Buckle up, the next 48 hours should be wild. Coming out of an 18 month period where nothing was normal in the hockey world, the NHL is set to stage their annual Entry Draft this weekend. And we’re here to give you all the scoops we’ve dug up regarding the LA Kings.
Here’s the tricky part compared to years past – it’s nearly impossible to predict how things are going to go in the top 10-12. Leagues all over the world played a varied number of games in 2020-21, all the way down to zero games in the OHL. On one hand, the limitations placed on scouts traveling should have increased their number of viewings per player, as they had more time for video review. Conversely, the overall global hockey situation limited live viewings and the overall number of games to use for evaluation.
A wide number of NHL teams were using these reasons as built in excuses heading into the 2020 NHL Draft. Yet, Mark Yannetti, LA’s Director of Amateur Scouting, was openly talking about his staff being plenty prepared for last year’s Draft and viewing the situation as a prime opportunity for the group to shine. By all indications, they hit several home runs, including Quinton Byfield, Helge Grans, and Brock Faber.
Now 10 months later, LA GM Rob Blake has to be riding into the weekend with confidence in spades, as Yannetti and his scouts have had more than enough time to further perfect their approach to player evaluation in this new world we’re all living in.
Context throughout this article is going to be key. Over the past couple of years, we were able to nail our predictions heading into Round 1, both with Byfield and Turcotte — despite what others were out there claiming LA would do.
This time around isn’t anywhere near as clear. To say the outlook is muddy would be an understatement. Even so, that won’t stop us from providing some key info… and attempting to wrap it all up with explanation that points to who they’re looking to select at No. 8 on Friday night.
To begin with, let’s start with overall Draft strategy.
We don’t anticipate the Kings moving down in the Draft. There are three likely scenarios, in their order of probability:
1. Make the selection at No. 8 (more on that throughout the bulk of this article)
2. Trade up a few spots
As of this writing, this isn’t close to happening. It’s not going to be easy, by any stretch. As we’ve reported multiple times, they would love nothing better than to get a defenseman with this year’s first round pick. All four of the D aren’t equal on their list, though. Looking over the list of teams slated to pick ahead of LA, the most likely trade partner appears to be Detroit at No. 6. Columbus at No. 5 sounds intriguing. Yet, every rung up the ladder could be exponentially more difficult. With the idea of trading up probably very slim, that circles back to the Kings selecting at 8.
3. Trade No. 8 for an established NHL player
This appears to be highly unlikely, but we can’t say it definitely won’t happen. Again, as we’ve reported previously, LA is willing to trade their 2021 first round selection if they can get a young defenseman in return. Not just any ol’ blueliner, though. We’re talking Seth Jones-level. There just aren’t many players at that level available at the moment. Could it happen? It’s possible, just not very probable.
Further, there is a less than 1% chance the Kings add a second selection in the first round this year.
PREDICTING THE TOP 7 PICKS AHEAD OF LA
We think the Kings have about four to seven players in their sights. While that’s not as direct and to the point as we’ve provided in year’s prior, this is where context plays such a huge part of the 2021 story. If it’s such a weird year, where it’s near impossible to predict who goes in the Top 5, how can anybody even have a chance at narrowing in on who will be there for Blake and Yannetti in the eight hole?
Before delving into some names we believe the Kings are keenly focusing on, let’s first look at players who will likely be gone before LA is on the clock.
Possible First Round Selections
1. Buffalo Sabres – Owen Power (D)
2. Seattle Kraken – Matthew Beniers (Fwd)
3. Anaheim Ducks – Dylan Guenther (Fwd)
4. New Jersey Devils – Luke Hughes (D)
5. Columbus Blue Jackets – Mason McTavish (Fwd)
6. Detroit Red Wings – Jesper Wallstedt (Goalie)
7. San Jose Sharks – Simon Edvinsson (D)
Here’s the problem with that list – William Eklund is missing and we think he’s highly likely to go somewhere between 3-7. The question is where? And how does that impact other picks?
Meaning, is it Eklund or another player (or even multiple players) who create a ripple effect on what teams between 3-7 start to do? Which ultimately impacts options for LA.
Using the initial scenario above would leave Eklund, Brandt Clarke, and Kent Johnson among the choices for LA.
First Round Predictions
With the benefit of additional intel, let’s move around some of the selections; where it will become painfully clear how sideways things go with just a few twists, including Eklund being inserted into the top 7:
1. Buffalo – Owen Power
2. Seattle – Matthew Beniers
3. Anaheim – Dylan Guenther or Simon Edvinsson
4. New Jersey – Luke Hughes, Clarke, or Edvinsson
5. Columbus – Mason McTavish, Guenther, Kent Johnson, or William Eklund
6. Detroit – Jesper Wallstedt or McTavish
7. San Jose – Luke Hughes, Clarke, Eklund, or Wallstedt
Forecasting what happens after Power goes No. 1 is like trying to run through a house of mirrors at full speed.
