The last time the Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup was in 2014 - really, not that long ago - but the current status of the lineup makes it seem like ages. The Kings are in the midst of a rebuild, but lucky for them, the next generation is coming.
While talents such as center Gabe Vilardi and goalie Jacob Ingham hail from the junior ranks, Los Angeles also has quite the contingent of NCAA-bred prospects, three of whom are slated to make their pro debuts next season: Alex Turcotte, the fifth overall pick from 2019; Tyler Madden, acquired from Vancouver in the Tyler Toffoli trade; and Cole Hults, a fifth-rounder from 2017 and the only defenseman of the three.
Turcotte, who played one season at the University of Wisconsin before turning pro, already knows Hults pretty well, since the blueliner also played in the Big Ten with Penn State.
"They whupped us more times than we did them," Turcotte said. "They were running and gunning and we played the same way. I wouldn't say a lot of defense was played."
With Turcotte, the appeal is all about his powerful skating and his offensive pop. Despite being a freshman, he finished third in scoring on the Badgers with 26 points in 29 games. Before that, he got a chance to see what his fellow Kings prospects were all about when he attended development camp after the draft. That's where he befriended Swedish defenseman Tobias Bjornfot, a fellow 2019 first-rounder who ended up playing some games with Los Angeles before getting sent to AHL Ontario for the rest of the campaign.
"Dev camp was awesome," Turcotte said. "That's when you meet all the guys going through the same process as you. With Toby, I played against him for two years in international tournaments. I took him to Chipotle in L.A. People were giving it to me, because I'm sure there are better Mexican places in town, but I'm from the Midwest; that's all we've got there."
Madden was in his dorm room playing XBox when he found out his rights had been traded from the Canucks to the Kings. The son of former NHLer John Madden was in the midst of a monster sophomore season with Northeastern University, one in which he ended up leading the Huskies in scoring with 37 points in 27 games. He's looking forward to his first pro training camp next year and looks at the competition as uplifting, rather than intimidating.
"It's a good thing, because you'll be surrounded by good players," he said. "Everybody has the skill and it's exciting, for sure."
On top of his ex-NHLer dad, Madden also has a former gymnast for a mom and she's been giving him some tough workouts during the quarantine.
While Northeastern was having a pretty good season, Hults' crew from Penn State had the looks of a team that could achieve something real special. The Nittany Lions were ranked eighth in the country when the season was called off, so there was no chance at going for Penn State's first-ever Frozen Four title.
"It definitely stings," Hults said. "The year before I came in, they won the Big Ten tournament. We got to end as regular season champs and we were told that we'll be getting rings, so that helps a bit."
Hults prides himself on playing a simple game on defense, though he did have an NCAA career-high 30 points in 34 games this year. In a perfect world, the Madison, Wisconsin native would play like a certain family friend who has done pretty well for himself in the NHL.
"I like to compare my game to Ryan Suter," he said. "He's a low-maintenance guy. He's a mentor for me, I watch him more than anyone else."
Perhaps one day soon, Hults will find himself staring down the same sheet of NHL ice as Suter. The competition to become part of the next generation of Kings will be a fierce one, but that's what you want as an organization. Los Angeles needs to get faster and younger as soon as possible and thanks to some astute drafting and building, the Kings have put themselves in a position to succeed in the future. Now it's all about getting those college boys some reps in the pro ranks.