Despite the 2020 NHL Draft being one of the most unconventional in history, there is no denying how exciting this year’s edition will be, as the board is stacked with some of the best prospects the NHL has seen in a long time. The Los Angeles Kings have an especially exciting draft on tap, as they have possession of the second-overall pick. In addition to getting a great player at this position, LA also has a total of 11 picks throughout the draft.
The Kings already have an impressive prospect pool featuring Alex Turcotte, Arthur Kaliyev, and Gabriel Vilardi, just to name a few. Adding 11 more players to their organization from one of the best draft classes in years makes them one of the biggest threats a few years down the road.
What the Kings Need
Although the Kings already have a solid group of prospects, there are still some areas the team needs to address in the draft. The team has a plethora of center prospects, so adding multiple players down the middle at the draft would be a mistake. Rather, management needs to focus on the following areas to improve the prospect pool.
The Kings have a couple of solid winger prospects, but the group isn’t nearly as exciting as what they have in the middle. Samuel Fagemo and Arthur Kaliyev are two players who serve as the core for winger prospects right now. Adding a guy who can play on the wing will be important in the draft this year, as having incredible center prospects only matters if they have guys to play with.
Where the team really needs help is on the blue line. LA’s defense is, frankly, quite boring right now. Drew Doughty is currently leading the way as their top defenseman. Eventually, though, he’ll move out of his prime, and the Kings will need a new leader on the back end.
Mikey Anderson and Tobias Bjornfot are the best of what the Kings have on defense for now in terms of prospects, and they are solid players, but LA’s management should look to add an exciting defenseman at the draft. The team needs a skilled player who can run the power play for the next group of competitive Kings.
Although not the biggest priority at the draft this year, it couldn’t hurt to add a solid goaltender to the prospect pool. Because the Kings have so many picks in the draft, they can afford to take the second-best goaltender after Yaroslav Askarov. After Askarov goes in the first round, the next-best goaltenders aren’t projected to go off of the board until the third round, so the team isn’t going to be using a very high pick on a goalie.
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Los Angeles does have goaltender Lukas Parik in the pipeline, but there isn’t too much else that is exciting. Calvin Petersen has shown up as someone who could take the No. 1 position after Jonathan Quick retires or leaves the Kings, but it never hurts to have another option or a solid backup.
What Do the Kings Do in the First Round?
Although the Kings only have one pick in the first round of the draft, it is one that could change the future of the franchise, as the team currently holds the second overall selection. It is likely that Alexis Lafreniere goes to the New York Rangers at first overall, so management will have their pick of the rest of the players in the draft. As of late, all the talk about LA’s second-overall pick has been about Quinton Byfield or Tim Stutzle, two great players. So, where do the Kings go with this powerful pick?
Second Overall: Quinton Byfield, Center, Sudbury Wolves
In most prospect rankings, Byfield is ranked second overall. Last season with the Sudbury Wolves of the OHL, he recorded an incredible 82 points in just 45 games. He is a large player at 6-foot-4, 214 pounds. Another factor that is beneficial for Byfield is his age – he is one of the youngest players in the draft class, giving him at least another year to develop outside of the NHL. Byfield compares to an Evgeni Malkin-type of player, as a big, powerful, center.
Some are even discussing the possibility that Byfield could go first overall instead of Lafreniere, so if the Kings indeed have the chance to take the former at No. 2, it’ll be too much to pass up on. One of the only reasons that the Kings would pick Stutzle second overall is because of their positional needs. They don’t need another center prospect – a winger would be much more beneficial. When you have players of this caliber, though, you have to go with the overall better prospect, filling out positional needs later in the draft.
Los Angeles also isn’t looking to go on a run next season or likely the season after, so they have time to figure out the winger situation. Whether it be through UFA signings, trades, or later in the draft, general manager Rob Blake will get a chance to bring on players in areas where they are needed. It’s also not like Byfield is a waste of a pick as a center, and he can actually provide a better positional role than many might think.
