What will the Los Angeles Kings do at the NHL Draft this weekend? That’s the question being asked repeatedly of late. If you’ve listened to several of the radio spots we’ve done over the past few weeks, you very likely picked up on the key fact we’ve heard multiple times from our sources within the management team – they are looking to trade up to just inside the top 10. Obviously, much of it ultimately happens later today largely depends on a myriad of other deals the team is working on at the moment.
When GM Dean Lombardi met with the media via a conference call a few weeks back, this is what he shared with us regarding the Draft and if the Kings will focus on one position in the first round:
“Ninety percent of the time when you’re drafting 18-year-olds, it is about the best player. I do think, in talking to Mike [Futa], that I’m not sure where it could go. I am getting a lot of active proposals to move up, down or to move it. In terms of the player we’ll select, it will always be the best players. But in terms of how active we could be with it, I sense there is a little more [than usual]. I finished with [our scouting team], they were here all of last week and they seemed to have a lot of juice to look up, down and all around, which means we’ll will probably end up doing nothing.”
Which sounded like the ultimate swerve at the time, because Lombardi and “doing nothing” on Draft weekend simply don’t go together.
One of the other tidbits we’ve heard is the Kings actually want to try to land a second pick in the first round, somewhere around No. 20 – 25. Pulling off both, a move up and adding a secondary pick, sounds rather lofty, but Lombardi and his staff have never been shy about trading multiple assets when a player they want is still on the board.
Mock drafts in hockey are very unpredictable. The sport doesn’t lend itself to NBA or NFL style draft predictions because outside the top few picks, most of the kids being selected aren’t going to make an immediate impact in the NHL. Thus, it comes down to personal preference when welcoming a prospect into your organization and hoping he pays off three to five years later. Hence, the constant talk of ‘We’ll be taking the best available player.’
With all of that said, we’re expecting the Kings to be more WHL focused that in recent years. Here are two players to keep an eye on today when it comes to when and what Lombardi and his staff may be up to:
Mathew Barzal / Seattle Thunderbirds
Selected first overall by Seattle in the 2012 WHL Bantam Draft, Barzal is a talented, playmaking center who really made a name for himself as the leading scorer with Canada’s U18. He’s believed to be the Kings top target. As one scout noted, “Everyone around him is better when he is on the ice.” Despite missing nearly three months of the regular season after breaking his kneecap in an off-ice injury, Barzal recorded 57 points in 44 games. Following the injury, he had 39 points in his final 28 games of the regular season and added eight points in six games during the WHL playoffs.
Partial report from Future Considerations 2015 Draft Guide:
STRENGTHS: A very special player and is typically all over the ice creating plays. … Has elite hands, strong playmaking ability and is a very smooth skater. He resembles Crosby in the way he moves around the ice and is a fantastic skater at this level with both his quickness and foot speed. His hands are some of the best in the draft class with the quickness to make plays in tight and the soft touch to place the puck out of reach for defenders. … He is able to find seams and passing lanes that most guys would not see. Makes one of the best saucer passes we’ve seen in the draft class with its accuracy and smoothness, landing perfectly for teammates. … Slick in possession as he dekes his way around the offensive zone and making defenders look silly in the process. Barzal is an incredible playmaker whose ability to see and exploit is all‐world. … He is patient and poised, showing that he will wait and wait to make a play, regrouping to better space and open ice if needed. Has a very strong shot that just jumps off his blade in a blink causing goaltenders some trouble. This kid is very dangerous offensively and was very impressive at the U18’s for Canada.
WEAKNESSES: As a creative playmaker he also has a tendency to make some questionable plays and force things with his passes. He is also not the complete two‐way player that teams will hope for when selecting this high, even though he does surprise with a smart defensive play every now and again, as he needs to improve his effort level coming back into the defensive zone. … His puck skills, ability to handle it with speed, amazing vision, and knack for the offensive side of the game make him a top prospect in the class even with his drawbacks.
SCOUTS QUOTE: “Barzal is one of the best of this draft class with his vision and creativity offensively. When other players would normally keep heading forward with their plays, Barzal has the imagination and vision to pass back to a player no opposing player picked up behind the play. A true top playmaker in this draft crop.”
