When it comes to predicting NHL Draft order, you often hear about teams taking the Best Player Available (BPA), largely because outside the top few picks, most kids being selected aren’t going to make an immediate impact in the NHL. Thus, it comes down to organizational preference, hoping their player pays off three to five years later.
A certain amount of analytical and philosophical work also goes into a team’s final list. For example, in LA, they’ve usually preferred a top-pairing defenseman over all others, followed by a top-six center – when all other factors are equal. In general, teams also often place a premium on these two positions because they’re nearly impossible to trade for and those players rarely make it to UFA status.
Further, organizational depth and age distribution play a role in the process. There is a difference between drafting for need and drafting for position. Although the Kings’ current need is for more scoring. GM Rob Blake and staff will be looking to stock a pipeline they hope will bear fruit several years down the road.
With all of this in mind, we’ve spent countless hours over the past six months talking with scouts, GMs, coaches, and players to help us evaluate talent at the top end of this year’s NHL Draft. Much of our work began, coincidentally enough, in Vancouver at the World Junior Championships this past January. It was a good opportunity to see dozens of future NHLers up close in person. Yet, the real work behind the notes below came from conversations jump started that weekend and continuing into recent days.
We don’t expect the Kings to move up or move down, but rather make their pick at No. 5. Blake has repeatedly shot down any notion of moving up, instead preferring to hold onto his assets. The idea of moving down actually makes a ton of sense to us. If it really is a relative coin-flip between players ranked 3-10, as many scouts have suggested for months, why not move back a few spots and collect a toll charge for allowing another team to ‘get their guy’ at No. 5? Admittedly, it’s much easier said than done and the Kings would most likely have to swing a deal with Detroit (No. 6), Buffalo Sabres (No. 7), or Edmonton Oilers (No. 8) to pull this off.
10 PREDICTIONS FOR THE 2019 NHL DRAFT
1. We believe the Kings have center Alex Turcotte No. 1 on their list.
He’s a high level competitor and will eventually wear a letter – exactly the type of player the organization needs. MayorsManor had a full scouting report preview on Turcotte up here. There appears to be zero doubt he will play in the NHL. His pure talent may not be as elite as some others in the conversation, yet there is a 100% chance he plays in the NHL. Blake and Mark Yannetti, Director of Amateur Scouting, need to lean toward the safer side of risk with this pick, as they attempt to restock a once depleted farm system. Turcotte is a sure thing.
We’ve been asked repeatedly, ‘If defenseman Bowen Byram is available at No. 5, do the Kings take him?’ Yes, if Turcotte is already off the board.
Saying that we believe Byram is No. 2 on LA’s list is not meant to contradict what is written above about the team typically ranking a top-pairing D above all others. This is simply where you get into the subtleties of putting a list together. Organizationally speaking, the Kings don’t have much depth with high-end centers, especially considering so much remains unknown surrounding Gabe Vilardi.
Byram is the best defenseman in the Draft. He has a great hockey IQ, very good offensive capabilities/instincts, and the poise to hold the puck before making special plays. He’s a highly competitive player with a bite to his game, something casual observers won’t pick up when just looking at his gaudy numbers.
2. What happens if Turcotte and Byram are both gone; who’s next on the Kings list?
We see that decision coming down to Kirby Dach and there is one other player being discussed internally – our hunch is Trevor Zegras. He has high level skill, a balanced offensive game, yet most people sleep on his play making ability. Currently, Zegras is inconsistent. When he competes, he competes hard. According to most scouts, though, he just doesn’t do it as consistently as Dach. Zegras also tends to put pucks in bad areas; tries to do too much.
Dach is a potential number one pivot with a ton of size. He uses his outstanding reach and range to make plays. He has rare ability to find teammates in traffic. Overall, his play making ability is elite. He can be utilized at a variety of positions, combined with playing a 200ft game with both speed and power. Dach is smart and a better than average skater. He leads with hockey sense, his scoring is secondary to play-making.
As for Caufield they simply can’t justify taking a winger – regardless of how many goals he scores – over a top center. They need safer picks at the moment and you take a top-pairing defenseman or a potential 1C over Caufield all day long. This is taking nothing away from Caufield. We’ve had scout after scout tell us, ‘He will play in the NHL’ and not to fixate on his size. Caufield’s an amazing talent – a smart goal scorer, with a fantastic one-timer, the puck flies off his stick. He has really good sense without the puck and is an excellent skater. He’s also not the LA Kings pick at No. 5.
