2006 Draft starting to pay dividends for LA Kings

By Josh Deitell
Photo: 2006 first round pick Jonathan Bernier is currently one of the top prospects for the Kings. (Photo courtesy of www.lewistonhockey.com)

After taking the reins in April of 2006, Kings General Manager Dean Lombardi made a splash just two months later at his first NHL Entry Draft. Though he depended largely on the organization’s existing scouts to make the team’s selections, the trade of Pavol Demitra to the Wild for Patrick O’Sullivan and Minnesota’s first round pick in the 2006 draft illustrated a major organizational philosophical shift by kick-starting the long-awaited total rebuild in Los Angeles.

Now, more than four years after the 2006 draft, the team’s two first round picks from the beginning of the Lombardi era, Jonathan Bernier and Trevor Lewis, are starting to play to their potential. They are two of the 16 players drafted by the Kings to wear black and purple this season, more than half of the 30 total players who have suited up for the team thus far.

Contrast that with the 11 homegrown players out of 42 total who played for the team in the 2006-07 season, Lombardi’s first with the team, and one can see how much emphasis the team has placed on building through drafting and development.

Even though the Kings may realistically only end up with two NHL players from the 2006 draft, it was the beginning of a process that is just starting to get the organization on track to success after years of futility.

Jonathan Bernier, G, Lewiston Maineiacs (QMJHL) – 1st round, 11th overall
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 22

Just days after Lombardi was unable to hammer out a deal with the Panthers for Roberto Luongo, the organization moved to address a need in goal by selecting Bernier with their first pick as the first overall goaltender in the draft.

Bernier has had some trouble with consistency in the last few years, but last year he proved himself ready for the NHL by winning the Aldege Bastien Memorial Award, presented annually to the AHL‘s best goaltender. He earned 30 wins with a sparkling .936 save percentage and 2.03 goals against average in 58 games played and carried the team to the conference finals during the playoffs. The difference in his mental demeanor is night and day from when he struggled and pouted when he was returned to juniors after starting the 2007-08 season with the Kings, as he’s developed an impressive work ethic and positive attitude that will serve him well.

This year, Bernier is acting as backup to Jonathan Quick. The two goaltenders give the Kings stability in goal for the first time in a long time, and have the potential to be the best tandem to ever play together for the organization. Bernier has yet to have the opportunity to play regularly at the NHL level, but he’s working hard to adjust to the supporting gig. If he can translate his game to the NHL level, he has the ability to be a top ten goaltender in the league.

Trevor Lewis, C, Des Moines Buccaneers (USHL) – 1st round, 17th overall
Status: NHL Player
NHL Games Played: 53

With the first round pick the Kings received from the Pavol Demitra trade, they selected the 19-year-old Lewis, who was passed over in the 2005 draft before having a breakout campaign with Des Moines of the USHL. Playing alongside Kyle Okposo, Lewis outproduced his highly-touted teammate with 35 goals and 75 points in 56 games. Despite his impressive production at the junior level, Lewis was not drafted with the expectation that he would be an offensive force at the NHL level, but as a safe pick with a responsible two-way game.

He never established himself as an elite option at the AHL level in three years with the Monarchs, but his versatility has landed Lewis a full-time role with the Kings in a supporting role. In 42 games with the Kings this season, Lewis has posted five points, but more importantly, he has been solid on the forecheck and a major part of the team’s penalty kill. He may not have top six NHL talent, but if he can maintain his level of play, he could feasibly carve out a career for himself as a defensive forward with the ability to chip in the occasional goal.

Joe Ryan, D, Quebec Remparts (QMJHL) – 2nd round, 48th overall
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Drafted as a future defensive stalwart in the Adam Foote mold, Ryan never quite realized that potential while with the Kings and is no longer with the organization. After playing through his overage season in the QMJHL, where he was a top defensive defensemen amongst boys, Ryan signed on with the Cincinnati Cyclones of the ECHL to start his professional career, where he played 20 games before he earned himself an AHL contract with the Toronto Marlies.

After 36 AHL games, Ryan was sent down to Reading of the ECHL, where he played out last season before moving on to Bakersfield of the ECHL. He’s had trouble getting back to the AHL, as despite solid play with Bakersfield this season, he’s only managed a one-game tryout with Oklahoma City. His play has improved since turning pro, but he’s still not a legitimate NHL prospect, and he has to be classified as a bust for the Kings.

Jeff Zatkoff, G, Miami University (NCAA) – 3rd round, 74th pick
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

Drafted after an impressive freshman year with Miami University, Zatkoff established himself as one of the top goaltenders in the NCAA before signing a pro deal with the Kings before the 2008-09 season. He played most of his rookie pro campaign with Ontario of the ECHL, where he helped backstop the team to first place in the Pacific division and a playoff berth in the first year of their existence.

