The Kings do not have a lot to show from the NHL draft in recent memory. Years of poor trades, signings and salary-cap maneuvering around their two Stanley Cup victories have not given them good position.
But that will change at Friday’s NHL entry draft in Chicago because the Kings own the 11th pick, the highest they’ve chosen since they took Brayden Schenn fifth in 2009. That’s a welcome change for an offense-challenged team under a new regime with coach John Stevens and general manager Rob Blake.
“I don’t think it’s any secret we’re looking for offense, especially with the 11th pick,” Blake said. “You’re getting a high pick, you’re getting a quality player, so I think that that factors in.
“We’re excited about the opportunity being in position to have a higher pick that we haven’t had here in the past.”
Blake also can address his primary needs through free agency and trades, but it’s imperative the Kings build up their system. Since 2012, only two players drafted by the Kings have played for them in the NHL — Jonny Brodzinski and Adrian Kempe.
This will be the first draft for the Kings since former general manager Dean Lombardi and former coach Darryl Sutter were fired, and Blake said most of the draft homework and strategy is still done by Mark Yannetti, director of amateur scouting, and his staff.
“But I do think when you’re in high of a position you take the best player available,” Blake said. “There will be some options that we’ll look at, but again, they’ve done this routine for many years here as a group and they’ve been very successful at it, and we’re going to rely on them again.”
In a role reversal, this could be an unusual draft position for the Ducks. For the first time since 1999, they do not have a first-round pick because that went to the Dallas Stars in the trade for Patrick Eaves when the Ducks advanced to the conference finals. Unless they trade up, the Ducks’ first pick would be 50th, in the second round.
“It is a wrinkle we haven’t gone through as a staff [in a long time],” said Martin Madden, director of scouting. “The one thing we’ve done well in the past is we’ve been able to predict group of players available to us. This time around, you have to spray a little wider to see who’s available at 50.”
Madden said the Ducks typically don’t draft specifically toward needs because the players are five or six years away from contributing, and that especially would be applicable in picking this far down. But Madden said “it can change quickly depending on what Bob does with the team.”
The Ducks are believed to be trying to extend defenseman Cam Fowler’s contract, which has one more season, and possibly re-sign Eaves. They shed $3.2 million by having the Vegas Golden Knights take Clayton Stoner in the expansion draft.
That allows them to keep intact, for now, a young defensemen unit of Fowler, Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen, Josh Manson and Brandon Montour. The Ducks also have solid prospects in defenseman Jacob Larsson and forwards Max Jones and Sam Steel.
There is believed to be heavy interest in Vatanen on the trade market, and also speculation about the Ducks trying to move veteran defenseman Kevin Bieksa even though he has a no-move clause.
Should the Ducks move up, they would find a forward-heavy draft. Thirty-six of the top 50 North American skaters are forwards, according to NHL Central Scouting.
Centers Nolan Patrick and Nico Hischier are projected as neck-and-neck as the top two picks. Patrick was injured last season but still scored 20 goals in 33 games. The New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers own the top two selections, respectively.
But it is not as deep a draft class in the past, and there is no hype of a potential generational player such as Connor McDavid.
Said Madden, “It’s not quite as exciting at the very top.”