With the second overall choice, the Los Angeles Kings represented the lynchpin for the entire first round as every other teams sat poised to react to what the Kings ultimately chose to do with their pick. The decision of whether to trade the pick or keep it, and if kept, whom to select, was not made clear prior to draft day. Finally, the time had come and the Kings contingent strode to the podium with a single name in hand – Drew Doughty.
However, prior to anyone climbing the steps to the microphone, the Los Angeles Kings again made the first splash of the draft. In 2007, the Kings sent shock-waves through the draft boards of every other organization with the unexpected choice of Thomas Hickey fourth overall. Likewise, the Kings stole the early spotlight by trading high-scoring winger Michael Cammalleri in a package that would yield the 17th overall selection. Shortly after, Lombardi would flip this pick in a package with the 28th overall selection to move up into the 12th spot on the big board, something that Lombardi made public would be his primary mission on draft day while restocking the defensive ranks.
With mission accomplished, Lombardi would spend the remainder of the draft off-loading his 15 total selections to either other teams (a second round selection was traded to Colorado for Brad Richardson) or moving picks into the 2009 and 2010 drafts. By the time the dust had settled, the Kings called out a total of nine names, spreading them between defenders (4) and forwards (5). There was little secret that Lombardi desperately wished to retool the group of defensive prospects in the system and would use all resources at his disposal to effectuate this desire. With three selections inside the top 32 all spent on defensemen, there is new life and new hope for the future of the Los Angeles blueline. "That’s the idea and that’s what we set out to do," claimed Lombardi reflecting upon his new set of defenders.
Lombardi discussed several trade opportunities to move down in the draft but in the end none were sufficient enough to pull the trigger. Drew Doughty, the young superstar out of Guelph of the OHL, would begin the run of four defensemen in a row early in the first round. Doughty is as close to the complete package as a defenseman can be. Solidly built, with tremendous offensive ability and high hockey intelligence, there is a decent chance that Doughty will begin the season on the NHL roster, depending upon how things pan out during free agency.
But Lombardi is also guarded with the development of his young defensemen, knowing that bringing them into the system is only the first step in a lengthy process in reaching the NHL. "If you don’t develop them properly, you will end up going backwards," cautioned Lombardi. "You have to be real careful. Even Phaneuf went back [to juniors] for a year."
Given this understanding, Doughty sits with guarded optimism that his days in Guelph are finished. "I’m not going to make any disappointments for the Los Angeles staff for picking me," the excited Doughty assured. "I’m going to do everything I can to make that team next year and everything I can to make them a better team."
Even with the confidence of the entire organization behind Doughty and his future in the NHL, Doughty does recognize that there is room for growth. Not since Jay Bouwmeester has an 18-year-old prospect jumped into the NHL immediately after being drafted and remained on the roster for the entire season. "I think hopefully I can get on a powerplay unit or a penalty kill unit. Anything. I can improve both parts of my game this summer and do everything I can just to be that much better in the defensive zone because I know that players at that [NHL] level are just so much better and so much stronger. It is going to be difficult but I am very prepared to do it."
With one elite defensive prospect already in the bag, Lombardi then proceeded to double his pleasure by selecting Colten Teubert 13th overall with a pick eventually acquired in a series of deals that begin with Mike Cammalleri going to Calgary. Teubert is a prototypical WHL defenseman, often described as gritty and a force physically. "I’m a big defenseman. Punishing defenseman, dominating the blueline. Physically I think I am strong enough to play in the NHL." Teuert knows that he has been brought in for one primary purpose. "Just putting fear in the other forwards. Every time they come into our defensive zone, they know that they have to pay a price."
Forced to make a decision between Doughty and Zach Bogosian, Lombardi went with the more complete package. However, the one aspect that Lombardi felt Bogosian had an advantage over Doughty on was grittiness. With the selection of Teubert, this missing aspect is added to the prospect pool. "I’m gonna go get that thing that Bogosian has. Now I’m gonna have both," Lombardi explained as part of his reasoning for requiring that the Kings move up into the top half of the first round again.
Continuing the theme, a third defenseman was selected by the Kings, this time in the second round (no. 32 overall). Vyacheslav Voinov is an aggressive defenseman that radiates confidence with a high offensive potential if his exuberance can be controlled. He is not someone that can be expected to step in immediately and have an instant grasp of the North American style of hockey. "He’s got to be a little more tame," stated Lombardi on Voinov. "He’s got to be a little more defensive and make some better decisions. He takes some risks sometimes."
