Kings 2004 draft preview

By David A. Rainer

Kings Top 10 Prospects

1. Denis Grebeshkov, D
2. Dustin Brown, RW
3. Petr Kanko, RW
4. Jeff Tambellini, LW
5. Brian Boyle, C
6. Konstantin Pushkarev, RW
7. Richard Petiot, D
8. Jens Karlsson, LW
9. Brady Murray, C
10. Greg Hogeboom, RW

Team Needs

The Kings head into the 2004 Entry Draft with many question marks and even more open roster spots. The team spent another tumultuous season racked by injuries and were left scrambling to find replacement players just to get them to the end of the season. Various holes in the NHL roster were revealed, while at the same time the depth beginning to accumulate in Manchester proved to be an invaluable source of manpower.

Young goaltender Cristobal Huet will fight for a starting job against incumbent Roman Cechmanek. Huet stepped in while Cechmanek was injured and was at least as productive as Cechmanek, if not more of a steady alternative. The lead replacement candidate is 2003 free agent signee Mathieu Chouinard who spent last season in Manchester.

The team is in desperate need of offense. Neither Jason Allison nor Adam Deadmarsh played a single game and Ziggy Palffy missed a significant portion of the season due to a torn shoulder. The offseason additions of Trent Klatt and Luc Robitaille helped stem the loss of production and the mid-season acquisition of Martin Straka added some skill to the line-up. The late-season addition of Anson Carter did not go as well as expected as he struggled to produce. Alexander Frolov stepped up in a major way, carrying the team through January and February. Dustin Brown remained with the Kings all season and will benefit from gained experience. Mike Cammalleri still looms in the shadows at Manchester waiting to break into the line-up on a fulltime basis. Scott Barney has recovered from his back ailment and proved that he is ready to contribute on a nightly basis. The Kings have few forwards signed for next season as General Manager Dave Taylor is waiting for the results of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement before he begins to fill out the roster.

Defense continues to be solid when healthy. Matty Nortstrom continues to anchor the blueline while mobile defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky tied a career high in goals. Tim Gleason performed remarkably well in his rookie campaign and top prospect Denis Grebeshkov is on the cusp of the starting line-up. The trade deadline addition of Nathan Dempsey creates even more depth. Locating a power play quarterback is a concern for the Kings this offseason.

Organizational Strengths

The Kings’ system was strong in defensemen. So strong, in fact, that the Kings did not select a defenseman in last year’s draft for the first time in the history of the organization. Gleason played significant minutes in his rookie season while Grebeshkov spent his first season in North America and received a four game call-up. Tomas Zizka filled in when the injuries began to hit the Kings. However, the recent loss of Aaron Rome has dug into the prospect depth as well as some other eligible yet unsigned prospects.

Forwards are another position of prospect strength. The system is deep in forwards who are ready to step in immediately and contribute. Cammalleri and Barney each made great strides toward staying in Los Angeles. Noah Clarke had a tremendous season in Manchester while Petr Kanko and Greg Hogeboom finished their juniors and NCAA eligibility, respectively, and earned themselves a contract with the Kings. There is still a wealth of talent developing in Europe and the NCAA, led by Jeff Tambellini, Jens Karlsson, Konstantin Pushkarev and Brian Boyle. Dave Steckel and Connor James have recently graduated from college and will be looking to earn themselves a spot in the organization this offseason.

Organizational Weaknesses

The same weakness that has plagued the NHL club also plagues their farm system – goaltending. The Kings selected Sarnia goalie Ryan Munce and Colorado College goalie Matt Zaba in the 2003 draft, but neither are considered franchise goaltenders. Chouinard remains the closest to seeing NHL ice time as the starter in Manchester. Nathan Marsters has graduated from RPI and will also look to earn a roster spot in training camp.

The Kings are at a position in the first round where one of the two top goalies will likely be available. This should be a position of focus for the Kings. Al Murray, Director of Amateur Scouting for the Los Angeles Kings, recently told Hockey’s Future in a May 21st interview, “We think we can never have enough goaltending prospects. Goaltending can be 80 percent of your success as a team and a bad goalie can be 90 percent of your problems as a team.”

Draft Tendencies

This draft marks the highest the Kings have selected since GM Dave Taylor’s first season. The 11th overall pick is high enough to sit back and draft one of the two top goaltenders or possibly trade for a more established option. The Kings are without their second round choice, which was traded to Philadelphia for Roman Cechmanek.

There has been a tendency by the Kings to select at least two goaltenders in each draft (11 in the last six drafts) and forwards with size. Taylor looks for skating ability, skill, competitiveness and character in his draftees. He has a penchant for selecting European and college players so that they can continue to develop in their respective leagues before the organization is under any pressure to sign them.

“[Y]ou only have two years to watch and evaluate your major junior players,” stated Murray, and you “have an indefinite amount of time with the Europeans and in most places three or four years with the college players. A lot of the time the guys don’t go early because they need more development time.” The Kings have been patient drafting these players and letting them develop.

Player most likely to be taken with first selection (Hockey’s Future staff mock draft result): Marek Schwarz, G