the 2019 draft, as there have been no games since then, and our reports on them will not have changed. Today we look at the Los Angeles Kings Prospects.
What we 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 2019-20 roster of the NHL team in question. We 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 we pick as our dark horse to make the NHL. For those wondering, the cut-off for what is or isn’t a prospect is typically about 50 NHL games played (including playoff games) or is 25 years old. These are not hard or fast rules though, and we may make some exceptions depending on the circumstances.
Los Angeles Kings Prospects
It was a disappointing season for the Los Angeles Kings. After being swept out of the 2018 playoffs, things only got worse in 2018-19. Their big off-season signing, Ilya Kovalchuk, didn’t work out as planned. The sniper scored just 16 goals. Anze Kopitar went from an MVP-calibre 92 points down to 60. Tanner Pearson had just one assist in 17 games and found himself traded from LA. Injuries limited Jonathan Quick to just 46 games played, and he put up one of the worst seasons of his career with a .888 save percentage. Overall, what could go wrong, did go wrong, and the Kings missed the playoffs.
A rebuild began. Jake Muzzin, Carl Hagelin, Nate Thompson, and Oscar Fantenberg were all moved out at the trade deadline. Off-season changes have seen the team buyout Dion Phaneuf. Meanwhile, the team has been very quiet on the summer free agent and trade front, with Martin Frk as the biggest acquisition. With that in mind, attention turns to the Los Angeles Kings prospects to help the team take a step forward.
2019 Draft Picks (Grade A-): Alex Turcotte, Tobias Bjornfot, Arthur Kaliyev, Samuel Fagemo, Lukas Parik, Jordan Spence, Kim Nousiainen, Braden Doyle, Andre Lee
2018-19 Graduations: Michael Amadio, Nikolai Prokhorkin (age)
Top Prospect: Alex Turcotte
The Kings drafted Turcotte with the 5th overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Turcotte. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#2 Prospect: Rasmus Kupari
Centre/Right Wing — shoots Right
Born March 15th, 2000 — Kotka, Finland
Height 6’1″ — Weight 185 lbs [185 cm / 84 kg]
Drafted by the Los Angeles Kings in the 1st round, #20 Overall, in the 2018 NHL Draft
Kupari had a very strong season for Karpat in the SM Liiga, putting up 12 goals and 33 points in 43 games. He was not quite as strong in the playoffs though with just one goal and five points in 16 games. Karpat made the finals of the Liiga but ultimately fell just short. Kupari put up seven points in 10 games in the Champions League. He was also part of Finland’s gold-medal winning team at the World Juniors.
Rasmus Kupari is an outstanding skater. Kupari is exceptionally fast and has great acceleration. His ability to change speeds is a weapon. He quickly changes speeds in order to get free from a defender or to open up passing and shooting lanes. He also has very good edgework and agility, which allows him to make quick cuts and fakes that can fool defenders. He could stand to be stronger on his feet though. More muscle in his lower body will allow him to fight through checks, be more effective in the cycle game, and win more battles along the boards.
Kupari is most dangerous with the puck on his stick. He is a tremendous stick handler and can beat defensemen one-on-one. Pairing this with his skating skills, and he is difficult to defend. Kupari also has very good passing skills and excellent vision. Once he opens up a passing lane, he quickly makes a tape-to-tape pass to a teammate. Kupari anticipates plays well and knows where his teammates are going before they make their move. He almost always makes the smart play with the puck.
Kupari wrist shot has a good release, but he needs to work on both the accuracy and power of the shot. He needs to add mass to his frame, as he can have issues being pushed off the puck right now. Kupari is getting better at scoring goals in tight. He gets to the front of the net without the puck and is able to knock in rebounds and get deflections. He can be more effective as he grows into his frame.
Kupari is a willing back checker. He supports the defence with good back pressure against the rush. He also understands positioning in his own end and cuts down passing lanes with a good stick. However, Kupari is not perfect in this area. As a young player, there are still some improvements to be made without the puck. Once a turnover is created, he transitions quickly to offence. However, his work down low is another area where added muscle will help him. He will become better at winning battles and containing his man and keeping him away from the front of the net. Kupari is decent in the face-off circle.
