The Los Angeles Kings didn’t make a pick until Day 2 of the draft after moving their first-round pick in the Kevin Fiala trade. With picks 51, 103, 116, 148, 169, 180, and 215, the Kings added to a deep prospect pool, loading up with more centers and right-shot defensemen.
Pick 51, Jack Hughes, Northeastern
After losing the Jack Hughes lottery in 2019, the Kings now have a Jack Hughes in their pipeline. The son of Montreal Canadiens general manager Kent Hughes, Jack spent most of the season in the first round of most mock drafts but dropped after subpar production in his freshman season at Northeastern. It’s worth noting that he was the youngest player in college hockey last season, a league that’s tough to produce in as a young player. Scouts rave about his puck skills and two-way ability, but there are question marks surrounding how well he skates. He showed off an incredible compete level in college hockey, never backing down from the bigger, older players he faced.
If Hughes can improve his skating at Northeastern over the next few seasons, he could provide excellent value at No. 51. The Athletic’s Corey Pronman ranked his puck skills as above NHL average and was very positive about this part of his game.
“Hughes is one of the more skilled and creative players in the draft. He has high-end puck skills and ability to improvise with the puck to create chances for himself and his teammates.” – Corey Pronman, The Athletic (from ‘NHL Draft 2022 top 127 prospects: Juraj Slafkovsky leads Corey Pronman’s list,’ The Athletic, May 31, 2022).
One of the things I keep seeing in scouting reports is the positive impact he has on linemates. I’m always excited when I hear that, especially for a center. It’s hard to place value on an attribute like that, but the Kings saw the impact it can have with Phillip Danault last season. His ceiling is probably a high-skilled third-line center with a strong 200-foot game. He joins several Kings prospects in this projection, but him still being multiple years out might help him. The team’s system is logjammed right now, but it might clear up for him in the future.
Pick 103, Kenny Connors, Dubuque Fighting Saints
The Kings traded down and drafted Kenny Connors from the Dubuque Fighting Saints with the 103rd overall pick. A UMass commit for next season, this felt like a pretty big reach from the Kings. Connors was unranked on most draft lists and would have likely been available later in the draft. An over-ager, he posted a good, not great, 56 points in 61 games in the United States Hockey League (USHL). According to scouts, he’s a competitive two-way center with okay skating and decent playmaking. A similar profile to Hughes, he’s less skilled but an inch taller and 20 pounds heavier. He projects as a bottom-six center who forechecks well and is responsible in his own zone.
Pick 116, Angus Booth, Shawinigan Cataractes
Everyone wanted the Kings to draft left-shot defensemen this year, and they did with Angus Booth. A good at everything, great at nothing type player, he plays a solid two-way game. Nothing pops about Booth’s play, but there’s real two-way upside there. If either his offensive or defensive game develops, he has a serious NHL future. There are scouts who love his lateral movement, and that makes him a solid one-on-one defender and allows him to evade forecheckers with ease. He reads the game well and displays solid hockey IQ. If he can add muscle in the next few seasons and become a more physical player, he can become a solid third-pairing NHL defenseman with fringe second-pairing upside.
Pick 148, Otto Salin, HIFK U20
The Kings jumped on a few falling players last year at the draft and did so again with Otto Salin out of Finland. Ranked as high as 66th overall by Craig Button, he is another puck-moving, right-shot defenseman in the team’s system. There are some scouts who are convinced by his defensive game; he’s an extremely solid 205 pounds at just 5-foot-11 and isn’t afraid to show his strength. He likes jumping into the play and getting involved offensively, but his reads still need work, and he gets burned on occasion because of this.
Like all players in this draft, he received less scouting two seasons ago because of COVID and missed the start of this season because of injury. There is some feeling that he dropped lower than he should have because of limited scouting, which could play to the Kings’ benefit. If he continues to round out his defensive game, there’s top-four potential in Salin; if not, I’m worried about his NHL projection on the Kings. The team is overloaded with puck-movers on the right side, and it’s hard to see him pushing any of Sean Durzi, Jordan Spence, or Helge Grans out. But he is still three to five years away from threatening for a roster spot, leaving plenty of room for change in that time. This feels like a low-risk, high-reward pick at 148, even if he doesn’t fit a team “need.”
Pick 169, Jared Wright, Omaha Lancers
Another USHL over-ager, the Kings took Jared Wright of the Omaha Lancers at pick 169. There hasn’t been a ton of scouting on Wright, but he is a good-sized winger at 6-foot-1, 179-pounds who is committed to Colgate University next season. His numbers from the USHL aren’t that impressive, with just 34 points in 59 games, but he was still second on his team in scoring as a rookie. It’s hard to project Wright’s game, and a season in college hockey will make it easier to predict his ceiling, but it’s probably not high. The Kings clearly see something they like, though, so he’s worth keeping an eye on.
Pick 180, Jack Sparkes, St. Michael’s Buzzers
Everyone knew some team was going to take a swing at the towering 6-foot-8 defenseman Jack Sparkes. Playing last season in the Ontario Junior Hockey League (OJHL) and a commit to Michigan State University next season, he’s very much a project player. The appeal of Sparkes comes entirely from his athletic tools. He’s not just tall but heavy and strong, too, at 234 pounds, and he isn’t afraid to bully opponents. A good skater for his size, he really struggles to think the game. He doesn’t make great reads and has serious deficiencies with the puck. With that said, he dominates in the corners and in front of the net and has a massive slap shot from the point.
I don’t see much NHL projection from Sparkes right now, but some big developments in his game over the next few seasons could change that. The Kings’ pipeline is lacking some size on the blue line outside of Helge Grans, and Sparkes certainly fixes that issue. If nothing else, it’s worth a sixth-round pick to get a potential third-pairing defenseman who can physically dominate teams, especially in the Western Conference.
Pick 215, Kaleb Lawrence, Owen Sound Attack
From a 6-foot-8 defenseman to a 6-foot-7 forward, the Kings added a ton of size to their pipeline at the end of this draft. Like Sparkes, most of the appeal in Lawrence comes from his massive frame and the potential to be a physically dominant depth player. It’s worth noting that he only played two games last season because of injury, so a big bounce-back could see his value rise. If nothing else, I want to see an eventual Andre Lee, Samuel Helenius, and Lawrence line with the Ontario Reign. With an average height of 6-foot-6, they would be fun to watch. Because of his limited game time, it’s hard to project his ceiling, but as a seventh-round pick, you shouldn’t expect much.
A Quiet Day 2
Day 2 of the draft left several fans somewhat underwhelmed. The Kings didn’t draft any high-potential players late and instead opted for competitive, intelligent players or physical specimens. It’s hard to judge a draft right after it’s finished, but this one seems like it will be mediocre at best in five years. If Hughes can reach his potential and someone like Salin or one of the two giants from late in the draft can really hit, this will be a successful draft. There’s reason to believe in Mark Yannetti and his team, especially their picks after the first round, so I’m still cautiously optimistic.
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.