Kings Stock Up on Defense, Wingers on Day 2 at NHL Draft

After landing a superstar center in the making, Quinton Byfield, with the second overall pick on Tuesday night, the Los Angeles Kings entered Day 2 of the 2020 NHL Draft with 10 more picks. They used one to acquire former top-10 pick Lias Andersson and another to move up in the second round, but the Kings still drafted eight new prospects in rounds two through seven.

The Kings selected three defensemen, four wingers and one goalie on Wednesday. That includes three Finns, three Americans, a Swede and a Slovak. Let’s dive right into it.

Round 2: Helge Grans, D, 35th Overall

At first glance, Grans looks to be that mythical unicorn scouts love: a big right-shot defenseman who’s an excellent skater with strong offensive instincts. A common theme in scouting reports is the poise Grans displays with the puck on his stick. He excelled on the power play for the U20 Malmo Redhawks, owning a big shot from the point but also the ability to move the puck. He spent half the season against men in the Swedish Hockey League, a good sign for his age, though his offensive abilities shone in U20, with 27 points in as many games, including 23 assists.

Helge Grans Malmö Redhawks
Helge Grans of the Malmö Redhawks (Malmö Redhawks)

The knock on Grans? Well, he’s 6-foot-3 and we haven’t mentioned a physical side to his game yet. Despite his size, he’s more apt to play the puck than the body and tends not to intimidate opposing shooters. As Steve Kournianos of The Draft Analyst noted, Grans can succeed in this style against teenagers in the absence of a strong forecheck, but the North American game will demand adjustments. But the physical tools are there. You can’t teach size. Adding some snarl to his game will be a focus for the Kings’ development staff.

THW’s Josh Bell had Grans at 50th in his February draft rankings, while some scouts had him as a late first-rounder. On NHL Central Scouting’s lists, he jumped from the 21st-ranked European at midseason to sixth on their final list. His SHL season with Malmo is underway and he’s got a goal and an assist through three games.

Round 2: Brock Faber, D, 45th Overall

The Kings sent the 97th overall pick to Detroit to move up six spots and select Faber. Central Scouting ranked him 44th just among North American skaters, so it seems like a reach. THW’s Josh Bell rated Faber 143rd overall, although other THW writers were more kind to him, as Andrew Forbes had him 84th and Larry Fisher ranked him 116th.

USNTDP Brock Faber
Brock Faber of the USNTDP (Rena Laverty)

Faber is another right-shot defender, but that’s where the similarities with Grans end. The Minnesota native plays a defense-first game. He reads the rush well and excels at breaking up plays with strong positioning, while also using his six-foot, 194-pound frame to separate opponents from the puck. Faber competes hard and that’s something you can’t really teach. He had three goals and 12 points in 46 games with the U.S. National Team Development Program and will join the University of Minnesota for 2020-21.

Bill Placzek of DraftSite had this to say: “Remarkably strong but doesn’t display any standout characteristic that could be call(ed) dynamic or game-changing. Is not an offensive player, just a player who’s proficient on the defensive side. Calm, steady, reliable and more than able to knock good-sized attackers off their skates and the puck.”

Kings Acquire Lias Andersson for 60th Pick

It’s been no secret the New York Rangers’ seventh overall pick in 2017 has been unhappy with the organization. The Swedish center has played 66 games over three seasons, logging three goals and nine points while averaging just 10:33 of ice time per game. He hasn’t earned more playing time, and you could argue the Rangers rushed him into the NHL.

Lias Andersson New York Rangers
Lias Andersson, New York Rangers, Nov. 23, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

He returned to his old Swedish club, HV71, late last season and posted 12 points in 15 games, along with four points in four games in the young 2020-21 season. Regaining some confidence at a level he’s familiar with is probably the best thing for him. We’ll see where the Kings decide to put him when North American play resumes. A late second-rounder was a cheap acquisition cost, especially with how many picks Los Angeles had.

Round 3: Kasper Simontaival, RW, 66th Overall

When you look at the rankings, getting Simontaival in the third round looks like a real value pick for the Kings. Various lists had him anywhere from 26th overall (Bell’s February rankings) to 49th, and Central Scouting put him 21st among European skaters. A skilled, undersized Finnish winger, Simontaival’s development has sometimes been hindered by injuries, and perhaps that’s why he spent limited time in the Liiga in 2019-20. But he dominated the U20 league, racking up 25 goals and 57 points in 48 games for Tappara, good for fifth in league scoring and first among under-18 players.

Kasper Simontaival Tappara
Kasper Simontaival of Tappara (Arno Hamalainen_

“I think he could be one of the best offensive players in this draft class,” Bell wrote in his prospect profile. “It starts with his offense. Simontaival is a high-end playmaker with a wicked wrist shot. His vision and hockey IQ might just be his best qualities.” But he also battles hard for pucks and was used on the penalty kill this season. The challenge will be for Simontaival to replicate his success in the Liiga next year against men. His smooth stride helps him create offense in several ways, although scouts would like to see him get faster.

