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Younger Kings give Zykov, Kempe confidence

by Curtis Zupke

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Two years ago the Los Angeles Kings promoted forwards Dwight King and Jordan Nolan from the American Hockey League in the middle of the season and they helped them win the Stanley Cup. This spring that storyline played out again when Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson played prominent roles in the Kings' second championship.

It didn't escape Valentin Zykov and Adrian Kempe, who are years away from the NHL but know how to get there.

"When you see young guys get on the team and help them to win, of course it gives you confidence," Zykov said during Kings development camp. "You just try to follow what they've done … get better every year and try to do the same thing. Everybody wants to make the NHL as fast as they can."

Zykov, 19, and Kempe, 17, are the two biggest names at camp this week, fresh-faced players who might be lining up with Toffoli and Pearson in the coming years. They are big, sturdy power-forward types who fit right in with the Kings' identity.

Asked if it bodes well that they are in an organization that isn't afraid to give young forwards a chance, Mike Donnelly, a Kings collegiate scout who also helps with the team's player development, said, "I think you answered your own question. Our job is to get these kids as NHL-ready as we can. We know what our job is … we have to do whatever we can to try to help these kids in case they're needed on the big club, or when they're ready to step in and play."

Kempe, the 29th pick the 2014 NHL Draft, took notice of Pearson and Toffoli.

"They play real fast hockey, a real physical game," Kempe said. "That's what I'm going to do too. That play fits me pretty good."

Kempe was the second-youngest player in the draft (he turns 18 in September), but he's used to having to be precocious. The 6-foot-1, 187 pound forward played on a depth line against older men in Sweden's top league and acquitted himself well with 11 points in 45 games. He's projected as a stubborn two-way wing or center, and Kings director of amateur scouting Michael Futa compared him to Pearson with "a little more bite."

Kempe looks slender but it's easy to envision him filling out his lengthy frame. He said he can adapt to the pro game here and admitted he needs to work on his puck possession. Kempe is the third Swedish player drafted by the Kings under general manager Dean Lombardi.

"I think the small rink and the North American play teaches me pretty good," Kempe said. "I'm a big, strong player."

Zykov (5-11, 209) signed a three-year entry level contract May 27, but because he is 19 will go back to his junior team, Baie-Comeau of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, unless he makes the Kings out of training camp, an unlikely scenario given their forward unit.

There is some question whether Zykov will get challenged enough in another season of junior hockey. He had 22 points in 22 playoff games to help Baie-Comeau reach the QMJHL Final last season, and has 138 points in 120 QMJHL games.

Zykov is proficient in close, and his quick release was evident. He said he improved defensively from last year's camp. Off the ice he has a playful personality that contrasts with the seriousness of his Russian accent. Asked if he bulked up from last year, Zykov smiled coyly and said, "Maybe. I don't know."

Zykov and Kempe each referenced the NHL as his ultimate dream. Although they have a ways to go, the path has been laid by a Kings organization that has expanded its scouting staff and gotten results. The development camp is when they can work closely with their prospects for a significant time.

"The reason why we do it is Pearson, Toffoli, [Alec] Martinez, [Slava] Voynov, King," Donnelly said. "That's why we're doing it. We're very fortunate that, from the top down, we're able to provide a service to these kids. We take all the experiences that we've had through our careers and help them avoid some of the pitfalls, bumps and peaks and valleys that we had to go through as players. We're very fortunate that everybody in the organization believes in development and how important it is.

"When we see our kids make it, and when we see them play at high levels, like we saw in the playoffs, it's an unbelievable feeling. I can't describe it. We put a lot of work into this over the last eight years and it's awesome to see the results we've had, two Stanley Cups and one final-four appearance. It's awesome as a group."

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