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Kings' top 10 prospects feature Pearson, Zykov

Thursday, 08.28.2014 / 10:41 AM / Features
By Adam Kimelman  - NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor
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Kings\' top 10 prospects feature Pearson, Zykov
Being a prospect for the Los Angeles Kings is a double-edged sword. On the one side is the opportunity to be part of a championship team; however, precious few spots are open.

Being a prospect for the Los Angeles Kings is a double-edged sword. On the one side is the opportunity to be part of a championship team; the Kings have won the Stanley Cup two of the past three seasons.

The other side, though, is a lack of playing time and limited opportunities for promotion. That means a patient approach has to be taken by the younger players.

"We're not in a rush to get these kids in the lineup right now," Kings vice president of hockey operations and director of player personnel Michael Futa said. "They can hone their skills at the American Hockey League and with our development team and be ready to make an impact when they're called upon."

Here's a look at the Kings' top 10 prospects, according to NHL.com:

1. Tanner Pearson, LW

Tanner Pearson formed a dynamic second line with Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli for Los Angeles. (Photo: Getty Images)

How acquired: 1st round (No. 30), 2012 draft

Last season: 41 GP, 17-15-32, Manchester, AHL

Pearson, 22, remains a Calder Trophy candidate hoping to build off his outstanding run through the Stanley Cup Playoffs, when the 6-foot-1, 200-pound forward had four goals and 12 points in 24 games and formed a dynamic second line with Jeff Carter and Tyler Toffoli. However, nothing will be given to Pearson by coach Darryl Sutter when this season starts.

"He knows there's still a ways to go," Futa said. "You come in and have an incredible run [in the playoffs], but there's just so much more to be done. He wants to be a guy that's a 17- or 18-minute [per game] player, so he's got to give his body a chance to do that. That's what this summer is all about. Everybody is doing a little bit of celebrating, but that can all come to an end in a hurry if you're not ready to play big minutes when you come back. He has to earn that ice back and earn Darryl's trust back."

Projected NHL arrival: 2014-15

2. Valentin Zykov, LW

How acquired: 2nd round (No. 37), 2013 draft

Last season: 53 GP, 23-40-63, plus-32, Baie-Comeau, QMJHL

Zykov (6-0, 209) had another strong season of junior hockey, but the 19-year-old was left questioning himself after going without a point in seven games for Russia at the 2014 IIHF World Junior Championship. He recovered to score at a point-per-game pace in 22 games in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League playoffs, but the Kings believe there's a lot more Zykov is capable of.

"Maybe he thought it would be a little easier than it was for him," Futa said. "It was more of a challenge. It was good and he responded the right way. He had a real good development camp. He knows he has to come in and … he has to find himself a spot on the defending Stanley Cup championship team or he has to go back and have a great year in the Quebec league. The rules aren't in his favor as far as options. It's going to be a good test of character."

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

3. Derek Forbort, D

How acquired: 1st round (No. 15), 2010 draft

Last season: 74 GP, 1-16-17, plus-19, Manchester, AHL

After three seasons at the University of North Dakota, the 22-year-old made a seamless transition to the professional game last season with Manchester. A jump to the NHL might not be too far in Forbort's (6-4, 212) future.

"It was a big jump for him coming from college," Futa said. "He's a big kid that skates exceptionally well. It's a big jump moving to the pro game. … He's got pro tools. He's a pro skater, he's got a pro body. It's learning the game, learning how to simplify things. The college game is a lot different, [but] he's adjusted well. Everyone has initial hitches and stuff like that, but he's really adjusted well."

Projected NHL arrival: 2014-15

4. Adrian Kempe, LW

How acquired: 1st round (No. 29), 2014 draft

Last season: 45 GP, 5-6-11, Modo, SWE

If there was one player at the 2014 NHL Draft who looked like a Kings player, it was Kempe, a talented, bruising, Swedish-born power forward (6-2, 187) with lots of offensive skill. Futa said Kempe was one of the more impressive players at the team's summer prospect development camp even though he won't turn 18 until Sept. 13.

Kempe will spend at least one more season with Modo, but it's already easy to envision him in the Los Angeles lineup in the near future.

"He just tailor-made to play the game the way we want to play," Futa said. "But there's no hurry. He's under contract in Sweden and we're happy to have him there for a year. … He came in [to development camp] and he opened some eyes. The guys who have seen a ton of him, it was something we expected. But he made an impact on the guys seeing him for the first time when he came over here."

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

5. Nick Ebert, D

How acquired: 7th round (No. 211), 2012 draft

Last season: 65 GP, 13-38-51, plus-53, Windsor/Guelph, OHL

The last player picked in the 2012 draft, Ebert, 20, had an outstanding second half of the season after a trade from Windsor to Guelph, with 33 points and a plus-26 rating in 38 regular-season games and five goals, 16 points and a plus-13 rating in 20 playoff games to help Guelph win the Ontario Hockey League championship. The Kings hope Ebert (6-0, 203) can build off that strong finish this season.

