One of my favorite articles to do back at THW is coming to LAHockeyNow. The Los Angeles Kings prospect ranking.
Players who spent most of last season in the NHL won’t be considered, so no Arthur Kaliyev or Quinton Byfield.
Not as impressive as it was a few seasons ago, the Kings still have a fantastic prospect pool.
Akil Thomas: A healthy Akil Thomas certainly features higher on this list. He played just 13 games last season and has struggled to stay healthy over the previous two seasons. Thomas still has potential as a solid bottom-six forward with skill. But it’s hard to rank him any higher given his limited game time over the last two seasons.
Jack Hughes: It was a subpar sophomore season for Jack Hughes. Scoring just 16 points in 32 games for Northeastern University. A solid two-way center with excellent stickhandling at his best, Hughes has struggled a bit with the physicality of college hockey.
He is still very young, he was the youngest player in college hockey during his freshman year, but he needs to be more assertive if he has any hope of playing at the next level. Hughe’s entered the transfer portal this summer in search of a new team.
Kenny Connors: Kenny Connors was one of the biggest surprises in college hockey last season. A strong freshman campaign with 26 points in 32 games also earned him a spot on Team USA for the World Juniors. Connors is a hard-working grinder who reads the game well and can create some offense. A lot of scouts question if he can develop NHL-level offense, but there’s a chance he becomes a solid bottom-six player.
Samuel Helenius: A classic high-floor, low-ceiling type prospect, Samuel Helenius finished his first full season in North America with 14 points in 61 games. Not a huge season, but he wasn’t drafted for point production. He was drafted because he’s massive at 6-foot-6 and plays a mean brand of hockey.
He got into his first career fight last season, actually his first seven according to HockeyFights.com, which could become a big part of his game moving forward. His ceiling is the fourth-line center, but a big, mean fourth-line center who can kill penalties is a valuable asset.
#10 Francesco Pinelli:
Kicking off the actual list is 2021 second-round pick Francesco Pinelli. Pinelli’s coming off an excellent OHL season, scoring 90 points in 60 games on an underachieving Kitchener Rangers team. More impressive than the 90 points, he scored 31 more than his next closest teammate, shades of 2017-18 Anze Kopitar there.
Pinelli is a highly-skilled playmaker who can carve up defenses and plays a diligent 200-foot game. His decision-making can leave a little to be desired at times though.
He had a great season, but I’m always wary of jumping the gun on a big D+2 season. Anything less than a highly-productive season from a player in Pinelli’s situation would be a disappointment, and that has to be factored in when evaluating him.
He did impress at training camp last season and earned himself an entry-level contract with the Kings, but we’ll know a lot more about Pinelli’s NHL projection after some time in the AHL.
If he can be the play-driving creator he’s been in the OHL up a level, then it’s time to get very excited about Pinelli’s future.
The tools are there, but when talking about a player who can struggle at times with decision-making, there’s always the risk that they fall apart when the pace is ramped up.
There’s true middle-six potential with Pinelli though and he’s someone who can potentially run a second power-play unit.
# 9 Martin Chromiak:
Some people might be surprised to see Martin Chromiak this low, but as I’ve said before, I’m lower on him than a lot of people. I don’t think he’s a bad prospect by any means, but I’m not convinced he’s a surefire NHLer at this point.
There are some very enticing tools with Chromiak, he has an NHL-caliber shot — although, I question if it’s NHL elite like an Arthur Kaliyev or Samuel Fagemo — skates well, displays solid hands and works hard. All tools point to a future NHL player, but I’m concerned he falls into the “tweener” category.
Someone who lights up the AHL and can dazzle you in short bursts, but doesn’t have true top-six skill to stick in the NHL. His 15 goals and 28 points in 55 AHL games are impressive as a rookie. But, 17 of those came in one 13-game hot streak for him.
I have my concerns about how his offense will translate to the NHL, and what he does if they don’t, but I understand why some fans are so excited about Chromiak.
He attacks with speed and when he’s on, can score at will and he possesses a fantastic one-timer that makes him deadly on the power-play.
At his best, he’s a middle-six/power-play two, complimentary goal scorer who will score in bunches and bury a few highlight reels goals.
