Kings 2003 draft evaluation

By David A. Rainer

The 2003 Entry Draft was hailed as one of the deepest since the advent of the “modern” draft in 1979.  Five years later, it has lived up to the reputation as all but a single first-round selection has played in the NHL, including a great number of current all-stars and franchise cornerstones. 

The Los Angeles Kings found a player with the selection of Dustin Brown.  However, with three selections in the first round, more was expected out of this draft class for the Kings.  While Brown is an enormous piece of the Kings’ puzzle and Brian Boyle is an emerging NHL forward, the remainder of the class was either used as trade bait or did not develop to a point of any significance.

The 10 selections have played a total of 434 NHL games for an average of 43.4 games played per selection.

Dustin Brown, RW – 1st round, 13th overall
Status: NHL Regular
NHL Games Played: 269

The 2003 Entry Draft marked the end of Dustin Brown’s career with the Guelph Storm of the OHL.  Brown signed an entry-level contract with Los Angeles shortly after being drafted and made the NHL squad directly out of training camp.  Plagued by injuries in the first season, Brown only appeared in 31 games but managed to hold down a roster spot for the entire season.  After tearing apart the AHL during the NHL work stoppage, Brown continued his steady on-the-job development with Los Angeles in 2005 and has not looked back.

Brown is considered one of the best and most coveted young forwards in the NHL, not just for his ability to score, but also for his physical style and determination to lead through example.  He has improved on his goal and point totals with each successive season, passing the 30-goal and 60-point plateau during the 2007-08 season, and has been at or near the top in hits in the league for the past few seasons.  He established himself as one of the most important players for the entire Los Angeles franchise and is the saving grace of the 2003 draft class for the Kings.

Brian Boyle, C
– 1st round, 26th overall
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 8

The second selection for the Kings is also the second most significant player out of this draft class.  While Brown enjoyed the fast-track to the NHL, Boyle has taken the long and leisurely stroll through the NCAA and AHL before finally getting a taste of Los Angeles during the 2007-08 season.  Standing 6’7 and still growing into his frame, Boyle was a long-term project for the Kings that played a full four season with Boston College before signing an entry-level contract in 2007.  Boyle eventually became one of the better two-way prospects in college hockey and was even pressed into duty as a defenseman in times of need.

Los Angeles continued the experiment at defense with Boyle last season but soon recognized that his agility and skating ability were insufficient to make a lasting conversion from forward to defense.  After conceding the experiment and letting him do what he does best – score – the Kings called Boyle up for an eight-game tryout where he more than impressed in scoring a goal in his first game and four overall in the eight games.  Boyle is currently on the cusp of making the NHL full time.

Jeff Tambellini, LW
– 1st round, 27th overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 79

While the Kings went large and lumbering with Boyle, their next selection (immediately after the Boyle selection) was small and speedy.  Tambellini came to the Kings organization as arguably the best skater in his draft class.  He played three seasons with the University of Michigan before being lured by the organization into professional hockey where he was assigned to Manchester of the AHL.  Tambellini received a brief four-game call-up to Los Angeles before being included in a package to the New York Islanders for Mark Parrish and Brent Sopel.

He has since bounced between the NHL and AHL and has yet to establish himself as a legitimate scoring threat for the Islanders.  With 79 NHL games under his belt, Tambellini has had ample opportunity to carve out a spot for himself with the Islanders but continues to struggle with only 17 career points and is on the brink of being a bust as a prospect.  As he was traded early in his professional career by Los Angeles, his ultimate development is of little consequence to the Kings.

Konstantin Pushkarev, RW – 2nd round, 44th overall
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 17

Many stories swirled during the 2003 draft that the Kings received a number of trade offers for their second-round pick to select Konstantin Pushkarev.  But the Kings held onto their pick and selected the talented scoring forward from Kazakhstan.  Pushkarev was brought over from Russia during the 2004-05 season to play major junior hockey with the Calgary Hitmen.  After a single season with the Hitmen, Pushkarev joined the professional ranks where he began to frustrate coach and teammate alike with his tunnel vision on the ice.  Pushkarev was so offensively gifted that he attempted to prove it on every shift and every rush up the ice.  Unfortunately, this often resulted in forced chances and substituting the “fancy” play for the smart play.