Kupari is headed to North America for his first pro season. While he will work hard to make the Kings out of training camp, it is more likely that he will be in
#3 Prospect: Gabriel Vilardi
Centre/Right Wing — shoots Right
Born August 16th, 1999 — Kingston, Ontario
Height 6’3″ — Weight 201 lbs [191 cm/91 kg]
Drafted by the Los Angeles Kings in the 1st round, #11 overall at the 2017 NHL Draft
After missing the first half of the 2017-18 season with a back injury, Vilardi would only play four games in 2018-19 due to the same injury. It was basically a lost season for a player who might be the most talented Kings prospect. In order to take advantage of that talent, Vilardi will need to stay healthy.
Vilardi has decent but not great speed. He uses it to get in quickly on the forecheck and cause problems by pressuring defenders to make quick decisions. If they do not move the puck quickly, he is able to punish them with a big hit. Vilardi also has a good first step and decent acceleration. He is better described by the word quick rather than the word fast. This allows him to pounce on loose pucks in the offensive zone.
Vilardi has good balance and power in his stride. He protects the puck well down low on the cycle and can fight through checks and take the puck to the front of the net. His balance also helps him to win battles along the boards and in front of the net. It should continue to improve as he adds lower body strength in the coming years. Vilardi also has decent agility for a big man, helping him to avoid defenders, both with and without the puck.
Vilardi has a very long reach and excellent puck handling ability. He uses these assets to extend plays and wait for teammates to get open, before hitting them with a pass. Vilardi has the vision and passing skill to be a solid playmaker, both off the rush and in the cycle game. Vilardi is constantly moving and getting involved in the play. He is extremely gritty and involved in battles along the boards and in front of the net.
The power forward prospect also has a very good wrist shot and an excellent release. His shot is powerful and deadly accurate. He also has the hands to finish plays in tight to the net, scoring on rebounds, tip-ins and one-time plays. His hockey IQ is also above average. Vilardi makes smart plays with the puck, as well as understanding how to get open without it.
Vilardi has shown a willingness to be involved in the play in all three zones. He shows great effort on the backcheck and helps out the defenders down low. His positioning can be improved but he has shown a willingness to work on and improve his game during his two years in the OHL. Vilardi has a lot of potential but will need to keep working on this aspect of his game.
After a year away from the rink, Vilardi will need time in the AHL to get back up to speed. It is also important to note, that his last significant stretch of action came in the OHL, and so this complicates him moving to the pro game. If he can stay healthy, he can play for the Ontario Reign and show off the talent that gives him so much promise. At this point, the biggest concern with Vilardi is his back issue. He quite simply needs to stay healthy this year.
#4 Prospect: Arthur Kaliyev
The Kings drafted Kaliyev with the 33rd overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Kaliyev. 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 October 19th, 1994 — Waterloo, Iowa
Height 6’1″ — Weight 183 lbs [185 cm / 83 kg]
Drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in the 5th round, #129 overall, at the 2013 NHL Draft
Signed with the Los Angeles Kings in June 2017
Petersen struggled in the AHL with a 4.02 goals-against average and .896 save percentage across 38 games in 2018-19. The Reign were a weak defensive team though, and his goaltending partner, Peter Budaj didn’t do any better. Petersen would get 11 games at the NHL level due to injuries suffered by Quick and Jack Campbell. He was strong for the Kings, with a 2.60 goals-against-average and .924 save percentage.
Talent and Skating Analysis
Coming in at just 6-foot-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 gets 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 prospect goaltender. When he does give up a rebound, he stays square to the puck and gets back into position quickly. Petersen is able to get out of his net and start the breakout with a pass to his defencemen.
Petersen was a leader in college, even being named the captain of the team at Notre Dame. He is a calm goaltender, even when things get crazy around the crease. This calm permeates out to the defence and the rest of the team. He does not give up bad goals often but when he does he quickly shakes it off and is ready for the next shot.
Petersen will head to camp ready to challenge Campbell for the backup goalie role. He is turning 25 in October and the time is now for Petersen to prove that he is ready to play in the NHL. There is high-end potential, but he must find consistency. With the Kings looking to rebuild, Petersen might find himself up with the big club this season if Quick is traded.