He should take on a bigger role in the AHL next season and it will be interesting to see what he does with that.
#8 Helge Grans:
The story with Helge Grans is the same as it’s ever been. The individual tools are extremely impressive, but he hasn’t put them together on a consistent basis yet.
He’s a 6-foot-3 defenseman who can skate, move the puck well and isn’t afraid to get physical.
There’s still a lot to like about his upside. At his best, he’s a minute-munching, two-way defenseman who can retrieve dump-ins and get the puck up ice quickly.
He’s also a solid rush defender, using his skating and reach to close down forwards quickly and strip them of pucks, however, he can get lost in his own zone.
He was described to me this year as a “project” the team is still working on and someone who isn’t close to being NHL-ready — this was early last season — but someone the team still likes.
And I think the longer development path actually benefits Grans. There’s a logjam on the right side that Rob Blake has to clear out soon and being a couple years out might save Grans.
In three seasons Grans could be anything from a legit top-four two-way defender to a third-pairing defenseman in Sweden. But that upside keeps him on this list.
#7 Tobias Bjornfot:
I’m likely lower on Chromiak than most, but higher on Tobias Bjornfot than most. It’s maybe cheating a little having him on this list considering he’s played over 100 NHL games, but after spending most of the last season in the AHL I felt comfortable adding him.
I still see a potential second-pairing left defenseman who defends well and can safely breakout pucks, even if there’s limited offense.
He’s an excellent skater — something he doesn’t utilize enough offensively — and a diligent defender but has become too deferential since turning pro.
When playing a more assertive game, both on and off the puck, you see why the Kings drafted Bjornfot in the first-round back in 2019. Hindsight being 20-20, the Kings rushed Bjornfot into the NHL which probably hurt his confidence and turned him into a more deferential player.
However, that is something that can be fixed. Another season in the AHL might have a similar effect on Bjornfot as it did on Gabe Vilardi. It gives him a chance to reset and develop some more confidence in his game.
He looked good in his 10 games for the Kings last season and has a summer to improve further before battling for the third-pair left-defense spot at camp.
Still just 22 years old, Bjornfot needs to prove he’s an NHL-caliber defenseman this season.
#6 Alex Turcotte:
It’s always tough to place a fifth-overall pick so low on this list, but similar to Thomas, it’s hard to place Alex Turcotte much higher given his injury issues.
Each season reads the same for Turcotte. He gets injured and misses a handful of games, comes back and takes a little bit to get back up to speed, plays well once he’s back up to speed and then gets injured again.
He finished with 17 points in 32 games last season after returning from a concussion he suffered two seasons ago in the playoffs.
It’s hard to project Turcotte. There’s still serious potential there, he’s still a highly-engaged playmaker who can drive play for his line, but he’s never healthy.
If he can get healthy, he projects as a middle-six forward who works best as a complimentary piece. I think of the role he played at the World Juniors between Trevor Zegras and Kaliyev as a template for what he should be in the NHL.
Fortunately for the Kings, they have the pieces to make that happen. If he can put together a healthy season, I’d expect him to see some NHL action next year, but it’s hard to be confident in him having a healthy season.
The high-end for Turcotte’s projection is a Phil Danault type, very good but not what you’d hope for out of a fifth-overall pick. Still, if he becomes an equal player to Danault, I think you have to be pleased given his injury history.
#5 Samuel Fagemo:
Fagemo might be running out of time to prove himself within the Kings’ organization. But he’s still a very good prospect.
His shot is elite at any level and he’ll rack up power-play goals with his one-timer every season. He’s also a good skater with good enough hands to beat defensemen one-on-one.
He can be a little selfish with the puck at times, but that isn’t necessarily a bad quality in goalscorers.
He needs to be more engaged at five-on-five and improve defensively if he’s going to be an impactful NHL player. But, if he can add those to his game, he’ll be very impactful.
I don’t think he has the potential to be a really high-end goal scorer in the NHL but projects as a middle-six, secondary scorer who gets you 20+ goals. With around half of those being on the power play.
My concerns with Fagemo are similar to my concerns with Chromiak. He’s in danger of becoming a tweener in the Kings’ system. However, his shot is a level above Chromiak’s which places him higher on this list.
