Los Angeles Kings 2011 draft preview

By Josh Deitell
Photo: The Kings have demonstrated in recent history a good eye for talent in the later rounds of the draft, unearthing late-round gems such as Maxim Kitsyn (left). With no first round pick in 2011, they will hope to strike gold in the later rounds again. (Photo courtesy of Ken McKenna/HF)

Top 10 prospects

1. Brayden Schenn, C
2. Jonathan Bernier, G
3. Andrei Loktionov, C
4. Tyler Toffoli, RW
5. Derek Forbort, D
6. Slava Voynov, D
7. Nicolas Deslauriers, D
8. Thomas Hickey, D
9. Martin Jones, G
10. Alec Martinez, D

Team Needs

For the third off-season in a row, Dean Lombardi will be looking to address the Kings’ need for impact talent on the wing. The trade deadline acquisition of Dustin Penner gives the team a top-six offensive option to work with, but his lack of foot speed combined with his inconsistency renders him unable to fill a marquee role. A top-six winger will likely remain a need too as the Kings are unlikely to overpay for help in the free agent market.

Less pressing is the need for a bonafide second-line center. Jarret Stoll has performed admirably playing top minutes and at times has looked like a top-six choice, but the Kings would benefit from having a more consistent offensive-minded pivot to ease the load off Anze Kopitar. That would allow Stoll to take on the third-line center role for which he is well suited. The hole should be one that the Kings will be able to fill from within the system with either Brayden Schenn or Andrei Loktionov, possibly as soon as this season.

Organizational Strengths

Depth is a major strength for the organization. With 12 of the roster forwards with whom the team finished last season either under contract or hitting restricted free agent status this summer as well as the impending ascension of Schenn and Loktionov, amongst a multitude of other possibly NHL-ready options in Manchester, there’s a scarcity of roster spots up front. The same is true on defense, with seven defensemen signed or restricted and Thomas Hickey, Slava Voynov, and Jake Muzzin playing in the minors. In net, Jonathan Quick and Jonathan Bernier will battle for the NHL starting job with Martin Jones, Jean-Francois Berube, and possibly Jeff Zatkoff tending nets for the minor league affiliates, a desirable situation all around.

As evidenced by the above logjam being forced by the youth in the organization, the Kings’ prospect pool is healthy and young players are still being regularly assimilated into the NHL product. While Willie Mitchell and Alexei Ponikarovsky were brought in to provide a veteran presence, they were outnumbered by four rookies – Kyle Clifford, Trevor Lewis, Alec Martinez, and Kevin Westgarth – who made the jump to regular NHL action last season.

Organizational Weaknesses

The strength of excessive depth is also a weakness, as it necessitates losing prospects that are unable to fit into the team’s system but have proven their mettle at the minor-league level. While these cuts and trades are made for the sake of progress, it’s disheartening to see players like Teddy Purcell and Matt Moulson blossom after leaving the organization. Once highly-touted Oscar Moller has signed in Sweden for next season after seeing his opportunity to play with the Kings diminish over the past three seasons, going from 40 games played as rookie pro to just 13 last year.

The defensive group lacks a young, stable defensive presence. Matt Greene is just 28 but plays an aggressive style that lands him in the penalty box with frequency. Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson have proven themselves as capable NHL defensemen with great two-way talent but boast a similar brashness. The two most dependable blueliners on the roster, Willie Mitchell and Rob Scuderi, are 34 and 32, respectively. Most of the prospects coming up through the system are two-way types or offensive defensemen, with only Kevin Gravel playing a mistake-free, stay-at-home style. It is an issue that the Kings may choose to continue to address through free agency, rather than development.

Draft Tendencies

Save for a drastic trade, with the Kings’ first selection coming in the second round at the 49th spot, it’s safe to say that they won’t come away from this draft with a prospect that is considered star-caliber on draft day. Instead, it’s more likely that they will take a similar route as in recent drafts, selecting hard-working character types and using late picks on players with high-end skill marred with question marks that force them down draft boards. Skilled but defensively-capable prospects such as Clifford and Wayne Simmonds, both second-round picks, have been able to ascend and fill depth roles soon after being drafted, allowing projects such as Loktionov, Maxim Kitsyn, and Brandon Kozun time to develop.

Lombardi’s staff has focused mostly on Canadian junior hockey with 25 of their 34 selections in the past four drafts coming from the CHL. Other than three Russians and one Swede selected during that span, the team has avoided European talent. All four of those prospects were brought over to play North American hockey in the season after their draft year, implying that the Kings had some inkling of their willingness to do so before selecting them.

Despite the free agent addition of Jones in net, with just two of their last 34 picks spent on goalies and none of their five from last year’s draft, the Kings will be looking to add at least one netminding prospect to the stable.

Having thoroughly rounded out the defense but now lacking scoring ability up front, logic dictates that the team will turn their focus to addressing that issue, particularly in a draft where for the picks past the first third of the first round, taking the best player available is by no means a universally agreeable decision. Prospects such as Matt Puempel, Lucas Lessio, and Ty Rattie are a few of the many skilled forwards who could be drafted anywhere from 15th to 50th and are undoubtedly on the Kings’ radar.