The next year, Zatkoff largely watched from the bench while Jonathan Bernier carried the Monarchs. It was expected that Zatkoff would step in this season and take over the starting gig.

Instead, while Zatkoff struggled through the initial part of the season
, undrafted free agent prospect Martin Jones earned all-star honors for his part in keeping the Monarchs afloat. Zatkoff has since come on strong with a .922 save percentage in the month of January, but he’s playing catch up to Jones, who’s clearly been the better performer for the Monarchs thus far.

Zatkoff’s NHL potential is that of a solid backup in the Scott Clemmensen mold, but he has to continue to play strong hockey to keep himself from becoming expendable in an organization that is chock full of talented goaltenders.

Bud Holloway, C/LW, Seattle Thunderbirds (WHL) – 3rd round, 86th pick
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

Drafted after posting 34 points in 72 games with Seattle, Holloway went on to have a successful WHL career with 148 points in 141 games during his last two junior seasons. He began his professional career by splitting a year between the AHL Monarchs and ECHL Reign before assuming a full-time role with the Monarchs for the 2009-10 year.

He was one of the team’s most consistent performers in his first full AHL season, leading all Monarchs with 47 points in 75 games. More notably, he tied the AHL playoff record for game-winning goals, with six of his seven markers in 16 games being decisive.

This year, Holloway leads all Monarchs forwards in production with 34 points in 49 games. He’s close to getting a shot at NHL action, but it remains to be seen whether any aspect of his versatile game is strong enough to land him a full-time NHL role.

Niclas Andersen, D, Leksands IF (SEL) – 4th round, 114th pick
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Andersen’s experience playing against men in the Elitserien as an 18-year-old got him noticed by the Kings, who spent some time trying to involve him in North American hockey. Playing a primarily stay-at-home role that seemed it would translate well to an NHL-style game, Andersen made his way out to Los Angeles for multiple summer prospect camps, where he played solid hockey in his own end and looked to have a realistic shot at becoming a bottom-pairing NHL defenseman.

However, the Kings didn’t ink the blueliner to a contract by the June 2010 deadline and his rights are no longer held by the organization. He has spent his time since being drafted establishing himself in the Elitserien, in the midst of his third full season with Brynas. Barring a drastic change, Andersen does not appear to be headed for North America any time soon.

David Meckler, LW, Yale University (NCAA) – 5th round, 134th pick
Status: Prospect
NHL Games Played: 0

Meckler was selected after an underwhelming freshman season at Yale in which he was limited by an injury and posted just 10 points in 31 games. Despite his collegiate struggles, Meckler’s 30 goals in 60 USHL games as a 17-year-old illustrated some upside as a goal-scorer. Almost immediately after he was drafted, he moved from Yale to a stacked London Knights squad. He had a successful season, netting 38 goals while assisting on 35 for 73 points in 67 regular season games and adding 15 goals in 16 playoff contests.

The next year, Meckler made the jump to the AHL and potted 23 goals in 76 games, an impressive total for a rookie. Unfortunately, he was unable to maintain that production, posting a combined 25 goals in 147 games over the next two seasons. This year, his fourth as a pro, Meckler is having something of a resurgence, totaling 13 goals and posting 23 points in 49 games. His gritty play around the net is intriguing, but he’s running out of time to make a good impression on the Kings, particularly with his contract expiring this summer.

Martin Nolet, D, College Champlain Cougars (QJAHL) – 5th round, 114th pick
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

A stay-at-home defenseman, Nolet had a nice career with UMass-Amherst playing four full years of college hockey, but was unable to earn himself an NHL contract with the Kings. Drafted out of the QJAHL, where Nolet played in Canada to maintain his NCAA eligibility, the blueliner was a key member of the UMass back end, particularly in his senior season, where he played on the team’s top pairing as well as in all special teams situations.

Despite his college success, Nolet graduated from school without an NHL contract and was signed by Trenton of the ECHL. He’s had a solid rookie pro season with five points in 21 games, including a shorthanded goal, but he has a long way to go to be considered an NHL prospect, and is no longer in the Kings’ plans.

Constantin Braun, LW, Eisbaren Berlin (DEL) – 6th round, 164th pick
Status: Bust
NHL Games Played: 0

Braun is one of the more intriguing prospects that the Kings drafted in 2006. He scored nearly a point-per-game in the German junior league and also made his DEL debut for Berlin as an 18-year-old forward, but has since moved back to defense and established himself as a DEL regular. Over the past four years, Braun has played 175 games in Germany‘s top league, mostly as a blueliner, posting 57 points during that span.

He’s gotten increasingly more comfortable on the back end every year, but while he’s still a developing prospect, his rights are no longer held by the organization, and he likely won’t ever make his way over to North America.