With the 2021 NHL Entry Draft order now set, the Los Angeles Kings will be selecting eighth overall. Like fans of every team, Kings fans were hoping to move up to the one or two spots; however, they can still be happy with their options at number eight. With the team’s rebuild coming to an end, the Kings will have several options for how to use their pick.
Keep the 8th-Overall Pick
The first and probably most boring option for the Kings is to simply keep their eighth overall pick and select a player there. Like most things in 2020-2021, this year’s draft is going to be an odd one. With a decrease in scouting due to COVID-19, there’s less knowledge about players than we’d usually see. Couple that with this year’s draft class being short on top-end talent, and you have a draft that will be very unpredictable. Most mock drafts currently have the team selecting one of two players — Dylan Guenther or Kent Johnson. TSN’s Craig Button does have the Kings drafting defenseman Luke Hughes, but I’ve already covered what his impact could be for the Kings, so I’ll be focusing on Guenther and Johnson today.
If multiple mock drafts didn’t have Guenther falling to the Kings, I admittedly wouldn’t have included him as an option. Not because he wouldn’t be an incredible option, but because I had little faith he would drop all the way to eighth. It’s still very possible that the Kings are unable to draft him — with some mock drafts penciling him in as a top-3 pick.
If he drops, Kings fans have a lot to be excited about. An offensive powerhouse alongside Arthur Kaliyev, Guenther could solve the lack of talent the Kings currently have at right wing. He’s a dual-threat on offense who can do whatever you ask of him. Need a goalscorer? He’s your guy. Need a playmaker? He’s also your guy. No matter the role he is asked to fill, one thing is consistent with him: he’ll drive offense for your line. He is a fantastic skater with high-level acceleration and edgework that allows him to be very aggressive in one-on-one situations.
His shooting and skating ability, combined with his soft hands and elite hockey IQ, make Guenther a dream for teams in need of a massive threat on the wing. Also praised for his defensive play, there is very little downside to his game. Seemingly the only negative to his game currently is his lack of strength. The consensus is that he’ll need to add strength before making the leap to the NHL. Fortunately, strength is an easy thing to add and shouldn’t be a problem.
I’d consider Johnson the most realistic option for the Kings at eight. With very few mock drafts placing him above eighth, it’s unlikely at this time that the Kings won’t have the option to pick him. After a wonderful freshman season with the Michigan Wolverines, he impressed scouts enough to cement himself amongst the top 10 prospects for this years’ draft. He displays maybe the best set of hands in this years’ draft. A wizard with the puck on his stick, Johnson excels at setting up his teammates. Also, an incredible skater, he is a nightmare for defensemen to deal with one-on-one. He’s also an immensely creative player who likes making flashy plays with the puck — if nothing else, he’ll be an electrifying player to watch.
Like Guenther, he needs a lot of work physically — standing at 6-foot-1 but only weighing 165 pounds, he’ll need to add a lot of muscle before he’s ready to compete in the NHL. His elite playmaking ability would make him a perfect complement for players like Quinton Byfield and Kaliyev if the Kings do draft him. Another small downside to Johnson is his position. Projected as a left wing in the NHL, he’d be coming into a position that is already well covered on the Kings’ roster.
Adding him to a forward group that already has Adrian Kempe, Alex Iafallo, and Alex Turcotte at left wing would likely mean trading one of the three I just mentioned. While having too many good players in one position is a good problem to have, it’s still a problem. If the Kings end up with Johnson, they’ll be getting a high-end playmaker to complement a fantastic group of forward prospects coming up.
Trading for a Ready-Made NHL Player
Another option for the Kings would be to package their eighth overall pick in a deal for a ready-made NHL player. I know there are a large group of Kings fans who want this to happen, and there is sense in making that deal. Unfortunately for fans in that camp, Kings insider John Hoven has stated that it’s unlikely the Kings are interested in trading the eighth overall pick for an NHL player.
During the mentioned KOTP episode, Hoven states that the Kings’ stance might change as we get closer to the draft; however, at this time, the Kings aren’t looking to trade their pick for an NHL player. This is mainly due to the lack of available left-shot defensemen that fit the Kings’ criteria. They want a very specific player — of the right profile and age range. They also seemingly want to avoid trading the assets it would require to get a blockbuster deal done, like a deal to bring Rasmus Dahlin to the Kings.
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If a player becomes available that fits the Kings criteria, come July 23rd, I think the team should pull the trigger and trade their pick. It’s also okay if this doesn’t happen, though. I understand why Kings fans want the team to bring in a big name this offseason. But it’s equally important for the team to remain level-headed with their decisions. Staying on course with a rebuild is a viable option that can reap big rewards for the Kings.
Trading up in the Draft
The third option for the Kings would be trading up in the draft to try and get a specific player. As Hoven mentioned in the above tweet, the Kings are more than open to moving up in the draft should the option present itself. He also mentioned that they have their eyes on a couple of players in the draft. While there’s no report on who these players are — I have to imagine they’d be trading up to grab either Luke Hughes or Simon Edvinsson. The Kings are clearly in the hunt for a left-shot defenseman, and trading for the first overall pick to grab Owen Power would likely cost too much for the Kings, leaving those two players as the likely options.
Moving up in the draft could give the Kings that left-shot defenseman they desperately need without giving up some of the top-end prospects in their system. The probability of the Kings being able to trade down in the draft likely won’t be known until closer to draft day, but it’s something that fans should keep an eye on. I would love for the Kings to trade down and pick up Hughes or Edvinsson, but only if the price is right. My opinion on trading down is the same as my opinion on trading for an established NHL player — only make the deal if it is a “perfect” deal. The team should not be desperate to make this move and will have options at eighth if they stay there.
What Happens Come Draft Day
With over a month until the NHL Entry Draft is upon us, it’s almost impossible to tell what the Kings will do at this point. Too many things can happen between now and then to say for sure what direction they will choose. But there is one thing we can be certain about — the Kings will be in a great spot to improve their organization come July 23rd. Be that through the eighth overall pick, trading for an established NHLer, or trading up to get their preferred player, the Kings have plenty of options that should excite Kings fans.
My name is Austin Stanovich, as a lifelong player and fan I’m hoping to bring my own unique perspective on the hockey world, specifically covering the Los Angeles Kings. As a SoCal native I grew up a Kings fan, and after graduating from Long Beach State in 2020 I’ve joined The Hockey Writers crew as a columnist for the Kings.