Kings 2005 draft preview

By David A. Rainer

Kings Top 10 Prospects

1. Denis Grebeshkov, D
2. Dustin Brown, RW
3. Tim Gleason, D
4. Mike Cammalleri, C
5. Lauri Tukonen, RW
6. Petr Kanko, RW
7. Jeff Tambellini, LW
8. Richard Petiot, D
9. Konstantin Pushkarev, RW
10. Greg Hogeboom, RW

Team Needs

The recent work stoppage has created uncertainty in relation to the NHL roster for the Los Angeles Kings. Heading into the beginning of the free agent period, the Kings, like nearly every other NHL franchise, will be looking to overhaul their roster while trying to fit within the constraints of the new salary cap. Most likely, they will need to add several forwards and one defenseman to the NHL roster.

The acquisition of Mathieu Garon at the 2004 Entry Draft means that the Kings will go into the 2005-06 season with an understanding of who their starting goaltender will be. The loss of Roman Cechmanek to free agency leaves an opening on the roster. It is not likely that the Kings will acquire a backup goaltender either in the trade or free agent market nor look to fill the void through the entry draft. The likely candidate to fill the reserve role is Adam Hauser who performed admirably as the backup to Garon in Manchester. Possibly a veteran goaltender can be picked up in free agency if the price is right.

The team, once again, is in desperate need of offense. Jason Allison, Adam Deadmarsh and Ziggy Palffy have all left via free agency. Veteran Luc Robitaille is still an option but there is some question as to how much is left in his tank. The offseason addition of Craig Conroy adds some depth to the forward corps, but falls well short of top offensive talent. Alexander Frolov is a lock to star on one of the top two lines. The expected influx of top talent in the free agent pool due to players being cut or let go because of the salary cap means that it is a buyer’s market. The Kings, depending upon their organizational budget for player payroll, will look to acquire three or four forwards on the free agent market. Dustin Brown will most certainly be on the NHL roster while Mike Cammalleri and, injuries permitting, Scott Barney might make contributions of varying size. Dark horses to see playing time are Petr Kanko, Yanick Lehoux and Noah Clarke.

Fairly well established on the blueline, the Kings might look to add an additional defenseman on the free agent market. They are not likely to find immediate roster help from the draft unless an unlikely deal is consummated to move up to select Jack Johnson. But even if a trade could be made, Johnson is still too raw to find a roster spot. With several top defensemen likely to be available in the free agent market, a trade of the pick for a defenseman is not likely. Mattias Norstrom and Aaron Miller make a solid combination of physical defenseman, but age is catching up to the pair and replacements will need to be added to the farm system. Nathan Dempsey, Lubomir Visnovsky and prospect Tim Gleason round out the remainder of a solid defensive corp. Denis Grebeshkov and Richard Petiot wait in the wings in Manchester should injuries affect the NHL roster again.

Organizational Strengths

The Kings system is strong in forwards, specifically on the right side. With Lauri Tukonen, Dustin Brown, Petr Kanko and Konstantin Pushkarev, to name a few, the Kings can address other areas of pressing need. The emergence of Yanick Lehoux last season, the continual development of Mike Cammalleri and the immense progress of Brian Boyle, the Kings center ice looks much more improved over last year. However, they remain weak in depth in centermen and lack the premier stud prospect in the middle. Left wing is traditionally a difficult position to locate elite prospects unless you’re the Washington Capitals (see Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin). Jeff Tambellini and Noah Clarke remain the only true bright spots on the left side for the Kings. Jens Karlsson, although toiling on the bottom lines in Sweden, remains a legitimate third line option for the Kings.

The defensive side of the system is top-heavy with premier talent but severely drops off after the top three or four. Denis Grebeshkov, despite an inconsistent 2004-05, remains one of the best offensive defensemen in the AHL with a bundle of untapped talent. Tim Gleason quickly asserted himself in Los Angeles during the 2003-04 season and continued his development in Manchester last year. Gleason is a virtual lock to earn himself a permanent roster spot on the Kings. Richard Petiot just graduated from college and will need a year or so in Manchester to learn the Kings system but looks to be a physical mainstay for many years to come. Third round choice from 2004-05, Paul Baier will continue to develop in the NCAA and has the rare combination of size, strength and offensive skills that scouts drool over. Outside the top four, the Kings are thin and could stand to add a defenseman or two to fill the gaps left in the system as Gleason, Grebeshkov and Petiot move up.

Organizational Needs

For years, the weakness in the farm system has been in net. Even after Jamie Storr was drafted, the Kings could not fill the farm system with legitimate top caliber goaltending prospects. Perhaps learning from the Storr experiment, the Kings have traditionally selected two or more goaltenders per draft in the late rounds. Their farm system now reflects this with Ryan Munce, Matt Zaba, Daniel Taylor, Yutaka Fukufuji and free agent signee Barry Brust all pushing each other for the top spot on the Kings organizational depth chart. None of the goalies, at this point, are elite level prospects. But each are development projects that, given enough time, the increased competition between the numerous prospects and the aid of goaltender coach Andy Nowicki, might turn one of these into a jewel.

Draft Tendencies

Taylor looks for skating ability, skill, competitiveness and character in his draftees. The terms of the new collective bargaining agreement will largely dictate the tendencies of the drafting philosophy, post work-stoppage. Previously, Dave Taylor looked to the financial incentives written into the prior collective bargaining agreement when steering towards college and European players. A change in the financial incentives might change this tendency. One example would be the possible selection of Finnish goaltender Tuukka Rask. Under the new restrictions, organizations must sign their European draftees within two years of being drafted or lose them back into the draft. A goaltender like Rask, whom scouts believe will take four to five years of development in Finland before he is ready to join any organization, becomes too much of a financial risk to consider at the top of the draft.

It appears that the Kings subscribe to the “goaltender in bulk” philosophy of drafting. Where they have missed out in selecting the single elite goaltender at the top of the draft, they have instead chosen to expand their search for diamonds in the rough in hopes of landing him in later rounds. As a result, the Kings have selected two or more goaltenders in later rounds nearly every year since Taylor has been at the helm. With the overwhelming competition for playing time already in Manchester, Reading and Bakersfield as well as prospects in college and juniors, the Kings might decline on the addition of a goaltender through the draft unless they can land an elite prospect at the top of the draft.

The Kings have their full compliment of picks minus a fourth round pick traded to Chicago in the deal that landed Dempsey. They also acquired an eighth round pick from Columbus in a swap of picks during the 2004 draft. With the reduction of rounds from nine to seven, it remains to be seen how this additional pick will be accounted for, but likely will be tacked on to the bottom of the seventh round as a compensatory pick.

Player most likely to be taken with first selection (Hockey’s Future staff mock draft result): Martin Hanzal, C

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