WHO WILL THE KINGS SELECT AT NO. 8 OVERALL?
As if it wasn’t hard enough to cull things down to a manageable list of names, from what we’ve gathered, the Kings didn’t even have their Draft list finalized until Thursday. They were still interviewing players all this week. That’s all behind them now, though. It’s time to rock tonight.
For the players we’re going to focus on here we’ve opted to rank them, rather than just do it alphabetically (which actually might have been the smarter play). Please note that we previously published full scouting reports on each player, so we’ll just include a few key notes below and provide the link to those aforementioned articles.
William Eklund: Rather than even tease, we won’t spend much time here because all indications are he’ll be gone early. If he somehow falls to LA at No. 8, he’s probably the pick. Read more about him here.
Brandt Clarke: Defenseman, 6-foot-1, 181 lbs., right shot – Cutting right to the chase, the only thing Clarke needs to do is get stronger. While not an elite skater, he is more than capable of getting the job done. Some scouts would have liked it if he improved his skating or added size while having more time on his hands over the past year, yet we’re not going to downgrade him for this – especially because he’s able to use his sense for the game to compensate for his skating. Clarke also has great poise and easily uses his range and length to defend better than the majority of his peers. As any discussion of Clarke will include, he is the superior offensive defenseman in this year’s Draft class. The one draw back from an LA perspective his he’s a right shot and they already have Grans and Faber in the pipeline. Even so, his ability to drive an offense just might be too much to pass on. He’s a point producer with an ability to run a power play. Clarke sees the ice well and is a puck distributer. He won’t have to be coached into joining the rush. Another good offseason in the gym will go a long way in his efforts to become stronger, which will improve his ability to defend and contain. He has huge upside that will reveal itself as he physically and mentally matures. Full scouting report available here.
Luke Hughes: Defenseman, 6-foot-2, 176 lbs., left shot – Of the four defensemen going in the top 10 this year, Hughes is believed to have the highest ceiling. He also comes with the lowest percentage of hitting that ceiling, so it sounds a little better than it really is. He is not projected to go straight to the NHL, as there’s still plenty of work to do with his development. He has multiple things to address, including his maturity (which causes him to complicate the game), his hockey sense, and aspects of his compete level. Luke is 3-4 inches taller than his younger brother Quinn in Vancouver, and he can play on the penalty kill.
Luke Hughes on how he's different than brother Quinn — I'm 6-foot-2 and I can PK.
Did he really just say that?
— The Mayor | John Hoven (@mayorNHL) July 6, 2021
Hughes has the lowest floor of the four defenseman, in terms of overall potential. He could be a bust. Probably not, though, considering his family pedigree and size. Yet there would definitely be risk in this selection. Many will overlook the possible warts and see an elite skater who is the youngest of the ‘big four’ defenders (which means plenty of time to improve his reads and transitions), and just an overall good athlete. Full scouting report available here.
Jesper Wallstedt: Goaltender, 6-foot-3, 214 lbs. – Despite a glut of young goaltenders already under contract and in the system, we’ve confirmed that not only are the Kings interested in this player, they even have him in-play with one of the defensemen still on the board. Thus, we can’t state ‘If one of the four defenseman are sitting there, that’s their pick’ with 100% certainty. All of the discussion about a goaltender goes out the window if Detroit takes him, as many expect. With Red Wings GM Steve Yzerman making a trade for goaltender Alex Nedeljkovic on Thursday, some are speculating that could lessen Detroit’s interest in Wallstedt. We don’t see it that way. For starters, Nedeljkovic is only under contract for two seasons. They could easily draft Wallstedt, play him in the AHL next season, have him serve as a backup in 2022-23 and then take over full-time in year three. If he slips past the Red Wings, he still might not make to the eighth spot, as San Jose could easily scoop him up at seventh. From everything we hear when talking to scouts who know, Wallstedt is truly an outlier; one of the ultra-rare goalies deserving of being selected in the top 10. Full scouting report available here.
