Los Angeles Kings turned focus to forwards in 2009 NHL Draft

By Jason Lewis

Kyle Clifford - Los Angeles Kings

Photo: Winger Kyle Clifford, selected 35th overall in 2009, has been a fixture in the Kings lineup since breaking into the NHL in 2010-11 (courtesy of Adam Davis/Icon SMI)

After the 2006, 2007, and 2008 drafts yielded core members of the Kings future Stanley Cup run, the 2009 draft also yielded several key players.

The previous draft years focused heavily on highly-touted defensive prospects like Drew Doughty, Slava Voynov, Thomas Hickey, and Colten Teubert, and at least one buried gem in Alec Martinez. However, the Kings shifted to toughness and versatility up front with a selection of seven forwards and one defender who turned forward with their 10 selections in 2009. While three of these picks have already gone on to play over 100 games in their young careers, it also populated the Kings system with some strong talent that is still very much in the picture for the franchise moving forward.

With Dean Lombardi’s reputation growing year by year as a strong mid-round drafter, he really showed no deviation from that skill with some solid selections in the mid to late rounds. With a defensive pool set from the previous years with that formula, the Kings set out to build a pool of forwards in 2009 doing the same thing.

Brayden Schenn, C, Brandon Wheat Kings (WHL) – 1st round, 5th overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games: 161

Schenn is the most recent top-five draft pick by the Kings, and the most recent top-15 pick as well. Since 2003 the Kings selected in the top 15 for six straight years. Schenn was the last of these top selections before the Kings had a change of quality and results in their franchise history. Going at fifth overall after having a stunning junior career with Brandon of the WHL, Schenn failed to stick in the Kings lineup two years in a row even though many fans were expecting him to do so. After finishing up his junior career in 2010-11, as well as having a seven-game stint with Manchester at the end of the season, he was traded along with 2007 draft pick Wayne Simmonds in a blockbuster deal that brought Mike Richards to the LA Kings.

While Schenn has gone on to have his fair share of ups and downs with the Flyers, he has settled into a steady and productive role with the team despite injuries peppered throughout his first year in the league. He has a career 76 points with the Flyers over the course of 161 games. He has also shown the grit and tenacity that made him an appealing draft choice in his selection year. He looks to be in the franchise’s long term plans along with other young centers Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux as the team’s core down the middle. In hindsight, it has been a win-win trade for both franchises, as Richards was an integral piece in the 2011 Stanley Cup run for the Kings, and Schenn has looked more like a young heart-and-soul kind of player the team can build around.

Kyle Clifford, LW, Barrie Colts (OHL) – 2nd round, 35th overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games: 246

Clifford was a real shocker when he busted onto the Kings 2010-11 lineup after being drafted just a year prior, and immediately the league took notice to his reckless and energetic style of hockey. However, he was still a bit of a wild card selection as an early second round pick considering his body of work. Despite being close to a point-per-game player in his final year with the Barrie Colts, Clifford was fashioned as a hard-nosed, hard-hitting, power forward/grinder with no real upside outside of a bottom-six position. A clear target by the LA Kings during the draft, Clifford has gone on to fulfill that role over his 246 game NHL career. He has definitely had his ups and downs, but has averaged around 13 points every season in his three NHL seasons to date. He is an energy player who has not been afraid to drop the mitts, sometimes to his own demise. Clifford has suffered several injuries, including at least one concussion, due to fights already in his career. It could be something that hinders him in the long run considering he is still just 23 years of age.

While Clifford has been steady in his work with the Kings, you have to wonder if they expected more in terms of offensive numbers from the Ayr, Ontario native. His development has stagnated by all accounts. While never eclipsing double digits in his goal totals, Clifford was selected ahead of other more offensively gifted second-round forwards in Alex Chiasson (DAL), Jakob Silfverberg (ANA), Richard Panik (TBL), and Tomas Tatar (DET). Looking back over the five years, you cannot say that Clifford has not become what was advertised, however the real question remains if he should have been taken as high as he was.

Nicolas Deslauriers, LW/D, Rouyn-Noranda Huskies (QMJHL) – 3rd round, 84th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games: 0

Many fans likened the Kings third round selection from 2009 to a Jack Johnson-lite. Deslauriers was a highly offensive oriented defenseman playing in the QMJHL, and scored over 40 points per season in his last two junior seasons. The physical defenseman loved to carry the puck, jump up into the offense, and lay the big open-ice hit. However his defensive game, even to this date, has never panned out quite so well.

Since joining the AHL and the professional ranks, Deslauriers has been a minus player with the Monarchs. His first two years he started the good majority of games but saw himself as a pressbox spectator at times due to his defensive game, or lack thereof rather. While his offensive contributions translated from the QMJHL to AHL with 62 points in his 172 games, fans started to question the NHL utility of Deslauriers especially with an NHL team so focused on defense first hockey. However, a shift to left wing in the late games of the 2012-13 season has given life and possibility to the St-Anicet, Quebec native. While there is still a ton of work needed to be done on reads in his own zone, the left wing switch has put him under much less demand and pressure on defense. He is one of the leading scorers on the Monarchs in 2013-14, and is potentially looking at his first plus-rated season as a pro. With a thin forward group up front for LA, Deslauriers still has a shot to be an NHL player.

Jean-François Bérubé, G, Montréal Juniors (QMJHL) – 4th round, 95th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games: 0

Like most goaltenders, it has taken Bérubé a little bit of time to come to life, but he has done so in the last season and a half. After his draft year in 2009, Bérubé had some real struggles in his final years of junior in the Quebec league. He barely managed to keep his save percentage over .900 in his final year and had a .897 percentage the year prior.

