Team Recaps: Los Angeles Kings
Steve Kournianos | 11/13/2020 | Nashville | [hupso]
The ongoing rebuild in Los Angeles hasn’t done wonders for ticket sales but it quickly transformed the Kings’ once-barren prospect pool into one of the top two or three systems in the league. The good old days of hinging the future of the club on the progress of prospects like Adrian Kempe are but a distant memory, as Los Angeles now has promising center depth that is highlighted by the recent selection of mammoth 6-foot-5 pivot Quinton Byfield at No. 2 overall.
The reality is that the Kings could have called it a wrap with Byfield and still walked away with high draft honors, but they were far from done after Day 1. On the second day, the Kings made eight additional picks, including two apiece in Rounds 2 and 3. Defenseman Helge Grans wasn’t a favorite of mine but he’s still a reasonable pick at 35, but the Kings stuck with the defense theme 10 choices later with physical NTDP’er Brock Faber. The bulk of their remaining picks were scoring wingers who varied in size and speed but all checked the critical creativity and finishing boxes. It might be premature to label the Kings as potential noise makers in the next postseason or two, but it’s just a matter of time until that stacked farm system starts graduating NHL-ready talent who will help get the Staples Center jumping again.
Quinton Byfield, Center (2nd overall)
Teams who never toy with the opportunity to take a potential franchise player must know that they are covered by a 100-percent guarantee that the pick won’t ever be questioned. That’s why the Kings’ drafting of Byfield despite already owning some serious prospect depth at center should never have been scrutinized as much as it was before the draft’s opening night. Not only does the big-bodied playmaker vault to the very top of their already-deep collection of young talent, but he should be expected to begin his apprenticeship in the NHL immediately and without interruption.
Helge Grans, Defenseman (35th overall)
The knee-jerk reaction is to compare Grans to fellow countryman (and Kings’ 2019 first-rounder) Tobias Bjornfot, but the similarities are few and far between. Grans has drool-worthy size (6-foot-2, 206 pounds) but he skates extremely well and can unleash a heavy wrister. He’s had issues with puck management and defensive-zone awareness, and Grans’ penchant for joining the rush can cause him to float far from his slot duties. But the upside is incredibly high and there’s no reason to think the Kings aren’t excited about Grans’ potential following some mentorship while developing him into a potential force for breakouts and beyond. He’s already doubled his 2020 SHL point production in half as many games.
Brock Faber, Defenseman (45th overall)
Faber’s stats may say “Steady Eddie”, but this kid can skate with the best of them. Much like Grans, Faber uses his multi-directional mobilkity to escape pressure. It’s just that he does it after mashing someone into the boards or delovering an big open-ice hit. He was paired with Tyler Kleven most of the season and they quickly became a formidable duo that intimidated forwards from the deepest of elite NCAA programs. Faber’s productivity as an amateur shouldn’t be measured in points or shots because it seemed like he was given strict marching orders regarding his defensive play. But at some point the kid will need to be unbridled to allow the creative juices to flow and reveal his true NHL potential.
Kasper Simontaival, Right Wing (66th overall)
You know the Kings must have been enamored with Simontaival’s skill when you consider they hadn’t drafted a forward under six feet tall between Rounds 1 to 3 in almost 10 years. Not only has this excitable winger been one of the top teenage scorers in Finnish junior in each of the last two seasons, but Simontaival also represented his country at nearly a dozen pre-draft international tournaments. Quick, shifty, and strong on the puck, Simontaival is an inside player who also excels in puck battles against bigger opponents. It’s a good bet that his transition to North America won’t be as intimidating or bumpy as it is for most European scoring forwards drafted outside the first two rounds.
Alex Laferriere, Right Wing (83rd overall)
Laferierre is a multi-use winger who simply plays the game the right way. His listed measurements (6 feet, 173 pounds) are not accurate indicators of the type of game he plays, which is a tough north-south style that is centered on effort, puck protection, and shot creativity. He’s a character kid committed to Harvard, where he likely will stay for all four years. I won’t go as far as to compare his draft year to that of a New Jersey-born winger like James van Riemsdyk, but Laferriere has that knack of getting open looks at the net and being positioned perfectly for a loose puck, tip-in, or centering feed.
Juho Markkanen, Goalie (112th overall)
Los Angeles was earmarked as a team that didn’t necessarily need to address goalie depth since they picked four the previous three drafts. Therefore, their decision to pass on a handful of bigger names who were available in the second or third round should’t be scrutinized all that much, although it’s highly doubtful they had Markkanen rated higher than top Finnish goalie prospect Joel Blomqvist, who he backed up during all major under-18 tournaments and was grabbed by Pittsburgh in Round 2. Markkanen’s dad Jussi was a former NHL goalie who was drafted in 2001 at the ripe old age of 26, but Juho is bigger and plays a conservative, rigid style with compact movements as opposed to his smaller, more fidgety father. Seems like Juho has already graduated from junior hockey and is earning his keep as a backup in the adult-age Mestis.
Martin Chromiak, Right Wing (128th overall)
The top Slovakian forward available, Chromiak is a dangerous offensive forward who many felt could have gone higher in the second or third round. His draft season began with him serving as an understudy on a men’s team in Slovakia before joining the OHL’s Kington Frontenacs after the word juniors (Chromiak did not play in that tournament). It was in the OHL where his pure puck skills were magnified, partly because he flanked 2022 draft phenom Shane Wright. But Chromiak was far from a passenger, and his playmaking, vision, and creativity were on display with regularity. He’s more pass-first than being a high-volume shooter, but Chromiak is both unpredictable and dangerous anywhere inside the offensive zone. He’s definitely in the mix to become one of the bigger steals from either of the last three rounds.
Ben Meehan, Defenseman (140th overall)
One of the active and physical defenders available after the second round, Meehan may have lost a chunk of time because of a shoulder injury but he still managed to sneak in enough impressive showings to own a strong reputation. Passed over last season, the Bay State native looked every bit of the No. 1 defenseman Cedar Rapids asked him to be. He hammers the puck as hard as he hits opponents in open ice, which is why he was one of my top-rated overagers for the draft. Meehan is committed to UMass-Lowell.
Aatu Jamsen, Right Wing (190th overall)
This was a straight-up Coronavirus pick from the second it was announced, but at this point it’s not even all that relevant. Jämsen in 2019-20 played only two games in the top Finnish junior league (Nuorten SM-Liiga) and was not very noticeable while playing on a line with veterans, so it was understandable that he spent the rest of the season in the “B” league with mostly his age group or younger. He wasn’t ranked by anyone to include Central Scouting, but as of today he’s smoking the daylights out of the NSM-Liiga. So technically, Jamsen was an overager, as his draft+1 is what got him selected. From a skill standpoint, the kid has excellent hands and puck-control abilities, plus he always seems to be open or in the right place, which lends to his IQ. Jämsen has a good frame for a scoring winger and seems to move pretty well in all situations, but he’s a long-term project whose play against adults in the Mestis or AHL will give us a better idea of his potential.