It’s that time of year again.
It’s that exciting time when hockey fans pin their hopes on teenagers — who have likely not even finished puberty, learned to cook their own meals or even drive a car — to be impact players in a game played by men.
These teenagers will be expected, within the next few years, to change to fortunes of their new teams.
The Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks hope these young players will push them from playoff bubble teams back to contenders. Both franchises qualified for the playoffs, yet each failed to record a win or score more than four goals before being swept out of the postseason.
The NHL Draft starts Friday, the Kings will pick 20th, the Ducks 23rd in the hopes of finding their next star players.
In addition to Southern California’s NHL teams, a select few amateur players from the area are also hoping to have a good weekend at the draft, but first, let’s go into more depth on the team side.
Kings Seeking Wings
The Los Angeles Kings had a bounce-back season in 2017-18 qualifying for the playoffs after missing them by a considerable margin the year before. LA’s stars played a major role in this rebound, both in goal and up front.
Jonathan Quick played a full season after missing most of the previous season due to injury. He ranked seventh in the league in save percentage (.921) and goals against (2.40) among goalies who played more than 40 games.
With Quick healthy, the Kings surrendered the fewest goals against for the entire regular season at 202 and sported the NHL’s stingiest penalty kill.
On the front end, Anze Kopitar managed career-highs in goals (35), assists (57) and points (92) after career lows last year (playing a full NHL season.) Dustin Brown found a spark he’s been missing for years on his way to a career-high 61 points and 33 assists. His 28 goals tied the second highest output of his career.
In spite of these jumps, and partially due to Jeff Carter only playing 27 games, LA was mediocre offensively ranking 16th in goals per game and 17th on the power play during the regular season.
After struggling to score in a four-game sweep at the hands of the Las Vegas Golden Knights, it’s clear LA’s offense needs immediate AND long-term help.
The Kings’ most potent forwards are in the last half of their careers. Carter and Brown are 33, and Kopitar is 30.
Additionally, the Kings are looking to re-sign 28-year-old franchise defenseman Drew Doughty, who is an unrestricted free agent after next season. In the fall, Doughty said he’s open to coming back to the Kings if the team was “going in the right direction,” but in the spring he said he wants to stay in LA.
All of this factors into the Kings’ draft decisions this weekend.
Picking at position 20 in the first round, it’s unlikely they will find an instant remedy to their offensive sluggishness. In the past five years, only 12 players drafted at position 20 or later played in the NHL the season they were drafted. Only David Pastrnak had an immediate impact.
LA has been connected with free agent Ilya Kovalchuk, and in trades rumors for Jeff Skinner and Max Pacioretty.
There is always the chance that the Kings package their 20th overall pick in a trade for an impact forward but if they decide to make the pick, LA may take a longer-term approach to their first pick.
Their two best prospects, Gabe Vilardi and Jaret Anderson-Dolan, both centers, signed entry-level contracts with the Kings this season and are looking to crack the NHL roster in 2018-19.
As a result, the Kings should be looking for help on the wing or a potential replacement for Drew Doughty — which is obviously a tough errand — if he leaves LA.
With all these factors considered, here are some candidates for the Kings’ first-round draft pick.
If the Kings pick a wing in the first round, there are two prime candidates. The first is Oshawa Generals’ right wing Serron Noel. The latest TSN mock draft has Noel going at 14 to the Philadelphia Flyers while Bob McKenzie ranks him as the 19th best player in the draft.
This means Noel might just be out of reach for LA. If he does fall a couple spots, it would be impossible for the Kings to pass him up. He’s 6-foot-5, 202 pounds and according to TSN’s Craig Button, he’s a potential Blake Wheeler 2.0. Button says he’s smart, skilled and an excellent skater.
That combination of size and skill is an NHL GM’s dream and may enable Noel to crack the NHL faster than other mid-to-late first rounders.
Another realistic option is German-born right wing Dominik Bokk. Bokk played in Sweden’s junior league for the Vaxjo Lakers. TSN’s mock draft has him going to the Kings at 20 and McKenzie has him ranked as the 18th best Player in the draft. Since the Kings are in need of future scoring wingers and Noel might not make it to the 20th pick, Bokk makes sense.
Button says Bokk has excellent goal scoring ability and awareness and has “a very good shot.” He’s 6-foot-1, 176 pounds and a good choice if Noel is off the board.
Some of the biggest names in the draft are defensemen, unfortunately, they should be gone by the time it’s LA’s turn to pick.
This means the Kings will be picking from the next tier down in the hopes that the buzz for guys like Rasmus Dahlin, Quinn Hughes and Ty Smith will cause teams to overlook other studs. Bode Wilde and K’Andre Miller, who are a defensive pairing on the US NTDP are right in the Kings’ wheelhouse draft-position wise. According to the experts, both are talented offensive defensemen. Miller actually switched from forward to defense in high school while Wilde has his own offensive talents including a “blistering shot.”
