On July 6, the Los Angeles Kings host their annual development camp. Often thought of as the first event of the new season, fans get a chance to watch their favorite team’s top prospects up close, sometimes for the first time.
Not the star-studded event it was a few years ago, there are still some intriguing names to keep an eye on.
New Draft Picks:
Of course, the 2023 class of prospects is going to be the most interesting. This will be the first viewing of these players for most and a chance to evaluate the team’s most recent pick.
All five of the team’s most recent picks will be in attendance and all are interesting for different reasons. The team’s first pick in 2023, Jakub Dvorak, will be there. There are conflicting reports on his skating ability — although I trust the Kings’ scouting department more than public reports — so seeing him in person will be nice.
A first look at Hampton Slukynsky will also be good. He played the majority of last season in high school, so seeing him against top talent will give a good gauge of his talent.
But one name stands out amongst the 2023 class for me.
The second he was drafted, Koehn Zieemer became the most interesting prospect in the Kings’ system for me. One of the most productive draft eligible’s in the WHL last season.
Only Connor Bedard scored more goals amongst draft eligibles in the WHL, while Ziemmer outproduced 2023 ninth overall pick Nate Danielson, 2022 11th overall pick Conor Geekie and 2022 35th overall pick Jagger Firkus.
Concerns surrounding Ziemmer’s skating and fitness saw him drop to the third round where Los Angeles snapped him up. A player who’s that productive while playing a hard-working and physical brand of hockey is someone I want to get eyes on.
I want to see the skating issues and potentially the fitness issues too. My best guess is that fixing the fitness issues goes a long way in fixing the skating issues, giving the Kings massive upside for this pick.
The Kings run several tests to determine things like stride power and off-ice tests to work out where players need to improve athletically. If they can get Ziemmer on a good training regiment, and he follows it, this could be a steal at #78.
I really want to see if the concerns of other teams were warranted, or if this was a player who fell because of an extremely fixable “problem.”
There’s a pair of European players who are attending development camp this summer to look out for.
Kasper Simontaival’s coming over for the first time and Aatu Jamsen is returning for his second camp.
Frankly, I’m lower on both of these players than most. There’s some buzz surrounding Simontaival, but I don’t see it.
He had a solid season in Liiga last season, 24 points in 49 games, but that isn’t the kind of production that makes me think a 5-foot-9 forward is going to be an impact in the NHL.
Players with that build typically need exceptional skill to carve out an NHL career and I don’t see that with Simontaival.
Jamsen had a better season with 32 points in 43 games and has a little more size to him at 6-foot-0. But I don’t see him emerging from the glut of Kings’ forward prospects with an NHL spot.
Still, they’re worth keeping and eye on because there are people who think higher of these players than I do.
The biggest name and best player by a wide margin at this camp is 2021 eighth-overall pick, Brandt Clarke.
After 14 games of pro hockey last season, split between the NHL and AHL, Clarke won a World Junior Gold medal and then posted historic numbers in the OHL.
His 1.97 points per game led all players in the regular season and he followed that up with 1.92 points per game in the playoffs, a number that also led the league.
Just as a reminder, Brandt Clarke is a defenseman posting these numbers.
The question marks remain the same with Clarke. Is he a good enough skater and good enough athlete to compete in the NHL right now?
This camp will lack current NHL talent, so we won’t get an answer over the next few days. However, a strong development camp, where Clarke should be the best player on the ice at all times, can kickstart a strong offseason that ends with him making the Kings roster out of training camp.
Not only should Clarke be a star on the ice. But as one of the more experienced players at this camp, and the only one with NHL games, he should be an off-ice leader too.
I’ve made my opinions known on Martin Chromiak, I think the hype surrounding him is too much, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t a very solid prospect.
Another player who should dominate the on-ice portions of this camp, Chromiak’s arguably the most skilled forward in attendance.
Chromiak should take on a more significant role for the Ontario Reign next season and needs a strong showing at the development camp to set him up for that.
There will be plenty of Reign players in attendance and he needs to stand out. With an NHL-caliber shot and high-end skill, that shouldn’t be an issue.
Francesco Pinelli had an underrated OHL season last year. He didn’t have much help in Kitchener, until Francesco Arcuri was acquired mid-season, and Pinelli still managed to dominate both sides of the ice.
With 41 goals and 90 points, Pinelli showed off the skill that saw the Kings trade up for him in 2021. He impressed at last season’s development camp, earning himself an invite to training camp before being sent back to the OHL.
Likely penciled in for the AHL this season, Pinelli can establish himself as a quality player in the league and push for an NHL spot next season.
Pinelli’s a highly-skilled east-west player with a scoring touch and an impressive athlete. He has all the tools to be a good middle-six player in the NHL if he can translate his offense to the next level.
There’s a good chance Pinelli is the best forward at this camp, even if there are a few forwards who will push him for that title.
Few players have risen their stock like Alex Laferriere in the past few years. From a third-round pick in 2020 to back-to-back impressive seasons at Harvard, Laferriere turned pro at the end of last season, playing four games for the Reign last season. He then served as a black ace during the Kings’ playoff run but didn’t get into any games.
A hard-working goal scorer, Laferriere doesn’t have the natural skill of Chromiak or Pinelli but makes up for it with a non-stop motor and high hockey IQ. That’s not to say he lacks skill either, he has an impressive shot that can beat goalies from range and he gets to the gritty areas to score goals.
Laferriere is a dark-horse candidate to make his NHL debut next season if he continues to produce in Ontario. I wouldn’t expect him to make the team out of camp, but when injuries hit I wouldn’t be surprised to see him on the NHL roster.
Erik Portillo is the future in net for the Kings, so getting eyes on him is always a good thing. Slotted for Ontario next season, the sooner he can be NHL ready the better. Although that’s at least one year away, maybe two.
It was a tough sophomore season for Jack Hughes, he needs a bounce-back season in 2023-24. It’s important to remember that he is still very young by college hockey standards and a weak sophomore season shouldn’t write him off as a prospect.
He entered the transfer portal and a change of scenery should be good for him. A very skilled player, Hughes needs to show off something at this camp to kickstart a strong season.