#6 Prospect: Kale Clague
Defence — shoots Left
Born June 5th, 1998 — Lloydminster, Alberta
Height 6’0″ — Weight 177 lbs [183 cm / 80 kg]
Drafted by the Los Angeles Kings in the 2nd round, #51 overall at the 2016 NHL Draft
Clague’s season was a bit up and down. In his first pro season, he showed flashes of the offensive ability that made him a huge scorer in junior with seven goals and 29 assists in 52 games for Ontario. However, he seemed to struggle in the defensive end of the ice, considerably. Adjusting to the speed and power of pro opponents has been challenging.
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 stickhandling 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 the 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 was very good in junior, as he often played against the other team’s top lines. However, he struggled in the AHL. He needs to increase his strength as he was overpowered in the corners and in front of the net. He also seemed to have some trouble with the speed of the game, getting beaten to the outside with speed or in one-on-one situations with quicker forwards. The errors seemed to add up as well. As Clague lost confidence, he began to question himself which led to even more errors. Given the speed at the AHL level, he has to get back to playing an instinctual game and not overthinking things
Clague is only 21-years-old and he has plenty of talent. He has the ability to be a top-four defender in the NHL. However, his first year in the AHL exposed some flaws and he will need to return from the off-season with more physical strength and clearing his head over the break. Coaching and development will be very important here. If he can take a step forward, there are spots on the defence that should open up later in the season, either by injuries or trades at the deadline. That could give Clague the chance to get his feet wet at the NHL level.
#7 Prospect: Jaret Anderson-Dolan
Centre — shoots Left
Born September 12th, 1999 — Calgary, Alberta
Height 5’11” — Weight 196 lbs [180 cm / 89 kg]
Drafted by the Los Angeles Kings in the 2nd round, #41 overall, at the 2017 NHL Draft
Anderson-Dolan started the year with the Kings, playing five NHL games and getting his first career point. He was eventually sent down to Spokane where he scored 20 goals and 43 points in 32 regular-season games. Anderson-Dolan also added five goals and 13 points in 15 playoff games. He also made Team Canada for the World Juniors but only scored one goal in five games. A wrist injury suffered in November limited him for a couple of months and may have had an effect on his World Junior tournament as he didn’t seem to be 100 percent.
Anderson-Dolan is a very good skater. He has an outstanding first step and great acceleration, as well as very good top-end speed. Anderson can beat defensemen one-on-one. Once he gets a step on a defender, he can cut to the inside, drop his shoulder and drive the net. He has the strength and balance in his lower body to fight through checks as he makes the drive to the net. He is also hard to knock off the puck as he battles along the boards. Anderson-Dolan also has very good edgework and agility. He can make quick cuts and changes of direction to fool defenders and manoeuver in traffic both with and without the puck.
Anderson-Dolan also uses his excellent skating to get in quickly on the forecheck, pressuring defenders into mistakes and creating turnovers. Once he does get a turnover, he uses his strength on the puck to protect it down low and extend possession. More a goal scorer than a playmaker, Anderson-Dolan still shows good vision and passing skills.
Anderson-Dolan’s dogged determination is also an asset around the net. He scores goals in tight to the goalie by using his soft hands after driving the net, or by knocking in rebounds, or a short one-timer on a quick pass. His wrist shot is also a weapon from further out as he has surprising power, and a quick release. Anderson-Dolan also has an effective one-timer. His hockey IQ allows him to find the soft spots in the defence and set himself up to receive the pass and fire a shot on goal.
Anderson-Dolan has a well developed defensive game for his age. His speed and quickness help him to get to loose pucks and he does this in all three zones. It also helps him to pressure puck carriers and cut down options for attackers. He is very good at transitioning a turnover into the offence. Anderson-Dolan is a good penalty killer and can be matched against an opponent’s top line. He could still stand to work on his positioning though and on staying disciplined with his man, instead of chasing the puck.
Anderson-Dolan leaves his junior career behind. He will head to Kings training camp looking to compete for a spot on the roster again. It will be a tough roster to crack and he could see plenty of time with the Ontario Reign next year. He should get some NHL time though, as a callup when injuries occur.