NHL POTENTIAL: Top Six Playmaking Center
From McKeen’s Draft Guide:
Highly ranked prospect entering the season after a strong rookie season put him on the map (59-14-40-54) – followed with an interrupted draft season due to a broken knee cap at the beginning of November keeping him out for 28 games, returning in late January .. suited up for Team Canada in 19 games over the past two years between U18 WJC and the Ivan Hlinka tournaments producing 23 points (19-8-15-23) .. second half saw his stock rise as Seattle pushed toward the playoffs – a standout on the Thunderbirds and only held pointless in four games in the last 24 (24-5-34-39) .. speedy, industrious pivot with a steady Scooter engine .. shifty and energetic with springy legs and impressive lower-body dexterity and
flexibity .. wide skating stance thanks to strong wishbone legs but could add some heft to his frame .. wants to spearhead attacks and comfortable in possession .. owns excellent lateral skating range as well as outstanding turning ability .. can alter directions with blinding speed – and cuts such a tight circle – that he can shake checkers and leave them spinning on the spot .. likes to dictate the play from the half boards utilizing elite vision with accurate and swift passing ability .. unselfish to a fault at times as a shooter and should utilize high-end release on a strong wrist shot more often – tries to force passes when he could take the puck to the net himself.. overhandles the puck and skates himself into deadends at times and can be prone to turnovers when remaining stationery with the puck .. responsible defensively, yet can be knocked off the puck and tends to play a perimeter game .. success will be strongly dictated by an ability to fight through physical play as competition gets tougher.
Paul Bittner / Portland Winterhawks
A 6-foot-4 left wing, Bittner is American-born and is a player the Kings know well, as Jamie Kompon was the head coach in Portland last season. He would become a secondary option should the Kings acquire another first round selection. The Minnesota native improved upon his 22 goals and 49 points from the 2013-14 season by increasing to 34 goals and 71 points this past season. During his rookie season in the WHL, the team was crowned league champions.
Partial report from Future Considerations 2015 Draft Guide:
STRENGTHS: A behemoth of a kid, Bittner has the size that NHL teams crave in a potential power forward. Straight line speed is one of his better attributes as he uses his long and powerful limbs to pump vigorously and push the pace of play. Once Bittner gets moving, he approaches the play with reckless abandon and is not easily stopped or moved off course. Willing to throw his weight around and lay the body when the opportunity presents itself. Has a solid wrist shot with some real whip to it. … His puck possession skills are very simplistic, without much flair and creativity in dekes. His main asset is his puck protection with help from his massive frame. Classified as a two‐way power forward, he seems committed to getting into the lanes and using his reach to take away space; however, his lack of quickness and lateral mobility doesn’t always allow him to match up well with agile players. He plays a rough and tumble game along the boards and can simply outwork players with his strength and reach.
WEAKNESSES: His skating, while it has improved, is still a little rough and his acceleration is still a bit clunky. His footwork is a legitimate area of concern, as he looks to be still learning how to coordinate all the moving parts together. This is one of those areas that should straighten itself out as he gets older, more coordinated and adds much more leg strength. His passing game can be very hit or miss. Usually because he rushes the pass instead of taking the time needed to get set.
SCOUTS QUOTE: “An extremely raw power forward with so many tools, many of which are still underdeveloped, but also has loads of growth potential that has NHL scouts very excited for the player he could become for their teams. Has the potential to become a top six goal scorer…or a complete bust.”
NHL POTENTIAL: Top‐Nine Power Winger
From McKeen’s Draft Guide:
Asserted himself with a strong offensive finish (33-19-25-44) in 2015, surmounting questions about consistency and high-end scoring ability after a quieter start (33-15-12-27) – becoming an important part of the Winterhawks attack .. skilled winger with imposing size and ideal pro-type body – thick and broad and will be a mountain of strength and girth when fully matured .. mobile with decent protection skills .. angles upper body forward slightly as he gets to full stride, which is on short side – attains very good top gear due to power of strides, accelerating rapidly for a big man .. effective going north-south – getting into a shooting lane .. can be a nuisance around the opponent’s net and will park in front of the goalie and battle for space – using his stick liberally as a crosschecking instrument instead of his body.. suffers from focus issues, mental lapses, not in tune with the tempo or rhythm of the game at times .. does not deploy his size and could add some nastiness to his game as he seems to shy away from hits at times .. possessing the size and speed of a classic power forward – needs to add more physicality and remain mentally engaged, imposing his will on others, agitating and drawing defenders into battles for success .. likes to set up shop at the top faceoff circle for one timers, with a hard, accurate release – deceptive and very quick .. an intriguing package of size, speed and skill still in development .. responsible defensively and earned the coaches trust in key situations by season’s end and will make a strong complementary player to a skilled top-two line.
There is also a significant trade being discussed involving at least one key roster player (likely not Martin Jones, but a forward). We haven’t received solid confirmation on the deal, though.
Thank you to Spike Coffman, Andy Tonge, and Mike Murangi for their help in gathering the above information.
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