"He's got to make an impact to show that he's ready for the pro game," Futa said. "When you're a 20 year old that still has junior eligibility, you've got to prove to us that you're ready to be a pro. We think Nick is, but he's got to prove that to show that he's done with junior hockey for good."

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

6. Roland McKeown, D

How acquired: 2nd round (No. 50), 2014 draft

Last season: 62 GP, 11-32-43, plus-38, Kingston, OHL

McKeown had hopes of going in the first round, but when that didn't happen, it became a great consolation prize for the 18-year-old; the defending Stanley Cup champion traded a player off its roster for the chance to pick McKeown (6-1, 195).

"We had him a lot higher, and when he was still there we traded an NHL player [Linden Vey] to get him," Futa said. "Clearly we've got high hopes with him. The way the game is played now, in the back end you see guys like Alec Martinez, guys that can skate the puck, move the puck, those are the guys that help you win Stanley Cups. He's a long way from that, being refined in all those areas, but he's such a great natural talent."

Projected NHL arrival: 2017-18

7. Jean-Francois Berube, G

How acquired: 4th round (No. 95), 2009 draft

Last season: 48 GP, 28-17-2, 2.37 GAA, .913 save percentage, 3 shutouts, Manchester, AHL

Berube entered the season as the backup to Martin Jones with Manchester. An injury to Jonathan Quick and Jones' impressive stint in the NHL left the AHL job for Berube (6-1, 177), and the 23-year-old made the most of his opportunity.

"We were just thrilled when [Jones] got called up and made the jump to the big team and went on his run," Futa said. "We were wondering whether J-F could carry the ball in Manchester, and he didn't miss a beat down there. He's that prototypical French goalie, a student of the game, he's good positionally. He just has to work on his strength and durability. He's got a great attitude for the game. He's been a breath of fresh air for our goaltending staff."

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

8. Zachary Leslie, D

How acquired: 6th round (No. 178), 2013 draft

Last season: 60 GP, 14-36-50, plus-40, Guelph, OHL

The 20-year-old made another big step in his development with an outstanding season with Guelph. He had 10 points and was a plus-10 in 20 OHL playoff games and had three points in four games at the Memorial Cup. Part of that rise in play came from the comfort of being part of an NHL organization after being passed over in the 2012 draft. But in the year-plus since being drafted, Leslie (6-0, 175) has become a strong figure in the Kings' future.

"He's a kid that went through the draft, so a lot of this stuff is new to him," Futa said. "How to train properly, how to eat properly, the expectations now that you have a chance to be a pro instead of wondering if you're ever going to be drafted, wondering if that goal is going to be there for you. He's an exceptional skater. He played so many minutes in Guelph that at times he started to break down. He's a favorite among a lot of people in our organization with his attitude and his ability to wheel the puck. He's got a little dirt bag to him. It's his competitive nature. It brings a smile to your face how hard he competes and what a likable, driven young man he is."

Projected NHL arrival: 2016-17

9. Nikolay Prokhorkin, LW

How acquired: 4th round (No. 121), 2012 draft

Last season: 52 GP, 19-18-37, CSKA, RUS

The only thing wrong with Prokhorkin is where he's playing. The 20-year-old (6-3, 190) skated in the KHL all-star game last season, but the Kings would rather see him developing his game in North America. He played eight games with Manchester at the start of the 2012-13 season, but a contractual issue has kept him in Russia since then.

"It's one thing to analyze him as a talent, but it's another thing to get him over here to play," Futa said. "He's got to get to North America and start playing professional hockey if he wants to be a part of our organization. We love the kid. He's a very bright kid, he's married now, he's got a kid. But at some point you have to make a decision whether you're going to be a career KHL player or if you're going to come play with the big boys for real. We're hoping to figure that out, because there's a lot of potential there."

Projected NHL arrival: 2017-18

10. Michael Mersch, LW

How acquired: 4th round (No. 110), 2011 draft

Last season: 37 GP, 22-13-35, Wisconsin, BIG TEN

Much like Forbort, Mersch (6-2, 198) impressed a number of Kings staffers with how smoothly he adjusted to playing in the AHL at the end of last season, with two goals and three points in seven games. If the 21-year-old improves his speed, an even bigger jump this season is a possibility.

"He's opened up so many eyes for how easy it was with him," Futa said. "For some guys it's a more difficult transition to the pro game. … He scores goals from muddy areas and he scores goals naturally. That translates to any level. It's neat watching the way he made the jump seamlessly to the AHL. His game translates to the National Hockey League. It'll be interesting to see how quickly he's ready to challenge for a position. He's got top-six hands and a big body."

Projected NHL arrival: 2015-16

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Author: Adam Kimelman | NHL.com Deputy Managing Editor