Kent Johnson: Forward, 6-foot-1, 165 lbs., left shot – This guy is slick; silky smooth even. He’s a tad raw, yet he’s already one of the most creative players in the entre 2021 Draft. His skating and creativity help boost his stock on this list. Some scouts aren’t sure if he’s a center or wing, yet that isn’t an issue for LA. In Johnson, they’d be getting a player who appears to have eyes in the back of his head. His intelligence is high and he’s proven to be an instinctive line driver who picks his shots when shooting. In fact, his shot is likely the weakest part of his game right now, offset by his shooting accuracy being underrated. The tools are there for him to develop into a balanced scorer. Coming off a point-per-game freshman year at Michigan, he’s just getting started. Look for him to explode on the national college scene this coming season. Drafting Johnson would give the Kings some elements they don’t currently have in their already deep prospect pool. And he would shoot right up into the top tier of their A-level prospects. Full scouting report available here.
Mason McTavish: Forward, 6-foot-2, 207 lbs., left shot – We usually try to avoid inserting our opinions into these articles too much, instead focusing on what scouts say and share about players. They know far more than us, so jumping in the conversation isn’t about thinking we’re smarter; it’s just about trying to have some fun in a really weird year. If Clarke and Eklund were off the board and somebody in Kings management called to ask what we’d do, McTavish would be the pick at 8. Simply put, McTavish is the epitome of a power forward. At the recent U-18s he opened eyes with his ability to play center. That’s all well and good, but if he’s selected by LA, McTavish will project as a winger with the Kings. He’s a line driving possession hog who is capable of getting into those areas that guys have to reach to find success in the playoffs. Although he’s widely known for playing a heavy game, there’s some nuance and depth to his game, largely due to his sense and intelligence. He can make those passes from the outside in with delay oriented plays. Inside the hashmarks he’s a beast and his shot is above average too. He’s physical and he can score. What more do you want? How about this from our previous scouting report on McTavish:
What Our Sources Say
McTavish competes and drives the bus for others to follow. He has good straight away speed for a thicker frame, is solid on his skates, and wins his puck battles. The skill set continues with a deceptively heavy and accurate shot, though he freely distributes the puck even if there’s a shot for himself. Seeing the ice well prevents this from being a problem. Scouts have observed play with a more physical component than most, even noting he seems to like the rough going. He plays on both special teams and has shown a keen interest in embracing the penalty kill. Coaches also say it’s a commitment and desire to continue improving in this facet. Some scouts are reminded of a young Ryan Getzlaf, and McTavish instantly and easily earns respect from his teammates.
The full scouting report on McTavish is available here.
Cole Sillinger: Forward, 6-foot, 201 lbs., left shot – Each year, we like to include a wild card in our Draft predictions. Just like the year the Kings selected Turcotte and Zegras was lurking in the background of the conversation, Sillinger could be that x-factor this time around. We’re not saying he’s Zegras, just that we strongly believe the Kings have him in their list of seven players – which is likely a huge surprise to many observers. Sillinger’s compete level is off the charts, especially in the high-danger areas; where he has a defined ability to find and make room in the slot. His skating is said to be average to slightly below average. However, his shot is elite, as he already shoots the puck like an NHL player and has a history of scoring goals wherever he plays. He’s also a high-character player who can play up and down a lineup due to his compete and physical play. One of our favorite quotes from a trusted scout was, “Sillinger comes as an attacking base player who plays the game with no conditions.” He’s a big-time leader who is as tenacious as any player in the draft. Scouts don’t seem too worried about his skating, with one noting, “He’s as strong as an ox on his skates.” They pointed to Kopitar, who plays with pace and is hard to knock off his skates. Sillinger is a physical player in same vein Kopitar is; by playing a heavy game that doesn’t involve hitting guys ala Dustin Brown. The difference between Sillinger and McTavish is razor thin according to many of the scouts we connected with. Overall, he’s further down the development curve than most players profiled in the Top 10, so his timeline to reach the NHL should be shorter. Full scouting report available here.
Simon Edvinsson: Defenseman, 6-foot-5, 207 lbs., left shot – While Power is ready for the NHL today, Edvinsson is likely the furthest away from the NHL of the top-4 defensemen. He needs a lot of work on a lot of little things and he’s surprisingly weak. The good thing is, his deficiencies are easily fixable with the benefit of time. He’s probably 2-3 years away from playing in the NHL, but when he arrives he’ll nearly be a finished product. Like Kings prospect Toby Bjornfot, don’t look for Edvinsson to start out as a seventh defenseman and slowly climb his team’s depth chart. Instead, he’ll likely join an NHL team on the second pair and rise from there. Even better, key scouts mentioned to us Edvinsson can do everything Bjornfot can do but 2-3 times better. Painting that type of picture illustrates why the Kings would have him in this group of candidates. Full scouting report available here.
We will post detailed predictions on what to expect from the Kings in Rounds 2-7 via a separate article. Our predictions for Rounds 2-7 can be found here.
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