Los Angeles Kings: Bold Predictions for Each of Their 8 Biggest Prospects
Even though the craziest and most intense string of games to this season has yet to take place, it's never too soon to look forward to the future.
For many seasons now we have heard a lot about the deep pipeline of the Los Angeles Kings organization. We have seen a few players poke up this year and make an impact but there are still many in the AHL, CHL and NCAA chomping at the bit for the prime time.
Here is a small look ahead at some of the Kings' top prospects and what (I hope) they will achieve in the next season, and the near future.
The 22-year-old Russian has had a great rookie season thus far and will build on that in 2012-2013.
He is the single biggest reason Jack Johnson was considered an expendable asset at this year's trade deadline. The talented puck mover has played 47 games, has 18 points and is a plus-11.
The Kings have also recently re-signed defenseman Willie Mitchell, who has been Voynov's consistent defensive partner this season.
Next season, Voynov will have the luxury of graduating from just a "prospect" into a full-time starter with the Kings. He will likely see his minutes jump up, and may even see himself on the Kings' first power-play unit.
Bold Prediction: Slava Voynov will eclipse 45-plus points next season.
Once considered the Kings' future second-line center, Andrei Loktionov has again struggled to find himself as a consistent NHLer this season.
The 21-year-old out of Voskresensk, Russia still has a ton of potential and saw a more extended stay in the bigs this year. However, he has had trouble transitioning to wing when attempted, and just had difficulty finding the stat column.
It's important to remember though that Loktionov is not a goal scorer, and is a pass-first player. He was buried in a checking role with the acquisition of Mike Richards. If Loktionov could get the right linemates, he could be a real threatening playmaker.
Also important to Loktionov is the impending UFA status of current Kings' third-line center Jarret Stoll.
Bold Prediction: Loktionov steps in for free-agent Jarret Stoll and has a 30-plus assist season.
Often the target of many disgruntled anti-lombardi rants is the fourth overall pick of the 2007 draft, defenseman Thomas Hickey.
It's true, Hickey was an off-the-board pick at the time. It's true Hickey has yet to skate in the NHL. Yes, it's true that the 2007 draft produced several other solid defenseman such as Ian Cole, Kevin Shattenkirk, Jonathan Blum and Ryan McDonagh.
However, Hickey is NOT a bust.
The 23-year-old Calgary native has fought through several injuries and has slowly but surely progressed into a solid young talent in the AHL.
Hickey is coming off his best season thus far with the Manchester Monarchs, where he represented the team at the 2011-2012 AHL All-Star game. He leads the team with a plus-16 and is second among defensemen with 25 points.
With the progression of Hickey this season, I surely expect that he and Martinez will battle for the sixth and seventh defensive spots next season.
Bold Prediction: Thomas Hickey plays 50-plus games at the NHL level next season.
Tyler Toffoli is far and away the most promising Kings forward prospect in the pipeline in terms of a skilled goal scorer.
The 19-year-old forward has spent the last four seasons with the Ontario Hockey League's Ottawa 67's.
In his last two seasons, Toffoli has lead the team with 100 and 108 points, and 52 and 57 goals, respectively.
When you look at the Kings pipeline, particularly at wing, Toffoli's goal-scoring prowess and skill is a breath of fresh air.
Currently, Dustin Brown and Justin Williams would be ahead of Toffoli on the depth chart in terms of top-six talent, but it wouldn't surprise me to see Toffoli given a shot in one of those roles next year.
Bold Prediction: Toffoli makes the Kings roster out of training camp to start the season.
In his first professional season with the AHL Kings' affiliate, the Manchester Monarchs, center Linden Vey looked a little shell-shocked to start the season.
But in the second half of the year he has turned his game around and become one of the team's leading scorers and go-to players.
The 2009, 96th overall pick is currently third on the team in scoring with 38 points in 66 games.
Vey is, however, stuck in the log jam that is the center position for the L.A. Kings. Vey might not be an immediate fixture in the Kings' plans, but he certainly is a player to keep an eye on for the future.
Bold Prediction: Vey leads the Manchester Monarchs in scoring next season.
The Kings have often liked to draft college kids. And when 6'5'' Derek Forbort was selected in 2010 with the Kings' first-round pick, they kept that method alive.
Before the draft, Forbort committed to the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux for the 2011-2012 season and plans to stay in college for about two to three years according to this article by the LA Times' Helene Elliott.
He is a big, mobile two-way defenseman with size. And the Kings are going to have a lot of spots open, particularly in the defensive-minded side of things in a few seasons.
Since his immediate future is at North Dakota, the Kings can formulate their plans defensively towards his arrival.
Bold Prediction: Forbort leads his Fighting Sioux squad to the Frozen Four next season.
Without question, the Kings might sport the best group of goaltenders in the league—top of the organization to bottom.
Jonathan Quick is having a Vezina-worthy year, Jonathan Bernier still shows true promise as an NHL starter, 24-year-old Jeff Zatkoff was an AHL All-Star this season and Martin Jones an All-Star last season.
The undrafted 20-year-old North Vancouver native has handled himself incredibly well for such a young age. The depth chart is crammed, but I have a feeling Jones will steadily work his way into the NHL.
One advantage he does have over the others is size. Jones, standing at 6'4'', is the largest butterfly goaltender the Kings have at this point.
Bold Prediction: Martin Jones becomes the Kings' backup goaltender within the next season.
Dwight King has been one of the bigger (6'4'' big to be exact), and more welcome surprises of the Kings season so far.
While one would have struggled to call King one of the Kings' "top prospects" in the beginning of the year, he certainly has made people notice him during his short time with the team this season.
The big man has brought a refreshing simplicity to the Kings' top six with his hard-working, grind-it-out style. With a tandem of highly skilled forwards at his side, King's work ethic has paid off with 10 points in 21 games.
King has stepped into a left-wing role that has been thin since the departure of Ryan Smyth, so his position on next season's team is likely a lock. With the return of a healthy Gagne though, King could see his role and minutes decline. However, he still has the grit and determination to be a very effective role player in the future.
Bold Prediction: Dwight King scores 20-plus goals next season.