Inevitably, Anze Kopitar will eventually move on, leaving the No. 1 center and captain role available. Although the team has a few options here, none have the potential that Byfield does. If he can take over Kopitar’s role on the team, which he likely can, the transition from the rebuilding Kings to the Stanley Cup-winning Kings will go that much smoother.
Byfield has been as good as you could have hoped for as a 17-year-old in the OHL. He has the best pure toolkit in the draft. He’s 6-foot-4, he’s a very good skater and his hands are right up there with the best in the draft. He can break a shift open with his ability to power past or dangle through defenders. I’ve questioned Byfield’s playmaking in the past, but this season he’s shown a high level of vision. He has the ability to use his power and skill both to create for himself and to make difficult plays to set up his teammates. When the pace increased at the higher levels at the international stage, he faded a bit, but I do think he is very much in the first overall conversation because he has the potential to become an impact No. 1 center in the NHL.
Pronman: Ranking the 2020 NHL Draft top prospects at midseason” – The Athletic – Jan. 29, 2020
Obviously, Lafreniere going to the Kings would be a dream come true, not just because he is a franchise player, but also because he is a winger. The likelihood that the Rangers pass him up, though, is slim, so the management of the Kings can’t think they will be getting him going into the draft. So, if the Kings don’t get Lafreniere, then clearly they should go with Byfield at pick No. 2.
Should the Kings Trade the Pick?
The Kings have been put in a very powerful position as the holders of the second overall pick. If they did decide to trade the pick, they would be in the driver’s seat in terms of what they want in return. A trade involving the second overall pick would likely get LA at least two picks later in the first round and possibly another player. Any first-round player in the draft this year is a great prospect, so getting two rather than one might sound like a good deal.
This is an idea that the Kings should definitely not entertain, though – it would be a massive mistake if they did. Although any first-round player is a good one, the options of who they could take second overall are a step above the rest. If they do end up trading the pick, they are going to be kicking themselves down the road, when they realized they passed on an elite player.
Top 3 Targets to Address the Kings’ Needs
Although at pick No. 2 the Kings should not be drafting positionally, it is something that needs to be taken care of later in the draft. When you’re not dealing with franchise players, going for a slightly lesser prospect to fill out positional needs is a good idea, especially when you have as many needs as Los Angeles does.
35th Overall: Lukas Cormier, Defenseman, Charlottetown Islanders
Defense is one of the biggest needs for the Kings right now, so it makes sense for Blake to lock down the best defensive prospect he can, after pick No. 2. LA needs a defenseman who is offensively exciting and will bring life to their dull defensive system. There will always be shutdown defenders to bring on, but offensive talent like Cormier doesn’t come around too often. The Kings could end up taking Cormier at 35th overall and take a more reliable defenseman later, as that also couldn’t hurt the prospect pool.
While it may be a stretch to think that Cormier would still be available at pick 35 – THW’s Andrew Forbes ranks him at No. 23 in the draft, Larry Fisher at 24, and Josh Bell at 25 – it’s not that unrealistic. Bob McKenzie ranks Cormier at No. 45 in the draft, and his size could certainly drop him out of the first round. He’s only 5-foot-10 and 170 pounds, and size is one of his biggest concerns. Over the last few years, multiple highly ranked prospects have dropped down the rankings because of their size, Cole Caufield as one example, so it’s possible that the Kings could take Cormier with their own second-round pick.
Cormier is a puck-rushing defenseman, showing the ability to escape pressure and find skating lanes on the breakout with his agility and shiftiness. He showcases incredible skating abilities, creating many controlled zone exits and entries using his excellent acceleration, speed and agility to blaze through the neutral zone. He possesses some smooth edges, which helps him get great lateral quickness and agility to walk the blue line offensively. His turns are brisk, allowing to escape pressure from behind the net or make a spin move to dodge an opponent. Playing as the quarterback on the power play, Cormier displays decent deception and puck distribution as he runs the offense from the point. He owns a great wrist and slap shot, displaying a quick release and impressive velocity on both.
