Scott Wheeler had a lot of hard decisions to make as he put together the rankings of the NHL Prospect Pools, but one decision was particularly easy.
"The Kings were always going to be No. 1," Wheeler wrote. "There's no hesitation with this decision. It's clearcut."
The Kings' position was solidified by their increasing depth. General Manager Rob Blake and the Kings have completely revamped their pipeline in just a few short years, focusing on drafting and developing a wide variety of talents.
From 2016 to 2020, the team's prospect pipeline jumped in The Athletic's annual ranking from nearly last to best in the league. The Kings were ranked No. 29 in 2016, No. 17 in 2017, No. 10 in 2018, and No. 4 in 2019 before finally landing the top spot this year.
"Not only do the Kings have four of the better prospects in hockey, they also have a depth of legitimate prospects that approaches the end of the teens and is rivalled only by maybe one or two other teams, as well as the best depth at centre outside of the NHL," Wheeler wrote.
The top four prospects include three of the Kings 2019 draft picks - fifth-overall selection Alex Turcotte, 33rd-overall selection Arthur Kaliyev, 50th-overall selection Samuel Fagemo - plus the Gabe Vilardi, who the Kings selected 11th overall in 2017.
Though Turcotte hasn't had the most impressive freshman season at the University of Wisconsin, he's shown his versatility as a two-way player and could be slated as a first or second line center in a few years.
"He never stops moving, which helps him use that plus-level skating to win back pucks and apply constant pressure," Wheeler wrote. "He's got great hands in traffic and spatial awareness that helps him navigate in and out of small areas to make little plays all over the ice with his hands or a quick pass. He's dangerous in the slot and on the flank on the power play."
Video: Inside the LA Kings' selection of Alex Turcotte
Kaliyev has been a more controversial player, as many teams overlooked him in the first round of last year's draft, but he has proven them wrong by lighting up the Ontario Hockey League this year and breaking his team's all-time scoring record. His play has earned him high praise from Wheeler, who believes he's one of the only prospects who has a chance to score 40 goals someday.
"On talent alone, he's one of hockey's most gifted NHL prospects," Wheeler wrote. "He already has dynamic, game-breaking upside on the power play. And his shot is so versatile and dangerous that he can score from anywhere in the offensive zone at even strength."
Anyone who was watching the 2019 World Junior Championship became familiar with Fagemo, who was the tournament's top goal scorer. Wheeler predicts he could be a weapon on the Kings' top player play unit in the future.
"While goal scoring and shot generation are certainly Fagemo's focus when he's on the ice, he, like Kaliyev, is actually a pretty decent playmaker too," Wheeler wrote. "He's particularly dangerous on the power play because he doesn't force his shots. That allows him to make one-touch passes east-to-west when he identifies that a teammate is in a better position to score than he is."
Not far behind those four top prospects is Rasmus Kupari, Tobias Bjornfot, Carl Grundstrom and Kale Clague, who have all spent the season with the Ontario Reign.
Video: Kale Clague looks to add speed to the Kings defense
Video: Canada's WJC Hero and LA Kings Prospect Akil Thomas
We would also be amiss not to mention the remaining Kings prospects who made the list: Akil Thomas, Jordan Spence, Cole Hults, Aidan Dudas, Sean Durzi, Jaret Anderson-Dolan, Bulat Shafigullin, Jacob Ingham, Kim Nousiainen, Austin Strand, Mikey Anderson, Braden Doyle, Markus Phillips, Jacob Moverare, and Andre Lee.