3. Any sleepers in the bunch?
Our sources indicate the two others highly sought after by LA will be Matthew Boldy and Thomas Harley. Of all the guys on that Team USA squad, the player furthest from his potential is Boldy. In three years, he’ll most likely have the body to play more of a power game. On the down side, he had a tendency to let the game come to him. When he was going, he was a first line player producing ‘A’ games. When he was off, those were ‘C’ games. By contrast, Turcotte was almost exclusively ‘A’ games, with the occasional ‘B+’ performance.
In Harley, you’d be talking about arguably the second best defenseman in this year’s draft. His occasional lack of compete – similar to the rap on Thomas Chabot during his draft year – could be the one thing that holds him back from entering that upper tier. He’s still a 6-foot-3, elite skating, puck moving defenseman who can run a power play.
4. What to do at 22…
When the Kings arrive at pick No. 22, the first thought is, ‘Who did they get at No. 5?’ Ideally, they’re probably looking to come out of their first three selections (Nos. 5, 22, and 33) with two forwards and one defenseman – in no particular order. The challenge at 22 is not only who is left on the board, but trying to also predict will still be there at 33… all the while, still trying to keep an eye on the BPA. It’s a delicate, if not impossible, balancing act.
For this selection, we believe LA is hoping to target one of about five blueliners, including:
Philip Broberg – Think of a player with similar attributes to Victor Hedman – he skates like him, standing 6-foot-3 instead of 6-foot-6, he’s going to be a horse of a player. One scout even suggested to us, Broberg could be ready to play in the NHL next season. He’s as safe of a pick as there is for a bonafide top four defenseman.
Ville Heinola – A bit of a riskier pick. He has a higher ceiling, but comes with more questions. He’s really smart, yet his skating is just OK – and that could push him down. If his skating doesn’t hold him back, he’s a top 2D. If he misses, he’s a 7; hence the risk.
Moritz Seider – LA brass aren’t the only ones enamored with the German defenseman; several league scouts told us they like everything about him. He plays hard, skates really well, and was excellent at the World Championships (not the World Junior Championships, but the big boy tournament – which guys at his age don’t do very often). His lack of offensive ability might cause some teams to shy away. He also comes from a non-traditional country. There just isn’t as much certainty when comparing him to his peer group.
5. The (more likely) Contenders
Absolutely, all three of those defenseman could easily be gone by the time the Kings select at No. 22. Then what? Let’s start with some players we feel comfortable scratching off of the consideration list. We don’t see LA using the pick to select Ryan Suzuki, Raphael Lavoie, Bobby Brink, Lassi Thompson, Brayden Tracy, Egor Afanasyev… or even Matthew Robertson.
Blake and Yannetti could possibly trade back a few spots here and still get the guy they want. It all depends on what happens in front of them. For now, we’re zeroing in on the following:
Victor Soderstrom – Smart, effortless, fluid skater; he’s consistent. There’s more offense in his game and he played in the Elite League as a draft eligible player. No flash, all substance.
Philip Tomasino – This is a player they know well, as he was in OHL Niagara with Kings prospect Akil Thomas. They like Tomasino’s versatility, being able to slot in at center or wing. He’ll definitely get consideration at 22, but will he last until 33? Doubtful.
Alex Newhook – Another guy to likely be gone by this point, but would be LA’s guy if he’s available. He was one of the leading goal scorers in the BCHL and played on Canada’s top line at the U18 tournament. Has elite skills, is an excellent playmaker, excellent skater, and brings a high hockey IQ.
Peyton Krebs – If he was 6-foot-3, you’d see him being talked about as a top ten pick. His intangibles, leadership, and work ethic are substantial.
6. What about Spencer Knight and, if not him, will the Kings draft a goalie this year?
Knight is the best goalie to come out of the U.S. program, scouts told us. He has the right demeanor and technique. He’s absolutely a first round talent, just not a good fit for LA when considering the team’s prospect pipeline and value of other players who should available at 22. Instead, we’re looking for the Kings to select a goalie somewhere between the third and sixth rounds. Keep in mind they currently have multiple picks in the third (Nos. 64 and 87) and fourth rounds (Nos. 95 and 119).