Cormier finished the season with 36 points in 44 games in the QMJHL. He may not have the same skill, but Cormier is compared to Quinn Hughes, another small defenseman, in terms of their playing style. Hughes has shown that being small isn’t always a factor, as he has emerged as one of the top defensemen in the league in his first season. Cormier can also run a power play similar to Hughes, something the Kings need. Doughty won’t be that guy forever, and Cormier can be a solution. With some of the best offensive prospects in the league, Cormier would be a great fit for the Kings, adding to the production, but from the blue line.
If the Kings wanted to go with a larger, lower-risk pick, they could go with 6-foot-2 Ryan O’Rourke. He is an outstanding defensive player who can be trusted to get the puck up the ice. He has also been identified as a guy who can play a leadership role on a young team. His downfall is that he lacks the same offensive power that Cormier has. William Wallinder is the biggest option at 6-foot-4. He possesses great skating and puck handling skills, but is unreliable, as his decision making and instincts are poor.
51st Overall: Sam Colangelo, Winger, Chicago Steel
The Kings desperately need a player who can fill the right-wing position and play with the exciting centers they have in the pipeline. Right now, the right-wing position is mainly controlled by Dustin Brown. Colangelo is ranked the highest by McKenzie at pick 42, but drops to 44 in Fisher’s rankings, 59 in Bell’s, and 85 in rankings by Forbes. This variety in rankings makes him a possibility at pick 51.
In the USHL last season, Colangelo recorded 58 points in 44 games, and his game compares to Blake Wheeler. The most important thing about Colangelo is that aside from his speed, he is an overall solid player who can play with exciting centers. The Kings already have a risky winger in Kaliyev, so Colangelo could be a wise pick.
Ozzy Wiesblatt is another right-winger who could be picked up by the Kings. He is a solid player except for the size and strength factor at 5-foot-10, 183 pounds. If the wingers can’t get pucks to the middle of the ice, the Kings’ center depth is useless. Daniil Gushchin has considerable talent, but his 5-foot-8 frame makes him another risky pick, similar to Wiesblatt.
83rd Overall: Joel Blomqvist, Goaltender, Karpat U20
Picking a goaltender in the NHL draft always comes with a certain level of risk, as they take a long time to develop and play in the league. Although it is a risk, the Kings have the quantity of picks to select a goaltender without much risk, with two selections in the third round. Quick will eventually leave Los Angeles, and although Petersen has been promising, he hasn’t shown how good he can be when he has to play starter minutes. Even if Petersen does get the starter position for the Kings, he will need a backup. This is where Blomqvist could come into play or if Petersen doesn’t ultimately take over the No. 1 spot.
Forbes ranks Blomqvist the highest at 63 while Bell and Fisher both rank the Finnish goalie at pick 83, where the Kings will be picking. Blomqvist isn’t a huge goalie at 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, but he has put up some incredible stats, with an outstanding 1.66 goals against average and a .931 save percentage. These stats carried Blomqvist to five shutouts and 26 wins in 34 games in Finland. He also is compared stylistically to Henrik Lundqvist, a goaltender picked in the seventh round in 2000. With the stats Blomqvist has and the extra picks the Kings possess, he could be a risk worth taking for LA.
Nicolas Daws is a larger goaltender at 6-foot-4, 202 pounds. He was passed on in the 2019 draft, so he is a bit older than Blomqvist. He also put up solid numbers last season. Another possibility is Drew Commesso, the successor to Spencer Knight in the USNTDP, who was taken 13th overall in the 2019 draft. Commesso is another larger goaltender, but has a long way to go in terms of development.
The Kings Have a Chance to Do Something Great in the 2020 Draft
After the Kings pick at second overall, the real work starts for the team’s management. They have seven picks between the second round and the fourth round, where they can get a solid prospect at every selection. The prospect depth for LA can look completely different coming out of the draft if they focus positionally. They need to stay away from the centers, especially if they go with Byfield, and focus on areas of need. If Blake is able to fill out positions properly, an already deep prospect pool can become one of the best in recent history.