This one is a toss-up. Wilde might have the edge over Miller by a nose, just because Miller has been described as having “heavy boots when starting and stopping,” according to Aaron Vickers of Future Considerations. In today’s NHL any quickness is an asset.
Ducks Need an Instant Difference Maker
The Ducks situation is more cut-and-dry, they need offensive reinforcements, badly. Anaheim ranked in the top five in goals-against and penalty kill percentage in the regular season, but their offensive stats were weak and are trending down.
Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler are all 33. All three have declining offensive statistics and Kesler and Getzlaf have had injury problems.
Luckily the Ducks’ leading scorer is only 24 and had a 34-goal season, but only topped out at 69 points.
To add insult to injury, Perry and Getzlaf’s contracts don’t expire until 2022, Kesler’s doesn’t expire until 2023. They are also Anaheim’s three highest paid players, which is bad news for the salary cap.
With the limited amount of cap space and the number of players that need to be signed, it’s not likely the Ducks will be in the market for one of the prized free agents that the Kings are after. Even if Kesler goes on long-term injured reserved and the Ducks get some temporary relief from his contract off the salary cap, that decision depends on a number of factors on Kesler’s end.
Adam Henrique, who the Ducks acquired last season, is a UFA after 2018-19 as well.
On the bright side, Anaheim has a defensive core that will be around for a while. Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm and Josh Manson are all tied up until at least 2022.
The Ducks will also likely re-sign Brandon Montour.
Anaheim should focus on forwards in this draft. Troy Terry should be on the Ducks’ roster at some point this season as will Sam Steel, but the Ducks need more.
Rasmus Kupari is one option for the Ducks. McKenzie ranked the Finnish center 20th in his final player rankings while TSN’s mock draft had him going 30th to the Blues. Kupari, who played in the Finnish junior and professional leagues is versatile. Button says he’s an excellent skater but sometimes doesn’t make the smartest plays and might be better suited as a winger.
I like Kupari’s size and speed, and experts say he has a high upside but was quoted as saying he plans on staying in Finland for at least another year and the Ducks need relief on offense as soon as possible.
Like the Kings, another option for the Ducks is Bokk. As mentioned earlier Bokk also has high upside but could be a longer-term project. According to Future Considerations author Janik Beichler, Bokk “needs to improve his play away from the puck and has question marks about his work ethic and attitude.”
Ty Dellandrea would be the best choice for Anaheim. McKenzie ranks him 23rd among players in the draft and TSN’s mock draft has him going later, at 27 to Chicago,
Dellandrea has been tabbed by scouts as an excellent skater with great offensive instincts who has improved even while playing on the second worst team in the OHL, the Flint Firebirds. Button says Dellandrea is an excellent two-way center who can contribute offensively and defensively.
Most importantly, he sounds like one of the more polished players that will be available at this stage in the draft. Of the guys the Ducks will have access to, Dellandrea is probably the one who can contribute soonest.
Southern California Draft Prospects
California has grown consistently as a hockey-playing state since Wayne Gretzky came to Los Angeles. Every year, more and more local players are drafted by NHL teams. This year, there is another batch of Southern Californian hockey players ready to join the likes of Beau Bennett, Nic Kerdiles, Jason Zucker and Chad Ruhwedel as NHL players who hail from the Golden State.
Stanislav Demin of Cypress, California, is the highest ranked local player who reached the 40th spot on NHL Central Scouting’s North American skater rankings heading into the draft. He played for the BCHL’s Wenatchee Wild this season notching 9 goals and 36 assists. He’s committed to the University of Denver for next season.
Demin played for the Anaheim Junior Ducks before his time in juniors as well as one game for the Los Alamitos High School Griffins of the ADHSHL.
Jack St. Ivany of Manhattan Beach, California, also has a strong chance of hearing his name called at the draft. St. Ivany is ranked as the 119th best North American skater by NHL Central Scouting. He scored 6 goals and added 30 assists for the Sioux Falls Stampede of the USHL this season. He will play at Yale University next season and played his youth hockey for the Jr. Kings.
Patrick Khodorenko, who is entering his junior season at Michigan State University, hails from Walnut Creek, California. He’s ranked just 8 spots behind St. Ivany at 127. Khodorenko has had two strong seasons in East Lansing scoring a combined 20 goals and 30 assists. Khodorenko played bantam hockey for the Los Angeles Selects.
Though his name has not been mentioned among potential NHL draft picks, Anaheim native Logan Harris has an outside chance become the property of an NHL team. Harris will play in the BCHL next season for the Trail Smoke Eaters and scored 31 points for the Anaheim Jr. Ducks U18 team. Why would an NHL team take Harris? He’s huge. At 6’5, 201 pounds he’s got the rare size the NHL teams drool over.
If it’s not this year, a strong season for the Smoke Eaters could put him on the NHL’s radar next year.
The draft begins Friday 4:30 p.m. Pacific time on NBCSN.