Kings 2004 draft evaluation

By David A. Rainer

Five years out from this Entry Draft, the Los Angeles Kings class of 2004 appears to be one of the worst in recent memory.  None have established themselves as regulars in the NHL, the top pick (No. 11 overall) was traded and has eventually returned to Europe, and most of the remaining choices either never panned out or were fringe prospects at best.  Only Scott Parse remains as a legitimate possibility for an NHL career in a Kings jersey, but even that is a long shot.

The nine selections have played a total of 10 games in the NHL for an average of 1.1 games played per selection.

Lauri Tukonen, RW – 1st round, 11th overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 5

Many draft analysts expected Tukonen to be taken at or around the fourth overall pick.  When this energetic forward fell to Los Angeles at 11th overall, the faithful were ecstatic at the prospect of picking up one of the gems of the draft in the middle of the round.  But for those general managers that passed on Tukonen, they may have known something that the Los Angeles brass missed.

Having excelled on the international tournament scene and reaching the top professional league in Finland at an unusually young age, it appeared the Tukonen was on a fast track to be the next great Finnish forward to enter the league.  The right wing signed an entry-level contract with Los Angeles one year after being drafted and moved to North America where he was assigned to Manchester of the AHL.  Tukonen stagnated while in Manchester, never finding a scoring touch to go with his energy.  After three seasons of flat-lined performance and only five games in the NHL, the Kings, unlikely to re-sign Tukonen, traded him to the Dallas Stars.  He has since been traded again and eventually returned to Finland having never progressed much more in his development since the day he was drafted.

Paul Baier, D – 3rd round, 95th overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Selected with a pick acquired in a series of draft-day trades that also landed Mathieu Garon in Los Angeles, Baier never developed the two-way defensive game that had been hoped for him.  The defenseman was drafted due to a number of raw skills projectable to the NHL game.  But the raw skills never developed into refined attributes and Baier remained little more than an average defenseman in a large frame.  He finished out his college career with Brown University and went unsigned by the Kings in 2008.  He later joined the Buffalo Sabres minor-league system where he currently is a solid AHL defenseman.  While he might one day make the NHL with another organization as a marginal prospect, Baier was a bust for the Kings as a third-round selection.

Ned Lukacevic, LW – 4th round, 110th overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Another in a string of draftees never to have reached the NHL, Lukacevic was drafted for his speed and skill but tried to find a niche for himself as a defensive specialist. After four seasons in the WHL, Lukacevic signed an entry-level contract with the Kings and was assigned to Manchester.  He would spend the next two seasons between Manchester and Reading of the ECHL as a penalty kill specialist and third-line energy forward. Having never shown enough to keep him on a regular AHL roster, Lukacevic was included in a package trade to Philadelphia that yielded Denis Gauthier for Los Angeles. Lukacevic’s position within the Philadelphia system was not any different than his time with Los Angeles. He continues to bounce between the AHL and the ECHL and is no longer a legitimate candidate for an NHL career.

Eric Neilson, RW – 5th round, 143rd overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Neilson was drafted as a known commodity. He has been a middle-weight agitator and enforcer since day one of major junior hockey and continues to this day. But, like so many other draftees from this class, not in the NHL and not with the Kings organization. After completing his eligibility in major junior hockey, he was left unsigned by the Kings and jumped around various ECHL teams before settling with the AHL affiliate of the St. Louis Blues. He still has a shot at the NHL someday, but his role with any squad will be limited. 

Scott Parse, LW – 6th round, 174th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

The only draftee with potential to be an NHL regular with the Kings comes from their sixth-round choice. Parse excelled at the University of Nebraska-Omaha before signing an entry-level contract with Los Angeles after some delay during the 2007 offseason. He has spent a couple of seasons with Manchester and is only a single hot season away from an injury call-up to Los Angeles. But Parse will turn 25 before the beginning of the 2009-10 season and the sand in his hourglass as a prospect is running out.  He is still considered a prospect for Los Angeles and could find himself in the NHL in some capacity.  But his development ceiling has leveled out and the Kings are not likely to get a long-time veteran out of Parse.

Mike Curry, RW – 7th round, 205th overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

It is hard to call any prospect drafted in the seventh round or later a “bust”, but for purposes of this analysis, if a prospect is drafted and does not make the NHL, it can be viewed as a failed pick as the primary purpose of selecting a player is to fill the NHL roster. With that said, Mike Curry was drafted with the knowledge that he would be playing college hockey, was left to develop with the University of Minnesota-Duluth, and was left unsigned after graduation. Having not reached the NHL or contributing to the Los Angeles system in any way, he can be viewed as a busted selection. He never really developed past the level of a third-line forward in college and as such, never garnered enough attention from Los Angeles to use an entry-level contract on his services. He has since roamed the ECHL circuit searching for a home.

Danny Taylor, G – 7th round, 221st overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 1

Upon signing an entry-level contract with the Kings, Taylor began his professional training in the ECHL. After working out some difficulties with his technique, he excelled in his second full professional season, stealing some playing time from Erik Ersberg and Jonathan Quick while with Manchester. At times, he outplayed his more highly-touted competition and set the Manchester record for more consecutive minutes without giving up a goal, making him a fan favorite.  But no sooner did he establish himself, including appearing in one game with the Kings, then Taylor was banished to the lower levels of the organization.

With so many goaltenders in the minor league system, it is likely that due to limited playing time and resources available, the organization made a conscious decision to thin the herd and focus on those goaltenders with higher potential, all but making Taylor expendable and unlikely to be re-signed this offseason.  Through it all, Taylor has done nothing but produce and may be a gem one day for another organization.

Yutaka Fukufuji, G – 8th round, 238th overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 4

The second Japanese-born player to be drafted in the NHL, Fukufuji was in the right organization and at the right time to be the first Japanese-born player to appear in an NHL game.  The 2006-07 season for the Kings was mired with injuries and inconsistent play.  Fukufuji was one of five different goaltenders to start in Los Angeles as the Kings searched for any combination that would lead to success.  He would appear in four games before being returned to the minor leagues.  Those four games would be the highlight of his career with Los Angeles as he would spend the remainder of his time between the AHL and the ECHL before being left unsigned.  Regardless of whether Fukufuji did not pan out for the Kings, he is a success for a country struggling to create a hockey identity for itself.

Valtteri Tenkanen, C – 9th round, 264th overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Drafted as a development project, Tenkanen showed some promise with Finland’s U18 World Championship squad before being selected by the Kings.  With no immediate deadline to sign Tenkanen, the Kings let him develop at his own.  While he has spent almost his entire career in the highest professional league in Finland, he has been nothing more than a depth forward on the third and fourth line, warranting little attention from the Kings.  He has been left unsigned and is not likely to spend any time in North America in his career.

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