The core players who make the Los Angeles Kings legitimate Stanley Cup contenders are either in their prime or close to entering their prime years. There's little to no chance any prospect is going to take ice time away from Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Justin Williams, Drew Doughty or Slava Voynov.
However, if general manager Dean Lombardi has done his job the way he set out to do it, a handful of the following 10 prospects will be pushing for a roster spot in training camp next month, and the rest aren't too far behind.
Here's a look at Los Angeles' top 10 prospects, according to NHL.com:
1. Tyler Toffoli, RW: Toffoli is the most NHL-ready of all of Los Angeles' prospects. He showed his offensive upside in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs with six points in 12 games. He also had five points in 10 regular-season games. In addition, Toffoli led the Manchester Monarchs of the American Hockey League with 28 goals in 58 games.
Lombardi said Toffoli, 21, could switch positions, and he would be eager to do it if it means playing left wing on a line with Richards and Carter. However, if Toffoli (6-foot-1, 187 pounds) makes the team out of training camp, don't be surprised if he starts further down in the lineup and works his way up.
"I always heard the story of Ron Caron talking about Doug Gilmour, how he broke in as a checking forward and lo and behold he became a star in the League, a complete player," Lombardi told NHL.com. "That's the way in an ideal world that you would break in your young players."
2. Linden Vey, C: Vey led the Monarchs with 67 points (22 goals and 45 assists) in 74 games last season. He had two goals in four Calder Cup Playoff games. It was an improvement on the 43 points, including 19 goals, which he had in 74 games as an AHL rookie in 2011-12.
The 6-foot, 183-pound 22-year-old is an all-zone performer who plays power play and penalty kill, and centers Manchester's top line.
"The kid who is going to be knocking at the door here is Linden Vey," Lombardi said. "He's a really smart player. Like a lot of kids, his challenge will be to become trustworthy defensively. He's right there with Toffoli knocking on the door. He's done what you expect in terms of becoming a top player in the minors and is ready to challenge for a job up here."
3. Tanner Pearson, LW: Pearson, who turns 20 in August, was fourth on the Monarchs last season with 47 points in 64 games. It was the first professional season for the 6-foot, 193-pound forward after being selected in the first round (No. 30) of the 2012 NHL Draft.
"Pearson is close," Lombardi said. "He's come a long way, but he doesn't have the time in that the other two [Toffoli and Vey] do. He's right up there in terms of prospects around the League in his peer group. On the experience level, maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I still believe in paying your dues because then you get a more complete athlete. It's hard down there in the AHL. It's a man's league and he tailed off a little bit at the end."
4. Andy Andreoff, C: Andreoff, 22, seems like a future third- or fourth-liner. He's known as an agitating, aggressive, two-way forward who can produce some offense (26 points in 68 games for Manchester last season) while getting in the face of opponents and generally being hard to play against. At 6-1, 201, he led the Monarchs with 111 penalty minutes. Lombardi called him "old-school tough."
"He's a strong bull and he's got captain material," Lombardi said. "When you talk about these kids learning to play in their own end, this guy gets it. He stops plays. He's the type of guy down the road that I think will be your consummate playoff-type player. His skating needs to improve, but he's got all those attributes that lend to being a playoff-type guy."
5. Derek Forbort, D: The 21-year-old came to the Monarchs late last season after finishing his junior season at the University of North Dakota, when he had 17 points and 59 blocked shots in 42 games. He signed his three-year entry-level contract in April. Forbort, who is 6-5, 210, was the Kings' first-round pick (No. 15) in 2010 and could eventually be a stay-at-home defenseman in L.A.
"Some kids have beards at 18 years old and are worldly, mature, street-wise. He's very young on all counts," Lombardi said. "However, I've seen a lot of maturity in the last year. I think he took a step here in the last six or seven months. Even just going to Manchester at the end of the season opened his eyes a lot in terms of what it means to be a pro. Coming to development camp [in July], he saw what the NHL is like and how far he needs to go. A lot of his game is still undefined. He's very green but has made a lot of strides."
6. Nicolas Deslauriers, D: A 22-year-old, left-handed defenseman whose best attribute is his skating ability, Deslauriers (6-1, 214) played in the AHL the past two seasons and has shown improvement in all areas of his game. He needs to continue to work on his defensive side if he wants to make it in the NHL.
"He's probably one of our most improved players, and it's very much tied to his maturity," Lombardi said. "He's got a lot of tools, and the way I would state is he needs to learn to simplify his game. The simpler he makes it, the more effective he is going to be. He's tough, built like a rock, but at times he tries to complicate things. Two years ago, it was a fire drill every shift. He keeps making strides now."
7. Kevin Gravel, D: Gravel, a fifth-round pick in 2010 (No. 148), is heading back to St. Cloud State University for his senior season. The 6-4, 200-pound 21-year-old native of Michigan played 42 games for St. Cloud State last season and had 12 points and 44 blocked shots.
"He's a player that kind of jumped on our radar a couple of years ago in a very positive way because he played for the U.S. team at the World Juniors, played real well, had a real successful season and it jump-started his confidence," Nelson Emerson, who works in the Kings' player development department, told NHL.com. "He's long, lanky and he makes a great first pass. He skates with his head up. He's able to go back and retrieve pucks. He takes hits. But what makes him successful is he's got this big, long reach and a long stick. He's tough to play against."8. Nick Shore, C: Shore, whose brother, Drew, plays for the Florida Panthers, was a third-round pick (No. 82) in 2011. The Kings signed him to his three-year entry-level contract in April after he finished his junior season at the University of Denver. The 6-foot, 184-pound forward had a team-high 14 goals and 34 points in 39 games last season for the Pioneers. Shore, 20, had 41 points as a sophomore. He won gold with the United States at the 2010 World Under-18 Championships.
9. Nic Dowd, C: Dowd, who is from Huntsville, Ala., was a seventh-round pick (No. 198) by the Kings in 2009 and has been playing with Gravel at St. Cloud State. The 23-year-old pivot will be heading back to college for his senior season. He's 6-1, 175, and had 39 points in 42 games last season, helping the Huskies reach the Frozen Four for the first time.
10. Michael Mersch, LW: The 6-1, 215-pound forward was the Kings' fourth-round pick (No. 110) in 2011. He's been playing at the University of Wisconsin, and as a junior last season led the Badgers with 23 goals and 36 points in 42 games. Mersch will be 21 in October and is expected to play his senior season at Wisconsin before he presumably signs with the Kings.
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter: @drosennhl
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