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Future Watch – Los Angeles Kings: New set of wheels

Long live the Kings? Nope. The style that won the team two Cups is dead, and Los Angeles is embracing the change.
Oulun Karpat

Oulun Karpat

C+ / 26th overall

Where diesels and road graders once clogged the freeways leading to Los Angeles, a steady stream of faster, sportier coupes is now cruising toward Staples Center. The Kings won Stanley Cups in 2012 and 2014 by steamrolling over opponents but, as the decade nears its end, the organization is in the process of trading in its outdated rattletraps for models more efficient in today’s environment. GM Rob Blake’s first two drafts have stocked the Kings’ system with skilled players who can skate. Three of their top 10 prospects were imported from the larger ice surfaces of Europe, where speed and finesse loom large.

LA_Trend

1. Rasmus Kupari (19th overall)
C, 18, 5-9, 163 – Karpat (Fin.)
40–12–20–32–28
2018 draft, 20th overall
Fast and skilled, Kupari symbolizes the evolution of a Kings prospect. “Speed is his No. 1 asset,” said director of player personnel Nelson Emerson. “Rasmus can flat-out fly. He’s playing well against men in the top league in Finland.” Kupari started slowly at the WJC, but the Kings like the way he took a leadership role, playing his best when the games became more important to help Finland win gold. Kupari gets a lot of chances because of his skating, but needs to work on his shooting.
FW18| n/a – NHL | 2020-21

2. Gabe Vilardi (49th overall)
C, 19, 6-3, 201 – Ontario (AHL)
4–0–1–1–0
2017 draft, 11th overall
Back issues have plagued Vilardi, limiting him to four AHL games. If he can get – and stay – healthy, his future is bright. The 2017 Memorial Cup standout (seven assists) plays both ends of the ice and has a knack for making everyone around him better. The Kings believe Vilardi is young enough to overcome his injury and make a successful return. Vilardi had 22 goals and 58 points in 32 OHL games in 2017-18. “It was exciting to see him back last year,” Emerson said. “He was dominant.”
FW18| No. 1 – NHL | 2021-22

3. Akil Thomas (67th overall)
C, 19, 6-0, 180 – Niagara (OHL)
57–32–58–90–34
2018 draft, 51st overall
The gifted playmaker who can also finish has good pedigree: his father, Kahlil, played minor pro for 12 years, and an uncle, Leo, also played pro. “Akil scores and distributes the puck well,” Emerson said. The Kings are eager to see how Thomas fares in the playoffs, when games are tighter and intensity ramps up. A strong skater, Thomas’ defense is the area in need of improvement. He grew up a fan of Drew Doughty, and if he can channel Doughty’s defensive intensity, the Kings will be thrilled.
FW18| n/a – NHL | 2022-23

4. Jaret Anderson-Dolan (72nd overall)
C, 19, 5-11, 195 – Spokane (WHL)
26–14–21–35–15
2017 draft, 41st overall
Another example of the new breed of King: smart, serious and speedy sums up Anderson-Dolan. The two-way center played five NHL games this year and made an impression. “He plays the game the right way,” Emerson said. “His speed is good, and he plays at great pace. Jaret just does not stop. He has a great head and knows what he wants.” He isn’t just fast, he also has quick feet, quick hands and is a quick thinker. More scorer than passer, he has a hard, accurate shot.
FW18| No. 3 – NHL | 2020-21

5. Kale Clague (79th overall)
D, 20, 6-0, 177 – Ontario (AHL)
51–7–22–29–34
2016 draft, 51st overall
A strong skater and good puckhandler, Clague has adapted well in his first pro season, improving his defensive play while seeing ice time in all situations. An offensive threat, Clague has focused on getting back and going hard after pucks, while also improving his defensive positioning and breakout passes. He stepped up his game after the new year, playing with more confidence. Clague has good instincts and gained experience during two WJC tournaments with Team Canada.
FW18| No. 2 – NHL | 2019-20

6. Mikey Anderson (89th overall)
D, 19, 6-0, 190 – Minnesota-Duluth (NCHC)
30–4–13–17–12
2017 draft, 103rd overall
A steady, heady D-man who plays an honest, two-way game and exudes leadership.

7. Carl Grundstrom
LW, 21, 6-0, 201 – Ontario (AHL)
55–16–23–39–32
Trade (Tor), Jan. 28, 2019
Ultimate professional, competes hard every shift and has great hockey sense.

8. Cal Petersen
G, 24, 6-1, 182 – Ontario (AHL)
8–14–1, 4.10, .896
Free agent, July 1, 2017
Mature product of Notre Dame more reliable than his spotty AHL numbers reflect.

9. Sean Durzi
D, 20, 6-0, 187 – Guelph (OHL)
35–11–26–37–25
Trade (Tor), Jan. 28, 2019
Fluid skater, skilled puck-handler has a good shot and can run the power play.

10. Johah Sodergran
RW, 19, 6-2, 205 – Linkoping (Swe.)
37–8–4–12–4
2018 draft, 165th overall
Smooth skater gained valuable experience with Sweden at WJC.

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