The Los Angeles Kings are a bad hockey team. That's not at all surprising, but it's been a little extra painful this year.
The Kings hold a 27-35-6 record and a Western Conference-low 60 points, only inching out the historically bad Detroit Red Wings (39 points) league-wide. The Kings are in the midst of a nice five-game winning streak, but that hasn't done much to lessen the blow, especially when a top draft pick is at stake.
But the downtrodden franchise has a reason to get excited: there's legitimate hope on the horizon. While I won't spoil anything, Kings fans will be happy to know their prospect base looks quite good compared to the rest of the league in our annual Future Watch issue, which will be hitting newsstands and finding its way into mailboxes soon.
The Kings might just get the help they needed sooner rather than later, too. While nothing is official, Fox Sports' Jon Rosen and John Hoven from Mayor's Manor have suggested prized prospect Alex Turcotte could turn pro in the coming days as a result of University of Wisconsin's season coming to a close last week. Turcotte, drafted in fifth overall by the Kings last June, had a seamless transition to college after years spent as a fixture with the USA Hockey National Team Development Program and formed a deadly duo alongside current Badgers teammate Cole Caufield, another player who could elect to turn pro next season. Other than a quiet outing at the World Junior Championship in which he had just two assists for the Americans, Turcotte was exactly as advertised on the playmaking front, putting up nine goals and 26 points.
What does Turcotte bring to the table? "He's as good of a two-way center at the NCAA level (as) you can ask for," a college hockey scout said. "He's not the most physical forward, but you never worry about him in one-on-one situations. His work ethic is incredible."
If Turcotte signs, he'd perhaps join the AHL's Ontario Reign for the remainder of the season to begin getting used to the daily grind of pro hockey before making the jump to the NHL next season. Joining him up front in a full-time capacity would be Gabe Vilardi, who made his return this season after playing just 36 games over the past two seasons due to back issues. A first-round, 11th-overall pick in 2017, Vilardi scored just 11 seconds into his first shift with the Kings and has four points in his first eight games, providing some depth scoring and improving his game each day. Having Turcotte and Vilardi as middle-six centers should make any Kings fan smile, especially given the inconsistencies Los Angeles has battled down the middle this season.
On the backend, Tobias Bjornfot should find his way back into top-four action next season after a three-game stint alongside Drew Doughty out of training camp. The 22nd overall pick in 2019, Bjornfot has played key minutes with the Reign this season and his 19 points as the second youngest player in the league is quite reasonable, too. There may also be room for Kale Clague to fight his way into a spot, with the speedy defender showing some promise in Ontario, but Bjornfot is the one with more potential.
The Kings are already starting to get a taste of what Cal Petersen has to offer after GM Rob Blake shipped out Jack Campbell prior to the trade deadline. Granted, the Kings aren't in a good situation right now and the sample size is small, but Petersen's .921 save percentage and 0.54 goals saved above average tops what Campbell and Jonathan Quick have produced this season. Petersen also has four wins in his seven games. At 25, it's his time to showcase his ability and attempt to wrest the crease from Quick.
In terms of wild cards, the Kings could bring up Arthur Kaliyev to start next season if Blake feels the American scoring star has nothing left to prove in the OHL. Kaliyev is two points away from his second 100-point campaign and only six goals shy of 50, so obliterating teenage goaltenders might not be worth it anymore. Center Rasmus Kupari was also making some noise with Ontario before tearing his ACL at the World Junior Championship in December. Once he's fully healed, don't count him out as a potential lineup regular next season.
Mixed in with established youngsters Blake Lizotte, Michael Amadio and Mikey Anderson, and whomever Blake picks in the first round in 2020 (and with it likely to be a top five pick, there will be no shortage of talent that's capable of playing full-time next season), the Kings have a young group that can step in and take over in Hollywood in the near future and help ease the pain caused by painful contracts signed during the team's Stanley Cup era. We're not talking about a team capable of a playoff run just yet, but with a handful of the team's best young players ready for NHL duty next season, it won't be long before there's something to cheer about again in Los Angeles.
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