Off to Hollywood we go, it's the LA Kings' turn.
Tyler Toffoli - Ottawa 67's
Even though his point totals might have slipped a bit, I thought that Toffoli had a terrific year in the O. Truthfully, it was the first year where I saw significant gains in his game compared to his draft year. Firstly, it's incredibly clear he's been working hard with his power skating coaches because his skating and acceleration looked much better this year. He's still not a burner, but he had a quicker first step this year which helped him get separation from defenders on the rush. Secondly, he was better defensively, paying closer attention to the backcheck and working hard away from the puck (along the boards) in his own end. He became a three zone player this year and I think it really helped his game. Of course, you've still got a player with an absolutely lethal shot which he can release anywhere inside the zone, and without requiring much space. He's also aggressive in taking the puck to the net and trying to generate scoring chances for his linemates. At this point, Toffoli is clearly ready for the next step and I think he's worked hard to make sure he finds success there. Playing a few games in Manchester to close out the season was likely very good for him because it gave him a taste and showed him what he needed to work on this summer. I don't think projecting Toffoli to have a 25 goal rookie season is all that unreasonable, as long as he's able to see some time in the top 6 and on a powerplay unit.
Andy Andreoff - Oshawa Generals
Truthfully, I was a bit disappointed in Andreoff's season. The Generals had a pretty poor season, considering they were expected to challenge for the East. One of the main reasons was the wavering effort level and play of some of the veterans, and Andreoff was definitely in that group. I thought he was much better in 2010/2011, the year the Kings took him in the 3rd. At times, it looked like he was a bit disappointed to be back in the OHL for another year, rather than in Manchester. His size, skating, and hands should have allowed him to score way more than the 22 goals he potted this past year. When he's on, he's an excellent three zone player who's as effective away from the puck, as he is with it. The aforementioned combination of size, speed, aggression and skill, gives him a solid projection to develop into a quality NHL 3rd liner. This year he'll definitely be in the pro's playing for Manchester. I think he'll have a really good year and should be a good bet for a 20-20 season as a rookie. Heck, if the Kings have some injuries to their bottom six, I wouldn't be surprised to see Andreoff get a few games in LA because he's already big enough and quick enough to keep up with the NHL game. Plus, the majority of the Kings' top AHL forwards are more skill oriented players.
Michael Schumacher - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
Schumacher is an interesting prospect, one who had a pretty decent first year in North America. He's got great size and definitely has some goal scoring instincts and ability. He plays a pretty straight forward north/south kind of game. He knows his role, which is to get to the net to be a screen, tip in shots, and bang home rebounds. The rest of his game, (his play along the boards, his skating ability, his puck carrying ability, and his defensive understanding), is pretty raw, but not without the potential to improve. I'd be curious to see he performs with a top flight playmaker, as I wouldn't call any of the forwards on the SOO that. I'm also curious to see how he performs this year, as he's returning to the OHL for another year. He's going to get top 6 minutes and powerplay time yet again. It remains to be seen whether the Hounds will be any better than they were last year, but I'd expect Schumacher to improve his numbers and inch close to the point per game mark.
Tanner Pearson - Barrie Colts
I'm pretty sure everyone is familiar with Pearson's story by now. From relative OHL unknown, to being passed over in two NHL drafts, to NHL first round pick. But the Kings got an absolute beauty of a player here. Pearson was absolutely fantastic this season. While his production might have fallen off a tad post WJC, I actually felt his play away from the puck and his physicality improved during that time. So even if he wasn't scoring quite as much (just under a ppg), he was doing a lot of other things to help his team win. Offensively, Pearson is an incredibly intelligent player. He's got great anticipation in the offensive zone. As good as his shot is, I actually think he projects more as a playmaker because of how well he sees the ice and can control the boards. The progression in his overall game post WJC also suggests he should be able to be a pretty solid defensive player in the NHL too. Quite honestly, I expect Pearson to be in the NHL pretty soon. IMO, he's more NHL ready than Tyler Toffoli (although he doesn't possess the same potential). I'd be shocked if the Kings sent him back to the OHL this year (even if Pearson doesn't have an NHL contract yet) for his overage year. He's ready for the pro's and I think he'll excel in Manchester. I don't think a 25-25 season is out of the question.
Colin Miller - Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds
I actually liked Miller a lot in his rookie season in 2010/2011. I thought he had an outside shot of getting drafted in the later rounds, but he didn't. As a rookie, he had a calming influence over the Hounds defense, and appeared to be a very safe and dependable defenseman. But, he also didn't really stand out in any particular area, thus explaining his trip through the draft unselected. This past year, he took a step forward in a lot of areas, while maintaining that calmness with the puck and defensive sturdiness. Offensively, he was a lot more engaged and looked way more confident. He took chances leading the rush, and was even asked to quarterback the powerplay, where he didn't look out of place at all. Defensively, he was much more physical and no longer afraid to throw his body around. He finished a +9 on one of the league's worst teams, definitely something to be proud of. This coming season the Kings could have Miller play in the AHL, or send him back to the OHL (a decision they were faced with last year in regards to Andy Andreoff, and with Pearson this coming year). The Kings have some depth defensively in the minors, which probably means Miller would have to play in the ECHL. In that case, I think he'd be better off playing an overage season in the OHL. He could continue to gain confidence offensively which could increase his upside as a pro defender. If he's back in the Soo, I wouldn't be surprised to see him put up a 35+ point season. He'd also have a great shot at being named the Hounds next captain.
Nick Ebert - Windsor Spitfires
I honestly expect Ebert to have a pretty big bounce back year in 2012/2013. He was given a pretty raw deal this year, expected to fill the shoes of Ryan Ellis and carry a young team's defensive unit. Ultimately it was too much for him and he had a pretty brutal year. He had a lot of trouble balancing a two-way game and really got away from the things that made him such a strong OHL rookie in 2010/2011. His decision making with the puck was quite suspect, probably as a result of him trying to do too much offensively. His defensive game was erratic and he lost that edge to his game that often made him a good defender in his rookie year. This year, he's just got to get back to the basics, and come into camp motivated to play better. The addition of Patrick Sieloff to the Windsor blueline could be huge for Ebert, as it gives him a partner who'll take some pressure off him defensively (at least potentially). Not to mention he should know how to deal with adversity now. I don't think a 50 point season is out of the question and it'd be great to see.
*Of note, 2011 Kings 4th rounder Nikolai Prokhorkin was selected by the London Knights in the Import Draft this summer. Early indications suggest that Prokhorkin intends to try and play in Manchester. However, it also appears that he wants to stay in North America should he not make the AHL. Complicating things even more is that Prokhorkin is the Knights' 3rd option as an import. If Olli Maatta sticks in Pittsburgh, then Prokhorkin could play for London. If not, because each CHL team is only allowed to carry 2 imports on their roster, he would have to be traded to another team with an open spot (such as Mississauga).