#8 Prospect: Akil Thomas
Centre/Right Wing — shoots Right
Born January 2nd, 2000 — Toronto, Ontario
Height 6’0” — Weight 181 lbs [183 cm / 82 kg]
Drafted by the Los Angeles Kings in the 2nd round, #51 overall, in the 2018 NHL Draft.
Thomas had an excellent season for the Niagara IceDogs. He put up 38 goals and 102 points in 63 regular-season games. Things didn’t go quite as well in the playoffs as the IceDogs fell in the second round. Thomas put up three goals and six points in eight games.
Thomas is a speedster, he can absolutely fly. He reaches that top speed in just a few strides thanks to his excellent technique and acceleration. Thomas adds strong edgework and very good agility. He is very dangerous off the rush, as he can beat defenders in a variety of ways. Whether it is with quick movements, or with changing speeds, he is able to get by his man and weave through traffic. Thomas has a low centre of gravity, which gives him good balance. He was stronger this past year which helped improve that aspect of his game, but there is still room to add muscle in the coming years.
Thomas maintains that top speed with the puck on his stick. Defenders must back off or risk getting beaten to the net. Thomas is a smart player taking advantage of this time and space to create passing lanes to teammates and set up scoring opportunities. He can also create space with very good stickhandling ability. At times, he can make too many moves and run out of space, but this is something he continues to do less and less. Thomas can also make plays on the cycle game. He controls the puck well down low and has the vision and passing skills to find open teammates. Thomas is poised with the puck and keeps his head up. He also plays the point on the IceDogs power play, excelling in the role of quarterback.
While he is more of a natural playmaker than a goal scorer, Thomas has become more effective as a scorer this past season. His wrist shot has gotten harder as he has added upper-body strength, making him more dangerous. The release is relatively quick. Thomas also improved the power of his snapshot and slap shot. That said there is still room to improve as he continues to add muscle to his strength.
Thomas plays a solid two-way game, as he hounds puck carriers on the backcheck, and then quickly transitions to offence. His defensive instincts were a bit of a question mark early in his draft year but have really improved over the last couple of seasons. This can be explained with the transition from wing to centre. He has earned the trust of his coaches and is used in important defensive situations late in games.
Thomas will likely head back to the OHL with the IceDogs. He should continue to add strength which will improve his game. Thomas will be part of Team Canada’s summer camp for players eligible to play in the World Juniors this year. A strong showing in the tournament and a good start to his OHL season will go a long way to seeing him make that team. He is likely to spend most of the 2020-21 season in the AHL, before being a serious contender to make the team in the 2021 training camp.
#9 Prospect: Tobias Bjornfot
The Kings drafted Bjornfot with the 22nd overall pick in this year’s NHL draft. Prior to the draft, we did an in-depth scouting report on Bjornfot. As no games have been played since that report; we will not repeat it. You can check out the report here.
#10 Prospect: Sean Durzi
Defence — shoots Right
Born October 21st, 1998 — Mississauga, Ontario
Height 6’0″ — Weight 196 lbs [183 cm/88 kg]
Drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in the 2nd round, #52 overall at the 2018 NHL Draft
Traded to the Los Angeles Kings in January 2019
Durzi was traded twice last season. The first move saw him go from the OHL’s Owen Sound Attack to the Guelph Storm, as Guelph loaded up ahead of the OHL Trade Deadline. He ended up putting up 37 points in 35 regular-season games and 27 points in 24 playoff games as the Storm won the OHL title. Durzi was also excellent in the Memorial Cup with seven points in four games. He was part of the tournament All-Star Team. In terms of that second trade, of course, he was also part of the Jake Muzzin trade, becoming a Kings prospect in January.
Durzi is a very good but not great skater. He has good top-end speed and acceleration in both directions. However, his backwards skating is particularly better than his forwards skating in a few key areas. When he is moving forward, his edgework and agility can be a bit jerky and clunky. However, they are very smooth when going backwards. This means he is better at keeping his man in front of him when defending the rush, than getting around defenders when he leads it.
His pivots in both directions are good though, allowing Durzi to transition quickly from offence to defence and vice-versa. Durzi could stand to improve his lower-body strength and balance, as he can be overpowered along the boards and in front of the net.