Scott Wheeler of The Athletic wrote he’s got what it takes to drive offense on the second line as a playmaker or shooter. “He can protect the puck in traffic or use the inside lane to cut past a defender without getting bumped.” (From ‘Wheeler: Midseason ranking for the 2020 NHL Draft’s top 62 prospects,’ The Athletic, Feb. 19, 2020)

Round 3: Alex Laferriere, RW, 83rd Overall

A USHL product with a similar name to the first overall pick, Laferriere plays a physical game that belies his 5-foot-10, 161-pound frame. He was ranked anywhere from 80th by Future Considerations to 204th by THW’s Forbes. He won’t step into college hockey with Harvard until 2021-22, so consider him a project. He posted 19 goals and 45 points in 42 games with the Des Moines Buccaneers, and he’ll get a chance to top those numbers this coming season.

Alex Laferriere Des Moines Buccaneers
Alex Laferriere of the Des Moines Buccaneers (Michaela Schnetter/Des Moines Buccaneers)

Laferriere’s shot might be his strongest asset, with a quick release. He also has the creativity to make things happen with the puck and set up his teammates. Some scouts aren’t sold on his skating, though he has good top-end speed. Tony Ferrari of DobberProspects called him a dangerous offensive threat. “He works well off the rush, feeding off of his teammates and deceiving the goaltender with excellent puck skills. He does a good job of changing his stick angle of the shot, altering the angle, opening up a new hole the goalie doesn’t expect to have to cover.”

Round 4: Juho Markkanen, G, 112th Overall

The Kings got NHL bloodlines in their only goalie pick of the draft, selecting the son of former Edmonton Oilers goalie Jussi Markkanen. Juho was born in Edmonton but developed in Finland. He has size at 6-foot-2, though if his listing of 146 pounds is to be believed, he’s got some bulking up to do.

Markkanen played games for SaiPa across four different Finnish leagues in 2019-20. At the U18 level, he posted save percentages (SV%) of .921 and .915 in 17 games across two leagues. He struggled in 18 games at U20, with a .881 SV%. He also got into a pair of games in Mestis, Finland’s second-tier pro league.

Markkanen is signed for another three seasons with SaiPa, giving him time to progress and ultimately break into the Liiga. Perhaps he’ll be ready for the AHL after that; perhaps not. Drafting goalies in the later rounds is always a crapshoot.

Round 5: Martin Chromiak, RW, 128th Overall

Chromiak’s fall into the fifth round has to be one of the most shocking developments of the draft. The skilled Slovak was widely ranked in the second round, with some talk of him perhaps even sneaking into the first. Various THW rankings had him from 29th to 59th, TSN’s Craig Button put him 41st and Central Scouting ranked him 30th among North American skaters.

Martin Chromiak Kingston Frontenacs
Martin Chromiak of the Kingston Frontenacs (Kingston Frontenacs)

After the Slovak national team made the mind-boggling decision to leave Chromiak off their World Junior roster, he jumped to the Ontario Hockey League’s Kingston Frontenacs mid-season. Any concerns about the transition from a weak Slovak league to the North America game were immediately quashed. Playing alongside 2022 top prospect Shane Wright, Chromiak recorded 11 goals and 33 points in 28 games for Kingston.

“Chromiak is a goal-scorer that can pass, bringing speed and great puck-handling skills to his game,” said THW’s Bell. “He’s good in his own end and can play in any situation, making him a very versatile player. While he projects to be a middle-six winger, he could play up and down the lineup and on special teams.”

His skating and defensive play will require more work, although he has the agility to make plays in tight traffic and thinks the game well. The Kings may have a steal on their hands.

Round 5: Ben Meehan, D, 140th Overall

A 19-year-old left shot, Meehan was passed over in the 2019 draft when he was playing prep school hockey. This season, he joined the USHL’s Cedar Rapids RoughRiders and logged eight goals and 18 points in 25 games before an injury struck. THW’s Fisher had the over-ager ranked 330th on his final list. An aggressive physical defender, Meehan’s offensive game also blossomed at the USHL level and he’s drawn at least one comparison to Alec Martinez. Meehan will ply his trade at UMass-Lowell next season.

Round 7: Aatu Jamsen, RW, 190th Overall

The Kings moved their sixth-rounder to trade up and get Meehan, so they went 50 picks between selections. Jamsen, 18, was unranked but is off to a flying start in Finnish U20 this season for Pelicans, with five goals and 20 points in nine games. The 6-foot-2, 157-pounder had 47 points in 24 games at U18 in 2019-20.

Jamsen was the Kings’ fifth European pick of the draft, and in the age of COVID-19, having prospects who are playing and developing is an advantage.

Los Angeles drafted a solid array of prospects and got a pair of skilled wingers in Simontaival and Chromiak much lower than expected. It’s a strong infusion of talent as the Kings’ rebuild continues to chug along.

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