As a team with already one of the best prospect pools in the NHL, the Los Angeles Kings needed to use the 2020 NHL Draft as a chance to fill out their remaining needs for the future. They did exactly that, cementing themselves as one of the most dangerous teams a couple of years down the road. The team’s future core already features Alex Turcotte, Gabriel Vilardi, Arthur Kaliyev, amongst others. The Kings executed an almost perfect draft from start to finish, adding to this already outstanding group.
After Making the Right Choice Selecting Quinton Byfield, the Kings Drafted Well Positionally
Going into the first round of the draft, all the talk was about the second-overall pick. The consensus was that Alexis Lafreniere would go first overall to the New York Rangers, but who the Kings would select with the next pick was between two players. Quinton Byfield, a powerful center, or Tim Stutzle, a winger. Although the Kings could have benefited positionally from taking a winger, they made the right choice in selecting Byfield.
Byfield, who is 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, put up 82 points in 45 games with the Sudbury Wolves of the Ontario Hockey League last season. He is one of the youngest in his draft class as well, giving him plenty of time to develop. Aside from his skill, the benefits of selecting Byfield is that they get a number one to take over for Anze Kopitar, who is currently leading the team.
Byfield is often compared in terms of playing style to Kopitar, so there will be no one better for him to learn from. There is no way around the fact that Kopitar will move on from the Kings, and although the team has a lot of very good center prospects, none are the caliber of Kopitar or Byfield. Making sure that the team has a true first-line center will make the transition from the rebuilding Kings to the playoff Kings go that much more smoothly.
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.Corey Pronman (from: “Pronman: Ranking the 2020 NHL Draft top prospects at midseason” – The Athletic – Jan. 29, 2020)
The biggest concern when it came to drafting Byfield was that it didn’t address the need for wingers and defensemen within the Kings organization. The pick made it crucial that the team draft positionally after the first round, which they did. With the remaining eight picks the team possessed, they did not select a single center. They brought on three defensemen, four wingers — albeit all right wingers — and one goalie, a possible backup option for Calvin Petersen. With all of these positional picks, the Kings’ prospect pool looks much more complete than it did going into the draft.
Best Moves and Picks at the Draft
After selecting Byfield, the Kings’ management did a great job focusing on what was needed within the organization. They located the missing pieces and brought them to Los Angeles. The Kings also did a good job looking for late-round steals, picking guys who were projected to go much earlier in the draft.
35th Overall: Helge Grans, Defenseman, Malmo Redhawks
Grans is originally from Ljungby, Sweden. He is a larger player at 6-foot-2, 206 pounds. Last season, he played for the Malmo Redhawks, putting up 27 points in 27 games. His rankings were a bit scattered going into the draft, making him a bit of a reach at pick 35. Although Dobber Prospects had Grans at pick 29 and Future Considerations had him at 35, TSN had him at 69, with the three THW’s rankings put him at 42, 50, and 101.
Along with his size, Grans’s strengths lie in his speed and offensive game. What he needs to work on is in his defensive game and decision making. One great thing about Grans is his ability to run a power play. Drew Doughty is currently playing that role for the Kings, but he is certainly not going to be the answer forever.
With many high-level forwards from Sweden, it’s easy to overlook Grans’ abilities from the point. The big 6-foot-3 defender skated in five SHL games last year with Malmo (the second 2002-born player in the league), showing great poise and confidence for a young kid playing against men. While Grans isn’t overly creative with the puck, he’s extremely smart defensively and can move the puck well enough to control a power play. He was a heavy minute-muncher with Malmo’s U-20 team and should play the majority of the season at the level again while throwing his name into the World Junior Championship conversation later on in the year.Steven Ellis, The Hockey News
In the Kings’ 2020 NHL Draft preview, they were projected to select Lukas Cormier 35th overall. Grans is a very similar player to Cormier in terms of offensive skill and the ability to be on the first power-play unit. Cormier ended up dropping to 68th overall, getting selected by the Vegas Golden Knights. The Kings likely went with Grans for the size factor — Cormier is just 5-foot-10, so Grans is much less of a risk in that sense at 35th overall.
66th Overall: Kasper Simontaival, Winger, Tappara U20
Simontaival is from Tampere, Finland, and has played his career there to date. Last season, he put up 57 points in 48 games in the Liiga. Simontaival is a steal at 66th overall, as his rankings put him between 26th and 49th overall. There is one clear reason why he dropped out of the first two rounds — his size. Simontaival is just 5-foot-9, 177 pounds, making him the smallest player selected by the Kings.
Despite his size issues, he competes well, is creative with his hockey sense, and has great playmaking ability. This will come in handy when playing with the outstanding centers the Kings have. He needs to work a bit on his skating, but that is something that can be developed. His size is a bit of a risk, but the Kings did a great job picking up a player who was still available long after he was projected to be picked.
112th Overall, Juho Markkanen, Goaltender, SaiPa
Markkanen is originally from Edmonton, Alberta, but he has played in Finland for quite some time. Last season in the Liiga, he put up a .881 save percentage over 18 games, but showed better numbers when playing U18 hockey. He was not anticipated to go this high in the draft, with NHL Central Scouting ranking him sixth amongst European goaltenders, and Larry Fisher ranking him as the 362nd best player available in the draft.