Fagemo has to come in and have an excellent camp this summer or his time with Los Angeles could be coming to an end.
#4 Alex Laferriere:
No prospect has shot up these rankings more in the last 18 months than Alex Laferriere. The 2020 third-round pick is coming off two excellent seasons at Harvard which earned him his entry-level contract a few months ago.
Laferriere’s a gritty goal scorer who gets into high-traffic areas to create offense. He’s a highly-engaged player who displays a good two-way game to complement his goal-scoring.
I don’t think he has a top-six offense for the NHL, but as a middle-six player, he’s going to be a nice piece for the Kings. He plays a different game than Alex Iafallo or Trevor Moore, but I could see him filling a similar role.
A hard-working middle-six player who can play anywhere in your lineup.
I’d expect Laferriere to spend most of next season in the AHL with the Reign.
#3 Erik Portillo:
The only player on this list who wasn’t drafted by the Kings and the only goalie, former Michigan goalie Erik Portillo takes home bronze.
Portillo was once seen as the future in net for the Buffalo Sabres but had been overtaken in the last two seasons by star goalie Devon Levi.
It’s important to note that Portillo losing out to Levi within the Sabres system has more to do with Levi’s stellar play than poor play from Portillo.
Portillo still has a lot of upside. He’s a very modern goalie. He’s big, athletic and technically sound.
There are some issues with consistency and rebound control with Portillo, but there’s a lot of upside. When he was on, there weren’t many goalies in college hockey better than him.
He’s the kind of goalie Bill Ranford will love to get his hands on and someone that can be molded into a true number one.
His role in Ontario next season will be interesting to monitor. In a perfect world, he gets the chance to be the number one and take a lot of pro reps. But, the uncertainty around Cal Petersen makes that hard to predict.
#2 Jordan Spence:
Under normal circumstances, Jordan Spence would have been a full-time NHLer last season. But, the logjam on the right side and his waiver exemption meant he spent most of last season in the AHL.
Spence is an excellent puck-moving defenseman who skates well and can run a power play. There are some concerns about his size and how it impacts his ability to defend, which showed up in his late-season cameo against the Colorado Avalanche.
Even with those concerns, he projects as an NHL defenseman. There is top-four potential there, but I could see him becoming more of a third-pair, second power play type of player.
He’ll run into the same problem someone like Sean Durzi is running into now though. He’s not good enough to overtake either Drew Doughty or Matt Roy right now and Brandt Clarke is hot on his heels.
I expect Spence to get a long look on the roster next season now that he is no longer waiver exempt. Especially with Clarke’s waiver exemption, but it’s going to be tough to cement a spot on this roster.
Spence will either have to prove he can take over as the second-pair right-defenseman and leave the Kings comfortable not re-signing Roy next summer, which is going to be extremely difficult. Or, learn how to play the left side to make room for Clarke a year from now.
Spence is an NHL-caliber defenseman who is at risk of losing his spot because of a logjam within the Kings’ system. But there’s plenty of upside and I think he can come in and take Durzi’s spot this summer.
#1 Brandt Clarke:
The number one spot was only ever going to Clarke. After a nine-game stint in the NHL and five games in the AHL, Clarke assisted on a golden goal for Team Canada at the World Juniors and then dominated the OHL.
Clarke finished with 61 points in 32 regular season games and 23 points in 12 playoff games. He was voted the smartest player and best offensive defenseman in his conference by the OHL coaches.
With the puck on his stick, Clarke is elite. His vision, passing and poise are all NHL-caliber. The questions surrounding his defending and, in particular, his skating still exist, but they haven’t slowed him down yet.
It’s possible he starts the year in the AHL given the aforementioned logjam in the Kings’ system and I’d expect him to dominate the AHL.
I wouldn’t be surprised to see him force his way onto the Kings roster at camp though, forcing Blake to make a few moves to make room for him.
He projects as a top-pairing defenseman who quarterbacks your top power-play unit. There are some questions about his ability to kill penalties and be a true all-situations-type defenseman, but I think he figures it out.
There’s too much talent and too high a compete level for him to not figure it out.