This aspect requires further development from Voinov and makes it crucial that he comes to North America as soon as possible to begin the rounding out of his rough edges. Some organizations may have been scared off by the instability in the transfer agreement with Russia, but Voinov indicated he is willing to cross the Atlantic sooner rather than later. "We know that he is coming over here. That was number one. He has already committed to play in either juniors or the American league," reported Lombardi. "Unless we are being totally misled, he is coming over here right away."
Andrew Campbell also brings a significant amount of grit to the Kings blueline, but is more of a project that will take some time to realize his full potential. "This is one of those guys like Simmonds who goes through the draft and starts coming on and just gets better and better," said Lombardi about the need to be patient with his raw potential. Campbell is already 20 years old and would be eligible to join the AHL at the beginning of the season, something that Lombardi has indicated in the past is extremely important for the development of young players.
There are plenty of aspects that Campbell will need to work on before being considered on the NHL roster, including skating, positioning and awareness. But if there is one aspect to his game that is fully developed, it would be his dedication to winning something that Lombardi often specifically looks for in a prospect. "I [Lombardi] like the fact that he [Campbell] took a puck to the face to save a goal…. He threw his face in front of the puck and I came back and said ‘there’s our guy.’"
But it was not all about defensemen in 2008. The Kings also selected five forwards in the middle and late rounds to help add depth to the farm system as the top forward prospects filter their way onto the NHL roster. Robert Czarnik is a solid if unspectacular two-way forward bound for the University of Michigan. He came onto the hockey scene with the United States National Team Development Program, appearing in a number of international tournaments, and playing in 125 games over the last two seasons with the NTDP. Czarnik likely will play a full four seasons with Michigan as he committed early and without even considering any other program.
With the last of their three third round selections, the Kings went back to the WHL for Geordie Wudrick – a large and physical specimen of a hockey player. He is another forward with a strong determination to get to the front of the net that Lombardi has come to be known for selecting. Wudrick shows above average scoring ability for a left wing and could develop into a the surprise of the Kings draft class if he can translate his scoring potential to the next level in his development as offensive skills tend to be difficult to find in a left wing.
The remainder of the draft class is composed of long-term projects. "In the later rounds, you are looking for the player with the one NHL asset and then you hope the other [skills] develop," said Lombardi. For Loktionov, it is his offensive skills and on-ice awareness that are already advanced with more attention needed on the defensive side of the rink. Selected in the fifth round and with no immediate need for Los Angeles to sign him, Loktionov will likely continue his development in the Russian Super League. As an 18-year-old, he is fighting for playing time on a veteran laden Yaroslav team.
Another candidate to be the surprise of this draft class for the Kings is Justin Azevedo. One would expect that someone that led the OHL in scoring at a time when both Steve Stamkos and John Tavares were in their prime would be a lock to be taken in the first round. But at 20 years of age and standing at only 5’7, Azevedo spent hours eager to hear his name called. The Kings took a chance on the smallish forward in the 6th round in hopes that he can overcome his physical limitations. "In Azevedo’s case, it is his unbelievable heart and character," Lombardi indicated would keep Azevedo in the picture. "Guys like that you can never count out."
Likewise, Garrett Roe, selected in the seventh round, is a smallish overager that will need to develop other aspects of his game in order to earn a professional contract. He is currently a sophomore at St. Cloud State University and will likely use the full four years of eligibility to develop. But, like Wudrick, he shows scoring propensity from the left side, something that is particularly valuable to NHL teams. Additionally, the NCAA has a reputation for producing NHL caliber scorers out of smaller forwards and Roe can take full advantage of this.
The additions of Doughty, Teubert, Voinov and Campbell immediately put the Kings back on track in their quest to round out the deficiencies in their farm system. Lombardi speaks of creating a culture of winning, as organizations like Detroit, Dallas and Philadelphia have, before the kids can be relied upon to move the team forward. The 2008 Entry Draft demonstrated that if Los Angeles is to turn their fortunes around, it requires a solid core of defensemen. As Teubert succinctly puts it, "Defense wins championships."
Jeff Dahlia contributed to this article.