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Kings Have Best Prospects. Now What?

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Tell me if this sounds familiar. A team known for floundering for several years decides to concentrate on building their farm system. As these prospects start coming up to the big leagues the team’s fortunes start turning around even making it to the playoffs. The team continues to bolster the farm system as the team makes two first-round playoff exits. The farm system is so strong it is in the conversation of being the best farm system.

Sounds like the Dodgers around four years ago right? Well this time it’s all the Los Angeles Kings.

In their Spring 2011 organizational rankings, the website Hockey Future named the Kings as the top organization in the National Hockey League in terms of prospects. The website does their organizational rankings twice a year and in their Fall 2010 rankings the Kings were ranked second.

Perhaps the most talked about prospect in the Kings’ system is the center Brayden Schenn who opened up eyes during training camp in 2010 after being selected fifth overall in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. He made one start in the 2009-2010 season and eight this last season. Even I went so far as to tell everyone that Schenn is a player to watch.

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The other prospects listed by Hockey Future in their top five are goalie Jonathan Bernier, forwards Andrei Loktionov and Tyler Toffoli and defenseman Derek Forbort.

And this is the crossroads moment for the organization, after all they are not a girl, not yet a woman. What to do with the farm system?

They could go down the Dodgers route. The Dodgers used their first batch of prospects and injected them into the team - Chad Billingsley, Jonathan Broxton, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Russell Martin and Clayton Kershaw. They then started to use the prospects in trades to get Manny Ramirez and Casey Blake among others. While the Dodgers made it to two consecutive National League Championship Series in 2008 and 2009, the Dodgers have now fallen on hard times.

So what about the Kings?

This offseason is a big one for the team and will dictate whether they are dedicated to moving towards a Stanley Cup or resting on the laurels (or Marty McSorley’s stick as it were) of the 1993 Finals.

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They have a lack of talent and speed in their forwards as was exposed in their playoff series against the San Jose Sharks with Anze Kopitar out. The Kings did make a play for free agent Ilya Kovalchuk in the last offseason before being spurned for the New Jersey Devils. And they did start using prospects in trades with Colton Teubert going to the Edmonton Oilers for Dustin Penner at the trade deadline.

The Kings have a loyal fan base and are one of the few teams in Southern California that is on the rise. However all of that could be gone at the first smell of stagnation. Another first-round playoff exit is not acceptable anymore. It’s all or nothing time.