Looking overseas, I was regrettably low on Finland’s Juho Markkanen (362), who has NHL bloodlines as the son of former Oilers goaltender Jussi Markkanen. Juho is 6-foot-2 and appears promising, so it wouldn’t be surprising if he got drafted and he should have been ranked up there with Lehtinen in hindsight.Larry Fisher
Markkanen has great puck control and is a taller player at 6-foot-2. The main issue holding him back from ever playing an NHL game is his weight. Markkanen is just 146 pounds, almost underweight for his height. If he wants a shot at playing for the Kings, he is going to have to fill out his frame and add some strength.
It is always a risk, taking a goaltender in the NHL draft, especially when he is just 146 pounds. In this case, though, it is one worth taking. The team had multiple picks in the third round and they don’t have anything too exciting going for them in terms of goaltending prospects. They do have Lukas Parik in the pipeline, but the team is going to need a backup in case Petersen doesn’t work out. Even if he does, they will need a backup goalie, and it never hurts to have options.
In the Kings’ draft preview, they were projected to select Joel Blomqvist with the 83rd-overall pick. He was snatched up earlier by the Pittsburg Penguins after trading Matt Murray, so he was not available for the Kings to take. Hopefully, Markkanen can show he was worth the risk, and eventually play in the NHL.
128th Overall: Martin Chromiak, Winger, Kingston Frontenacs
This pick has the possibility of being the steal of the draft, and certainly the steal of the draft for the Kings. Going into day two, Chromiak was ranked between 38th and 59th overall. Larry Fisher of The Hockey Writers even had Chromiak going in the first round at 29th overall. Somehow, the Kings were able to take the needed winger at 128th overall, in the fifth round. Chromiak is from Ilava, Slovakia, but played in the OHL last season, putting up 33 points in 28 games.
Chromiak, who stands at 6-foot, 187 pounds, forechecks hard, has a great shot, and solid hockey IQ. He does need to work on his skating, though, as well as his strength when playing defense. Hopefully, the Kings can turn this under-the-radar steal into a great NHL winger, playing with some of the best centers in the league.
Worst Moves and Picks at the Draft
There isn’t a whole lot to talk about here. In terms of the Kings’ picks, they were all very solid. In fact, there was really only one bad move the team made at the draft, and it could even turn out in their favor if things go their way. It just was not a risk worth taking.
Kings Trade the 60th-Overall Pick to the Rangers in Exchange for Lias Andersson
Even after the Kings traded their 60th-overall pick to the Rangers, they still had two more, so this isn’t a terrible deal. Andersson was originally drafted in 2017 by the Rangers, making his NHL debut in the next season. So far in his NHL career, he has only put up nine points and has faced some setbacks. He was likely brought into the NHL too early, missing Sweden, where he is originally from, and experiencing a tough transition. This clearly affected his play. He left the NHL to go back to Sweden, making it clear he would not return to play for the Rangers.
This is where the deal goes bad. Andersson was never going back to New York, so the Kings likely could have leveraged that to give up less than a third-round pick for him, possibly a sixth or seventh-round pick instead. Aside from the fact that the Kings likely gave up too much to get Andersson, they don’t need him. He is a center, so there really isn’t a place for him in Los Angeles. The Kings will likely move him to the wing in order to make use of him. No matter where he plays, if he can capitalize on his second shot at the NHL after maturing back home, the deal could pay off for the Kings.
Who Else Did the Kings Pick?
At pick 45, the Kings selected Brock Faber, a defenseman playing for the US National Team Development Program. He put up nine points in 19 games for the team last season. He was a bit of a reach based on his rankings, but he plays a solid defensive game.
With the 83rd-overall selection, the Kings picked up Alex Laferriere, not to be confused with Alexis Lafreniere. Last season he played with the Des Moines Buccaneers of the USHL, putting up 45 points in 42 games. The winger excels in passing and shooting, but needs to add to his skating.
At pick 140, the Kings selected Ben Meehan from the Cedar Rapids Roughriders. Last season in the USHL, the defenseman put up 18 points in 25 games. He has offensive skill and can be trusted to start a play.
With the Kings’ final pick, 190th overall, LA selected Aatu Jamsen. Last season playing U18 hockey in Finland with the Pelicans, he put up 47 points in 24 games. Although the winger won’t be expected to make an impact soon in Los Angeles, players drafted late should never be counted out as NHL superstars.
What Do the Kings Do From Here?
Now that an already good–looking prospect pool has been filled out in terms of positional needs, what do the Kings do for the next couple of seasons? They wait. As long as the organization develops its prospects properly, the Kings will be one of the favorites for the Stanley Cup in no time. Most of the team’s prospects simply need time to develop, but once they are in the NHL, they should take off.
Right now the Kings need to focus on how they will make their transition out of the rebuilding phase. The team should keep veterans around, but they shouldn’t be taking spots from up-and-coming stars. In terms of contracts, Kopitar and Doughty could still be around for a while, and they may be all the young team needs to move into the next era of Kings hockey.