Kings Top 10 prospects
The Los Angeles Kings entered the 2006-07 with a tremendous number of questions to be addressed throughout their roster. With only Phoenix finishing worse in the Western Conference, the right answers did not come for the Kings. Goaltending continued to be the Achilles heel of the team while inopportune injuries and inconsistent play hampered the team from the very beginning. An attack could not be sustained on offense for any stretch of the season and the defense faltered in front of five different goaltenders, none of whom proved to be up to the task for the entire season.
In what has thus far proved to be General Manager Dean Lombardi’s biggest mistake, Dan Cloutier was locked up in a multi-year deal before the 2006-07 season began. As a result, Cloutier will be back on the roster to begin the new season. In the second biggest mistake of the season, Jason LaBarbera was assigned to Manchester, never to return due to restrictions in the Collective Bargaining Agreement and despite the cries from fans for his call-up to Los Angeles. The same mistake will not be made as the Kings will do everything in their power to keep LaBarbera on the roster for the 2007-08 season. Mathieu Garon and Sean Burke are free agents and not likely to return. Lombardi has stated that he will explore keeping three goaltenders on the roster to avoid the chaos that occurred last season when both Cloutier and Garon went down with injuries and LaBarbera was stuck in Manchester. The Kings recently signed 25-year-old goaltender from Sweden, Erik Ersberg. Do not rule out an additional signing of a veteran NHL backup, similar to the mid-season pick-up of Sean Burke. There is little room available for a prospect goaltender to earn a spot on the NHL roster and with Jonathan Bernier, Jeff Zatkoff and Jonathan Quick in the system, there appears to be little immediate need to draft a goaltender.
Like a broken record, the team is looking for more offense. The emergence of Anze Kopitar has finally solved the Kings’ quest for a top line center. The continued developments of Mike Cammalleri, Alexander Frolov and Dustin Brown fill out other spots on the top two lines. The Kings will be actively pursuing a second line center to round out the remainder of the top six forwards. A mix of Patrick O’Sullivan, Scott Thorton, Derek Armstrong, Brian Willsie, Jamie Lundmark (if re-signed), Alyn McCauley, Raitis Ivanans and possibly John Zeiler will fill out the remainder of the forward spots. If a second line center cannot be found or the offense again sputters, there may be openings for prospect forwards or a 2007 draftee to compete for a roster spot at this position.
Defense is again a position in definite need of attention. Mattias Norstrom (trade), Aaron Miller (currently unsigned) and Brent Sopel (trade) are no longer with the team. Lubomir Visnovsky continues his stellar play as an offensive defenseman and Rob Blake can still compete at a top level for the Kings. Top prospect Jack Johnson was signed at the end of the 2006-07 season and looks to have locked down one of the defensive spots. Oleg Tverdovsky is still under contract, and Mike Weaver and Kevin Dallman are also options on defense. However, outside of Visnovsky, Blake and Johnson, no one has locked down a roster spot. The Kings will be looking for several defensemen from the free agent ranks, their prospect pool and possibly from the draft to fill out roster at this position.
The strength of the Kings organization is in their prospect pool, both in those prospects currently in the pipeline and those who have graduated to the NHL roster. For an organization that was only a handful of years ago completely bare in prospects, this is a significant achievement. The pipeline has churned out in recent years Alexander Frolov, Mike Cammalleri, Dustin Brown, and Kopitar while also acquiring O’Sullivan and Johnson. With top prospects at every position –Johnson (D), Bernier (G), Brian Boyle and Trevor Lewis (C), Lauri Tukonen (RW) and O’Sullivan (LW) – the Kings are now looking for depth to create competition in the pipeline and keep the cupboards well stocked for the coming future as some of those top prospects will invariably not develop as projected. The defensive prospects are deep and diversified, but can use additional top-end talent. With Bernier now in the mix for goaltending, the Kings will not be forced to address this position in the draft as they had in the past. With Kopitar solidly entrenched on the NHL roster and Brian Boyle and Trevor Lewis in the system, the center position is sufficiently stocked.
With some prospects graduating and others not signing with the organization, the Kings will be looking to add depth to their pool at the 2007 draft. Both left wing and right wing have thinned out and require new blood. If Scott Parse does not sign with the organization, there is little else after O’Sullivan at left wing that can be considered a legitimate option at the NHL level. The Kings can very well be looking at left wing with the fourth overall pick. Likewise, after Tukonen, the Kings only have role players at right wing and will look to fill this need.
While the Kings have Johnson in the NHL and other intriguing prospects like Peter Harrold, Patrik Hersley, Joe Ryan and Richard Petiot waiting in the wings, none have top pairing potential outside of Johnson. The blue line could use another top prospect to be paired up with Johnson for the coming years. At the fourth position in the draft and with no immediate pressing needs, the Kings have the luxury to add depth at either the left wing, right wing or defensive positions and select whichever top draft prospect falls to them.
One of the few bright spots from the 2006-07 season is that the Kings will be drafting fourth overall, the highest selection since 1997 when they selected Olli Jokinen third overall. Lombardi has been one of the NHL General Managers unafraid to “wheel and deal” during the draft. Lombardi has a good understanding of the value of picks and will not hesitate to pull the trigger to trade up or down in pursuit of the player(s) at the top of his draft board.
Expect to see a fair share of trades from the Kings, either moving in this draft or picking up additional picks for the 2008 Entry Draft. As a former scout, Lombardi has a great eye for talent and is not afraid to make selections from lesser-known leagues if he finds the right player. Lombardi also has a tradition of selecting someone from Germany, so keep an eye out for a late-round German prospect.
The Kings have nine total selections in this draft, including at least one pick in each round. They traded their second round pick to Vancouver for Cloutier but acquired Dallas’s second round pick in a package that sent Mattias Norstrom to Dallas. Also part of that package was a swap of third round picks and a fourth round pick to Dallas. The Kings also picked up a fourth round pick from Calgary for Craig Conroy and a seventh round pick from Columbus at the 2006 Entry Draft.
Hockey’s Future staff mock draft result: Karl Alzner, D
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