Durzi has really improved his shot. While he is a defenceman who puts up a lot of goals, he does not do it with his slap shot. Instead, he loves to sneak in from the point and take a wrist shot or snapshot from the top of the circles. He has really improved his accuracy on those shots, as well as the release over the last two years. Durzi is very good at pulling the puck in and moving laterally to open up a shooting lane to get the puck on the net.
Durzi is also a playmaker from the point. He has good vision, and the ability to get the puck through tight areas. On the rush, he is willing to join as the trailer, and wait for a pass from a teammate. He also makes a good first pass out of the zone. However, Durzi could stand to work on his stickhandling and puck protection. He is not as effective if asked to skate the puck out of his own end or to lead the rush moving up the ice.
Durzi’s defensive game is a work in progress. He has good positioning and cuts down passing lanes as well. He is also tough to beat in one-on-one situations, with his strong backwards skating allowing him to maintain good gap control. However, Durzi really needs to add size and strength to his game. He can be overpowered in board battles and has a difficult time clearing the front of the net.
Durzi leaves his junior career behind and heads to the pros this year. Expect him to start the year with the Reign in the OHL. Much like Clague, he will need help in developing his defensive game. If he can make those improvements he could see a call-up if there are injuries, or extra defencemen become needed after the NHL Trade Deadline.
Sleeper Prospect: Mikey Anderson
Defence — shoots Left
Born May 25th, 1999 — Roseville, Minnesota
Height 6’0″ — Weight 196 lbs [183 cm / 89 kg]
Drafted by the Los Angeles Kings in the 4th round, #103 overall at the 2017 NHL Draft
Anderson followed up winning the National Championship as a freshman with another strong season and a back-to-back title with Minnesota-Duluth. He put up six goals and 27 points in 40 games for the Bulldogs. Anderson was an Honorable Mention for the NCHC All-Star Team. He also played for Team USA at the World Juniors, scoring five points in seven games and being named a Top-3 player on the team. Anderson took home a silver medal from the tournament.
Anderson has good speed and acceleration in both directions. He reaches that top-end speed quickly, thanks to a strong stride and good acceleration. Anderson has very good lateral agility and edgework. He keeps opponents in front of him and is difficult to beat in one-on-one situations. He also has a strong lower-body giving him good balance and making him effective in one-on-one battles along the boards.
Anderson moves the puck quickly, getting it up ice by skating it out of danger and making a quick outlet pass. He has excellent vision and transitions the puck forward quickly. He hits forwards in stride with both short passes as well as a long breakout pass for a breakaway. Anderson also has a good shot. He got his shot off more often this past season. Improved lateral agility allowed him to walk the line and open up shooting lanes. He was also good at keeping his shot low and on the net, giving teammates the opportunity to get rebounds and deflections. Better stickhandling and poise with the puck also allowed Anderson to be more of a playmaker at the point.
Anderson is a solid defensive player. He maintains very good gap control. He forces opponents to the outside keeping himself between the net and the puck. Anderson is not afraid to put his body on the line and block shots. His active stick is effective in poke-checking pucks away from attackers and cutting down passing lanes. When a turnover is created, Anderson can retrieve the puck and transition to offence quickly. He could improve even more if he was more physical in his own end of the rink. One of his issues is keeping the front of the net clear.
Anderson has signed with the Kings, leaving his college career behind. He will likely spend the year in the AHL as he continues his development. The Reign should have a young and talented blueline next season. Anderson will compete for minutes and for the attention of Kings management should injuries open up opportunities at the NHL level.
The Kings have rapidly improved their prospect depth. Upfront there are a number of players to keep an eye on, even if they don’t crack the top-10. Carl Grundstrom, Matt Luff, Samuel Fagemo, Johan Sodergran, Blake Lizotte, Bulat Shafigullin, Aidan Dudas, and Michael Eyssimont are all forwards worth keeping an eye on. The blueline has Markus Phillips, Sean Walker, Jordan Spence, Matt Roy, Jacob Moverare, and Daniel Brickley in the system. While there is depth in the system, it lacks a high-end defensive prospect. The biggest issue is in goal, where there is a gap behind Petersen. Matt Villalta and Cole Kehler are both long-term projects. The Kings have been a big, physical, but not particularly fast team for years. Looking at their prospects, that lack of speed is going to be addressed internally.