With nine selections entering the draft, the Kings appeared poised to accumulate a mass of talent. Rather than taking the same approach as they did in 2009 – when the organization made ten picks – the team instead chose to focus on quality over quantity, trading up three times. In the first round, the Kings traded the 19th and 59th picks to Florida for the 15th. A round later, they traded up to the 47th spot, dealing the 49th and 109th picks to Colorado. Late in the draft, the organization moved up to 158th by trading the 169th and 199th picks to Atlanta. Additionally, they traded their 3rd round pick to Toronto for the Leafs’ third-rounder in 2012. The Kings were able to secure many of the players they were targeting thanks to some shrewd moves, but there is some risk involved in making fewer selections. Though the Kings added four players with high upside, none can be considered sure-fire NHL talent, including first round selection, defenseman Derek Forbort.
Dean Lombardi’s ability to select project players this year stems from a shift in philosophy regarding the Kings’ active roster. According to Lombardi, the team is, “Not in that situation where we have to push guys into the lineup.”
Historically, the Kings have handled many of their top picks questionably, often rushing young talent into the NHL before they were ready. By taking the patient route, the team is able to guard the development of their prospects more carefully, creating conditions that are optimal for success. An example of this developmental tactic can be seen in the growth of Jonathan Bernier, who has spent two full seasons as one of the top goalies in the American Hockey League refining his game without being pressured to take over as the Kings’ number one goalie. Now, thanks to the emergence of Jonathan Quick, Bernier has to compete for the starting job, preventing apathy or any sense of entitlement. This patient and thorough approach to development is being spread throughout the organization, made possible by the quality depth in both NHL talent as well as prospects that the Kings’ now possess.
When the Kings traded their first and second round selections to Florida to move up in the draft, the consensus in the stands was that the Kings were making a push to acquire a forward with high-end talent. Though the announcement of the selection of Derek Forbort elicited a shocked reaction from the crowd, the pick is not so off-the-board as initially thought. Considering Forbort was selected highly despite a glut of defensemen in the system, Lombardi seems to have cemented the Kings’ policy of taking the best player available. Even more telling is Lombardi’s statement that if multiple players are tied, the team will “look at forwards,” meaning Forbort was head-and-shoulders above the prospects still on the board.
“He’s raw in some areas,” Lombardi stated in describing the young defenseman, “but there’s some things to work with there when you have that size and reach.” Committed to North Dakota, Forbort is a long-term project. His physical stature combined with skating prowess and an ability to play at a high level at both ends of the rink render Forbort a legitimate top-pairing defensive prospect, but one whose development will have to be carefully managed. The Kings appear poised to wait for Forbort to round out his game at the college ranks: according to Lombardi, the team will “take [their] time with him.”
“There’s a lot of upside,” he added. “We really like where he is going to be.”
In Tyler Toffoli, the Kings have added a player with tremendous offensive upside. The 18-year-old is a skilled forward who scores most of his goals from the tough areas around the net thanks to a fearless attitude and quick hands. He also possesses a powerful, accurate shot and is apt at finishing plays, normally setting up between the face-off dot and red line. He told Hockey’s Future that he likes “to score a lot of goals,” and he did just that for Ottawa last year, posting 37 in 65 regular season games. Where Toffoli separates himself from his peers is in his ability to make quick decisions in high-pressure situations, particularly in finding loose pucks and turning them into goals.
Though he’s composed with the puck and enjoys carrying it through the neutral zone, he is somewhat limited in his skating ability, which begs the question as to whether he will be able to outmaneuver players at the NHL level. His scoring ability is pro-caliber, but if he wants to be more than a triggerman, he’ll need to improve his foot-speed.
All in all, Toffoli oozes top-six potential, with a playing style reminiscent of St. Louis Blues forward Brad Boyes. He will need to work on continuing to round out his game and maximizing his effort every game in order to play big minutes as a professional.
The most versatile prospect that the Kings added on draft day, Weal is capable of playing all three forward positions and is a solid contributor at both ends of the rink. A coach’s dream, Weal told Hockey’s Future that he can “play anywhere the coach wants [him] to play,” though he primarily lines up on the left wing for Regina. Although he has been told that he’s too small to play hockey “every year of [his] life,” he has not let it hamper his development: “It just fuels my summers and motivation,” he said. His intensity is one of his greatest qualities, as he is unafraid to take the body on players with huge size advantages and is a menace on the forecheck. Weal also took his offensive game to a new level this year, setting new career-high numbers in goals (35), assists (67), and points (102).
Unlike many players of his size, Weal does not rely on breakneck speed to create offense, but rather plays a patient offensive game based on puck possession. He is adept at finding passing lanes and threading the puck through traffic. Adding size will be crucial for Weal, but his tenacity and ability to quarterback an offense make him an appealing prospect.
Gravel is not the flashiest defenseman, but it is safe to assume he will get better as he physically matures. Despite only putting up six points in 53 games for Sioux City this year, he was named a USHL All-Star, largely due to his quality defensive game. He is adept at using his size in combination with his smooth skating to make life difficult on opposing forwards. He also has a long reach, with the eighth biggest wingspan amongst all prospects tested at the combine, and can play a patient style of defense when necessary.
Committed to St. Cloud, his offensive upside is very limited, but it’s possible that he will be given more responsibility with the puck at the collegiate level. As a whole, expect Gravel to use up his entire college eligibility adding strength and refining his decision-making ability. Whether he goes to St. Cloud for the upcoming season is still in question, being that the team may not have the space for him to get quality ice time, but he does have the option of staying with Sioux City to be a key contributor for them. Either way, Gravel is a long-term project.
Maxim Kitsyn, LW – Novokuznetsk Metallurg (KHL)
6th round, 158th overall
6’2, 192 lbs
December 24, 1991
Kitsyn is one of the most enigmatic prospects drafted in 2010. Comparisons to Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin were initially drawn when Kitsyn made his KHL debut at the tender age of 16 and scored four goals in his first eight games. However, in the following 23 games, Kitsyn only scored one more goal. He continued to underwhelm this year for Metallurg, scoring only one goal and adding an assist for two points in 21 games. Where Kitsyn excelled is in the MHL, the KHL’s equivalent to the American Hockey League, posting 18 points in 11 games for the Kuznetsk Bears. He followed up that strong regular-season performance by putting up 21 points in 17 playoff games, finishing as the top playoff scorer despite his team losing in the finals.
Kitsyn uses his size well, playing a power forward game. He has an awkward, almost comical skating style, but he does manage to get from A to B with good speed and agility. His stick skills and shooting are consistent with the high standards for young players who get drafted out of Russia, as he is capable of some dazzling moves. His inability to produce at the KHL level is concerning, but his commitment to coming across the pond is promising. He was drafted by Mississauga of the OHL and will suit up for them next season; at this time next year, the forward’s potential will be a little clearer.