What may have helped Bérubé the most though is getting out of the wild and wide-open league that is the QMJHL and into the ECHL with Ontario. For two seasons, he was a split starter for the Reign and managed to post respectable numbers. After biding his time for the last few seasons, a spot opened up for at the AHL level when the Kings shuffled the depth chart in goal by letting go of both Jonathan Bernier and Jeff Zatkoff. He backed up Martin Jones capably and had a good solid stretch as a starter for the Monarchs when Jones was called up by the big team. It looks like he will be counted on as the regular starter moving forward in the 2013-14 season as Martin Jones was recalled to be the Kings’ back up with the departure of Ben Scrivens.

Linden Vey, C, Medicine Hat Tiger (WHL) – 4th round, 96th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games: 15

Linden Vey currently stands as one of the most NHL-ready prospects the Kings currently have in the system, and when you look at his body of work over the past five years, it comes as no surprise. After his 2009 draft year, Vey went on to have a 75-point season but then blew away all expectations with a CHL leading 116-point final year. His 70 assists and 46 goals netted him a WHL all-star nomination as well. Since joining the AHL ranks, the young forward has hardly missed a step.

Vey currently holds 132 points in a career 168 games at the AHL level and in his third season with the team is an alternate captain. His attention to detail, along with his crafty playmaking skills have made him a first/second call-up to the NHL for the Kings. He has developed a trusty two-way game and is starting to put together all the tools needed to make the next step. His NHL future at this point seems almost a sure thing.

David Kolomatis, D, Owen Sound Attack (OHL) – 5th round, 126th overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games: 0

Kolomatis was already 20 years old when he was selected in 2009 as an overage draftee out of Owen Sound of the OHL. He immediately went into the AHL where he should some solid poise and puck-moving skill in his first AHL season. Over the next three years, Kolomatis became a staple on the Monarchs back end, posting four straight seasons with 25 points or more. However, his last two seasons were hampered by different injuries and instead of developing further, he evened off. With no upward arc to his development and a depth chart in Los Angeles and Manchester that was starting to pass him by, he made way to the Hershey Bears in an attempt to rekindle his NHL dreams.

Michael Pelech, F, Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors (OHL) – 6th round, 156th overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games: 0

While Pelech was a raw talent when he was selected in the sixth round of 2009, the power forward role style that he played never came to fruition in the AHL or beyond. Drafted at 19, he went immediately into the pro game. Instead of going to AHL though he went to the ECHL with the Ontario Reign. There he showed the big-bodied and aggressive style that got him drafted, but his defensive game and skating were never up to snuff to warrant his promotion. The King system has always had a plethora of grinders and energy line players and Pelech was simply a surplus to the already unnecessary.  He was released by the Kings in 2011-12 and has since gone on to play with three different ECHL teams and four different AHL clubs. His career numbers in the AHL continue to be unimpressive with two points in 24 career games, despite him having 198 points in 287 career ECHL games.

Brandon Kozun, RW, Calgary Hitmen (WHL) – 6th round, 179th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games: 0

Drafted in the late rounds due to his small stature at 5’8, Kozun has been a picture of consistency for the Manchester Monarchs. However, before that he was a back to back 100-plus point scorer with the Calgary Hitmen, and also a standout at the 2010 World Junior Championships with Canada. Kozun has developed a strong two-way game in recent years and has translated a lot of his offensive skills from the WHL to the AHL. While not grabbing 100 points or 50-plus assists, he has had three straight years with 45 or more points. He has put together an improving defensive game as well which was formally a deficiency.

Kozun has yet to make a real impact at the NHL level though due to a combination of his size and the depth chart before him. He has grown into a role as one of the Monarchs veteran leaders over his past three years.

Jordan Nolan, RW, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds (OHL) – 7th round, 186th overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games: 112

The Kings selected the bruising forward in the late rounds and have to be unbelievably pleased with how that selection has gone. Nolan was never an offensive force despite scoring 23 goals, 25 assists in his last year in juniors with the Soo Greyhounds. However, when he got into the AHL he seemed to excel in the role of lightning in a bottle. His reckless and intimidating style was an instant hit with the Monarchs as he played 75 games in his rookie season, complete with 17 points and 115 penalty minutes. His strong rookie season was followed up by an even stronger 2011-12 sophomore year where he improved his defensive game and was on pace to put up a 40 point season. He was swooped up by the LA Kings just after the trade deadline and was a key fixture in the Kings not only making the playoffs down the stretch but getting the team their first ever Stanley Cup.

Nolan has since become a regular on the Los Angeles bottom lines as he has proven to be a difficult character for teams to play against and is not a risk in the limited minutes he is given.

Nic Dowd, C, Wenatchee Wild (NAHL) – 7th round, 198th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games: 0

Dowd is not the first player you think of when you think about solid King prospects, but he has been so since his 2009 selection. After a strong 2009-10 season after his draft in the USHL, he committed to St. Cloud State, where he has become a prominent figure in the team’s play. Dowd has made incremental improvements every year at St. Cloud from start to finish. He has accumulated more points year after year, shown better defensive positioning, and also grown physically. Dowd started out at St. Cloud with a five-goal, 18-point rookie season. He had 11 goals and 24 points the following season, and 14 goals and 39 points the season after that. In 2012-13 not only did he have a strong outing, but St. Cloud State made it to the Frozen Four before being ousted in the semis. He is currently on pace to match or surpass his impressive 2012-13 numbers, and is again showing a marked improvement in his all-around game.

Follow Jason Lewis on Twitter: @SirJDL