As the Los Angeles Kings skate against the Anaheim Ducks, youngsters Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson have been at the forefront of their postseason success. Given their otherwise weak organizational prospect depth, the clutch play of the two former OHL snipers has been a major positive for the Kings. One prospect in particular has been teetering between “late-bloomer” and “bust”, that player is 2010 first round pick Derek Forbort.
Forbort played with the AHL’s Manchester Monarchs this year after three seasons at the University of North Dakota and in neither of those places was he a big-time point producer. While not known for his offense (17 points in 74 AHL games this season), he is 6-foot-5 and over 220 pounds and uses his size effectively, without taking unnecessary penalties.
While it is easy to preach patience with Forbort, it’s also worth noting St. Louis Blues sniper Vladimir Tarasenko, massive Florida Panthers center Nick Bjugstad and Minnesota Wild power forward Charlie Coyle were all taken after Forbort in the 2010 first Round. This begs the question, did the Kings err in taking the former UND blue liner who is one of only two 2010 first rounders yet to play a game in the NHL?
Having Charlie Coyle wreak havoc alongside his idol, Mike Richards or having Anze Kopitar hit Tarasenko with beautiful tape to tape passes is enticing to even the most casual Kings fan, but that doesn’t tell the whole truth.
Not all prospects are in the NHL playing major roles at age 22 and a player of Forbort’s style, size and position was a raw product when he was drafted and Kings’ management knew this. Giving him the time to grow into his body and learn to be a more effective player was the plan when he was drafted and continues to be the plan with the Duluth, MN native.
Another factor keeping Forbort down is the Kings’ depth which makes it tough for even the most blue-chip prospects to break-in (see Toffoli, Tyler and Pearson, Tanner). A team short on defensive depth (for example the Philadelphia Flyers) would have had Forbort in the NHL already, whether or not he was ready for it. Given the cautionary tales of rushed prospects keeping Forbort in the minors is the epitome of “better safe, than sorry” when it comes to player development.
It goes without saying defensemen take longer to develop because of the responsibilities of the position, therefore it is unreasonable to expect every defensemen to be like Drew Doughty and be in the NHL at age 18. With Matt Greene and Willie Mitchell likely not returning, Forbort will have any opportunity to make the Kings next season, with almost 90 games of professional hockey under his belt.
While he may never have the offensive prowess of Vladimir Tarasenko or the unique power game of Charlie Coyle, that’s not why Dean Lombardi drafted him. His size and punishing brand of hockey will make him a fan favorite and give the team an intriguing physical player to complement their skilled, offensively-gifted core.