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30 in 30

Top prospects for Los Angeles Kings

Michael Mersch can provide forward depth; Kevin Gravel, Derek Forbort help shore up defense

by Curtis Zupke / NHL.com Correspondent

NHL.com is providing in-depth prospect analysis for each of its 30 teams throughout August. Today, the Los Angeles Kings.

Trades and poor position in the NHL Draft have hindered the Los Angeles Kings from building their organizational depth. They have not had a first-round pick the past two years, and no player they've drafted since 2012 has played for them in the NHL.

Michael Futa, vice president of hockey operations and director of player personnel, recognizes the challenge but pointed out that the Kings' former American Hockey League affiliate in Manchester won the 2015 Calder Cup with a roster loaded with young players, not veterans, and they've been able to find productive players in the second round, including forward Tyler Toffoli in 2010. 

"Our team is littered with prospects," Futa said. "Whether they're top-six forwards or not, they're [ready to compete for jobs in the NHL]. I think the time is now for some of these guys to get rewarded for the work that they've put in."

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Here are the Kings' top five prospects, according to NHL.com:

1. Adrian Kempe, LW

How acquired: Selected with No. 29 pick in 2014 NHL Draft

Last season: Ontario (AHL): 55 GP, 11-17-28

The Kings are high on Kempe, who produced as a 19-year-old in the AHL last season, his second in North America, and has played in two IIHF World Junior Championships for Sweden.

"He's opened our eyes every time we watch him," Futa said.

But the Kings won't rush Kempe (6-foot-2, 187 pounds), who turns 20 on Sept. 13 and is continuing to adjust to the North American game.

"He's made a great impact, but he needs to be bigger and stronger," Futa said.

Projected NHL arrival: Next season

2. Michael Mersch, LW

How acquired: Selected with No. 110 pick in 2011 NHL Draft

Last season: Los Angeles: 17 GP, 1-2-3; Ontario (AHL): 52 GP, 24-19-43

Video: LAK@EDM: Mersch jams home his first NHL goal

Mersch, who will be 24 on Oct. 2, is among a group of forwards who will compete for jobs in training camp, especially with the losses of Milan Lucic to the Edmonton Oilers in free agency and former top prospect Valentin Zykov in a trade with the Carolina Hurricanes. Futa described him as a "real mucker around the net" and half-joked that he scores most of his goals with his stomach on the ice.

Futa said that Mersch must improve his foot speed and strength, but his two-way game fits right in with the Kings, as does his 6-2, 218-pound body. This is the final season of his three-year, entry-level contract, and the opportunity is there for him to grab a role.

Projected NHL arrival: This season

3. Nic Dowd, C

How acquired: Selected with No. 198 pick in 2009 NHL Draft

Last season: Los Angeles: 5 GP, 0-0-0; Ontario (AHL): 58 GP, 14-34-48

Futa hopes Dowd holds up as an example of one of the Kings' better late-round draft choices. The 26-year-old is a former Hobey Baker Award finalist from St. Cloud State who probably is the Kings' best center prospect.

Dowd (6-1, 175) led Ontario of the AHL in playoff scoring (11 points in 13 games) after he was recalled for his NHL debut in March, when the Kings were without forwards Tanner Pearson (personal) and Kris Versteeg (foot). Dowd's game is versatile because he can make a great pass and also be a hound on the puck, the latter a quality synonymous with the Kings.

Dowd, who is from Huntsville, Ala., and signed a two-year contract in July, should get a long look in training camp.

Projected NHL arrival: This season

4. Kevin Gravel, D

How acquired: Selected with No. 148 pick in 2010 NHL Draft

Last season: Los Angeles: 5 GP, 0-0-0; Ontario (AHL): 55 GP, 7-13-20

A strong season with Ontario and a brief call-up to the NHL cemented Gravel's status as the Kings' best defense prospect.

"He's made incredible strides," Futa said.

There should be an opening for Gravel, 24, in training camp or at some point during the season to crack the Kings lineup again. Gravel (6-4, 185) told LA Kings Insider in May that he needed to bulk up and that he viewed his five-game NHL call-up last season as a stepping stone.

"I got a taste this year, and that's where everyone wants to be," Gravel said. "You want to be up top, and first and foremost I have to have a good summer here and put myself in a position to have a good camp, and all I can control for myself is to have a good training camp when that time comes."

Projected NHL arrival: This season

5. Derek Forbort, D

How acquired: Selected with No. 15 pick in 2010 NHL Draft

Last season: Los Angeles: 14 GP, 1-1-2; Ontario (AHL): 40 GP, 2-8-10

Video: LAK@VAN: Forbort scores from blue line for first goal

Forbort (6-4, 212) made the Kings out of training camp and scored his first NHL goal last December before the acquisition of Luke Schenn on Jan. 6 forced Los Angeles to return him to Ontario, where he mostly was paired with Gravel.

Forbort, 24, has been in the organization for four seasons, and the Kings signed him to a two-year contract in July. His future likely is as a second- or third-pair, stay-at-home defenseman.

Forbort is recovering from minor surgery for a reported abdominal injury but will be ready for camp, Futa said.

Projected NHL arrival: This season

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