Names to look out for include: Lukas Parik of the Czech Republic, Sweden’s Hugo Alnefelt, plus WHL netminders Mads Sogaard (he’s listed at 6-foot-7, which might actually be too tall for a goaltender) and Trent Miner. Later, Hunter Jones (OHL) would also receive consideration, while we don’t believe they will get to SoCal product Dustin Wolf. We’d actually be pretty surprised if LA selected the undersized goalie.
7. At 33, somebody is going to fall to the Kings.
It happens every year; a few outliers surprise people by jumping into the first round. In turn, this leaves a few guys on the board for early Saturday morning. Rather than focusing on Ryan Johnson – somebody they obviously know well because of his father, Craig – we see them targeting a few other names with this selection.
Sammy Poulin – If he’s there at 33, he will get strong consideration.
Jakob Pelletier – Like Poulin, he’s another Quebec league forward who could be looked at with this pick.
Shane Pinto – He probably won’t get the same consideration as the duo listed above, but he’s one of the more interesting players to watch. He had a highly consistent and successful first year of junior hockey. Pinto is a two-way center with an NHL release. Standing 6-foot-2, he’s very strong in own end defensively, a smart hockey player, and headed to North Dakota in a few months.
8. Potential Break From Tradition
While management never goes into a draft with a mandate of, ‘We need to draft three kids from the OHL this year,’ there is something to the contrary. In years past, the Kings have tended to shy away from high school players. In fact, this is said to be one of the reasons former GM Dean Lombardi wasn’t keen on selecting Ryan McDonagh at the 2007 Draft. This year could see a departure from that strategy when it comes to one of LA’s mid-round picks.
Harvard bound center John Farinacci will most likely be gone by that point, as he should be scooped up in what we’ll call ‘no man’s land’ – that area between the Kings picks at No. 33 and 64 (early in the third round). Defenseman Jackson LaCombe might be under consideration by LA at 33. As one scout shared with us, “LaCombe is a really good player, sky is the limit. There’s a high level of reward in that pick, but he could also come with high risk.” For that reason, he’ll likely also be a no man’s land selection by another team.
Forwards Ryder Donovan and Aaron Huglen would be two strong candidates, yet remember the name Jayden Struble – he put on a clinic at the recent Draft Combine; placing first in the bench press, standing long jump, as well as both the right and left hand grip tests.
9. When Barzal becomes Lucic, all plans are out the window.
Further complicating any Draft Predictions would be the option of the Kings trading some of their current NHL players. In general, those deals would typically involve future assets coming back the other way (i.e. the Jake Muzzin trade). What if Ilya Kovalchuk left in a package and included LA adding a sweetener? We talked in depth about several trade scenarios – including what this likely means for Jeff Carter and Jonathan Quick – here. Take a look.
10. Among the Kings first three picks, No. 33 has the highest possibility of being moved.
If you’ve made it this far, you deserve something juicy… and we’re going to give it to you.
At the 2009 NHL Draft, late Friday night, the Kings became obsessed with Ryan O’Reilly. They couldn’t believe he had fallen out of the first round. Scouts and the collective management group worked until about 2am in the morning trying to swing a deal for one of the first four selections in Round 2 on Saturday morning.
There was one catch to any talks. Los Angeles already had pick No. 35 and there was no way they were trading it. No way, no how. They had their sights set on Kyle Clifford with that pick and they weren’t missing out on getting him. Read here to understand why.
They called the NY Islanders (pick No. 31), Detroit Red Wings (No. 32), Colorado Avalanche (No. 33) and Atlanta Thrashers (No. 34) multiple times trying to work out scenarios. Multiple offers were made, only to be rejected at every turn. More offers were made, upping the ante each time. Allegedly – with the lone exception of pick No. 35 — they would have been willing to trade just about anything for an opportunity to select the OHL center.
While no trade ever materialized, we share this story to highlight the value this year’s No. 33 pick should carry. The league’s other 31 teams will gather in their hotel rooms this Friday night, all stunned that (insert player X here) dropped out of the first round. They’ll be on the hunt for a trade partner and LA could be a perfect fit.
UPDATE: Predictions for Rounds 2-7
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