Growing frustrated with his lack of adaptation to a more team game, Pushkarev was showcased in Los Angeles during the 2006-07 season before finally being traded to Dallas in a package that included Mattias Norstrom and a number of draft picks.  Pushkarev is still considered a legitimate NHL prospect.

Ryan Munce, G
– 3rd round, 82nd overall
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

Munce was traded to Tampa Bay during the 2006-07 season for Sean Burke and a fourth-round choice in the 2008 Entry Draft.  In his short stay with the Kings, Munce posted solid save percentages in both the OHL and the ECHL.  But he was lost among alot of goaltending prospects all vying for playing time in the organization’s farm system that he became expendable.  In desperate need of an NHL level goaltender and Tampa Bay looking to dump salary, Munce was used as a central piece that brought Burke to Los Angeles.  Munce has not found the Tampa Bay farm system any less crowded and is still trying to establish himself outside of the ECHL.  He remains a long-shot to be a regular starter in the NHL someday, but has more talent than his location would indicate.

Brady Murray, C – 5th round, 152nd overall
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 4

Another of the small and speedy forwards that Dave Taylor became notorious for drafting, Murray was expected to spend a full four years with the University of North Dakota before the Kings would need to make a decision to sign him.  However, after his sophomore season with the Fighting Sioux, Murray left college hockey to pursue the professional game in Europe, signing with Rapperswil-Jona of the Swiss National-Liga A.  After two seasons in Europe, the Kings brought Murray back to North America, signing him to a contract prior to the 2007-08 season.  Murray saw action in his first NHL games to begin the season – a four-game stint, including one game against a St. Louis Blues team led by his father and former Kings coach, Andy Murray.

The remainder of the 2007-08 season was spent in Manchester.  Murray is still a viable prospect for the NHL squad and will have a chance to earn a roster spot during training camp.  If not, Murray will be reassigned to Manchester where he will be one of the first forward call-ups to Los Angeles.

Esa Pirnes, C – 6th round, 174th overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 57

Pirnes was drafted as an overaged forward from Finland who could immediately step onto the NHL roster.  At the age of 26, Pirnes signed with the Kings shortly after being drafted and began the 2003-04 season on the opening day roster.  He would play in only 57 games with the Kings, mainly on the fourth line with limited ice time, before returning to Europe after not re-signing with the Kings.  He picked up right where he left off as one of the better scoring forwards in Finland and Sweden since his return.  While Pirnes did appear in the NHL to play a full season, his impact on the Kings was negligible and it is unlikely that he will return from Europe to further his NHL career.

Matt Zaba, G
– 8th round, 231st overall
Status: NHL Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

As with Munce and Pushkarev, Matt Zaba is currently the prospect of another NHL organization.  Drafted as a safe and solid college goaltender, Zaba never progressed much further than that.  After playing a full four years with Colorado College, the Kings did not have the space available in their farm system for another goaltender and the choice was made not to tender Zaba a contract.  He was picked up by the New York Rangers shortly after not being signed by the Kings.  He played for the Rangers ECHL affiliate last season and is still considered a prospect, but is more likely to spend his career in the minor leagues with perhaps a shot at the backup role in the NHL.

Mike Sullivan, RW – 8th round, 244th overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

The final rounds of the draft were not friendly to the Kings in 2003.  Sullivan is another late-round pick who never made an impact on the farm system.  He also completed four years of college hockey with no professional contract waiting for him from the Kings.  Sullivan finished his career with Clarkson University as a physical role player but did not show enough improvement or potential to be offered a professional contract.  He eventually signed with the ECHL affiliate of the Dallas Stars for the 2007-08 season where he scored only 22 points in 64 games.

Marty Guerin, RW
– 9th round, 274th overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

The sixth and final prospect selected by the Kings out of college hockey in 2003, Guerin played a starring role for Miami University as a leader and excellent two-way forward.  But as he was drafted under the prior management regime where the current regime took up little interest in him, Guerin was not offered a contract upon graduation and the Kings rights to the forward lapsed.  Prior to the 2007-08 season, Guerin signed a contract with the South Carolina Stingrays, the ECHL affiliate of the Washington Capitals, where he scored 50 points in 68 games.  Guerin is still looking for a contract with an NHL organization and will have to fight his way up from the ECHL.