With the NHL Entry Draft fast approaching, we recently looked at the Los Angeles Kings’ biggest draft busts. While that was a tough list to read for fans, this one will bring back fonder memories. Today we’re looking at the team’s top five all-time draft steals.
#5 Robert Goring
To kick off this list, we have Robert “Butch” Goring. The Kings selected him in the fifth round of the 1969 NHL Amateur Draft. He played 736 games and scored 659 points in LA — good enough to place him eighth on the team’s all-time charts. There was more to his game than points, though, as he was an excellent two-way center who played much bigger than his 5-foot-9 frame would suggest. Many will remember him for his unique helmet — wearing the same helmet his dad bought him when he was 12 years old for the entirety of his 18-year NHL career.
He was fantastic during his time in LA; however, it’s with the New York Islanders that Goring would cement his legacy in the league. He was traded to Long Island on March 10, 1980, in exchange for Billy Harris and Dave Lewis. The Islanders were looking for an elite, second-line center and found their player with Goring. He was a pivotal figure on the historic team that won four straight Stanley Cups to start the 1980s, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy in 1981.
Retiring in 1987, he would finish his career with 1,107 games played and 888 points — the Kings drafting him in the fifth round was highway robbery.
#4 Bernie Nicholls
Having Bernie Nicholls in the fourth spot on this list might cause some controversy. There’s a good argument that, at his peak, no one on this list was better than the 1980 fourth-round pick. He was an offensive powerhouse who posted 1.26 points per game (P/PG) with LA. During the 1988-89 season, he would put together one of the greatest seasons in team history — as the second-line center behind Wayne Gretzky, Nicholls would bury 70 goals and add 80 assists for 150 points. His 150 points that season is the third most prolific season in team history and the most prolific season by anyone not named Gretzky.
There’s one main reason he isn’t higher on this list — his time spent with the team. He would spend nine seasons and 602 games in LA, lower than anyone else on this list. He also lacked any individual awards during his time with the team. After his nine seasons, he would be traded in 1990 to the New York Rangers in exchange for Tony Granato and Tomas Sandstrom. He would then play for five different teams throughout the 1990s before retiring in 1999. He would never recapture the incredible point totals he produced while playing in LA, although he did remain a consistent P/PG player for most of the decade. An amazing player during his time in LA, Nicholls was a complete steal in the fourth round.
#3 Rob Blake
At number three sits 1988 fourth-round selection, Rob Blake. One of the best defensemen of his generation, he was a dominant presence on the team’s blueline from 1990-2001. He truly had it all — possessing one of the meanest hip-checks in hockey history, he struck fear into the opposition while also putting up eye-catching offensive numbers. He would earn league-wide recognition in 1998 when he took home the Norris Trophy after leading all defensemen in goals, with 23, while still being a defensive juggernaut. He was also a fantastic leader, captaining the team from 1995-2001 and again in 2007-2008.
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After 11 seasons in LA, he would be traded, alongside Steven Reinprecht, to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for Adam Deadmarsh, Aaron Miller, Jared Aulin, and a 2001 first-round pick. He would further cement his legacy as an all-time great defenseman in Colorado, winning the Stanley Cup in 2001. One year later, he would win an Olympic Gold medal, joining the illustrious Triple Gold Club. After his time in Colorado, he returned for a second stint with the Kings, playing two seasons (2006-2008). He would then finish his career in 2010 after two seasons with the San Jose Sharks.
Blake would quickly move into management after he retired, joining the Kings front office in 2013. In 2017, he was promoted to vice president of hockey operations and general manager, where he is now trying to navigate the organization through a rebuild. His 1,270 games played, 777 points and stellar defensive play throughout his career were enough to earn him a Hockey Hall of Fame induction in 2015. It was a legendary career for the fourth-round draft pick.
#2 Dave Taylor
Slotting in at number two is one-third of the legendary Triple Crown Line, Dave Taylor. The Kings would draft him in the 15th round of the 1975 NHL Amateur draft. There were only seven players drafted after him in 1975, and he would go on to lead that draft in points. He was a consistent offensive weapon for the team throughout his career, hitting the 100-point mark twice. He was an aggressive forward, eclipsing 100 penalty minutes on seven occasions. His leadership qualities were also well cherished with the team — he would serve as team captain from 1985 until 1989 but would be relegated to alternate captain after Gretzky was given the “C” in 1989. He would don the “A” for four of his remaining five seasons in the league.
After retiring in 1994, Taylor would hold several positions within the Kings organization, including senior VP of hockey operations and general manager from 1997-2006. After Dean Lombardi was hired to replace him, he would spend one more season with the organization before joining the Dallas Stars as director of player personnel for three seasons.
He would then move to the St. Louis Blues where he would take over the VP of hockey operations position in 2012, a position he still holds today — he would also win his first Stanley Cup in St. Louis in 2019. His 1,111 games played, and 1,069 points place him third in both categories for the Kings and make him the lowest-drafted player to ever reach 1,000 points. His contribution to the team as a player and general manager makes him a team legend, and one of the all-time great draft steals.
#1 Luc Robitaille
Was there ever any doubt about the number one spot? It had to be 1984 ninth-round selection, Luc Robitaille. This is not only the King’s best-ever draft steal but one of the league’s best too. After a magnificent junior career, he would make his NHL debut in the 1986-87 season — in that season, he would make every team that passed over him regret their decision, as he netted 84 points en route to a Calder Trophy win. He wouldn’t stop there, either, scoring a minimum of 44 goals in each of his next seven seasons, which included a career-high 63 goals in 1992-93. His ability to consistently score goals made him one of the league’s all-time best scorers.
Robitaille would spend all but five of his 19 seasons in the NHL with LA — he’d play two seasons with the Detroit Red Wings and New York Rangers, respectively, and one season with the Pittsburgh Penguins in pursuit of a Stanley Cup. He would finally win his first Stanley Cup in 2002 with Detroit. After winning his Cup, he would spend one more season in Detroit before finishing out his career in LA. After retirement, he would begin a career in management, being named King’s president in 2007, a position he still holds.
He’s one of the organization’s biggest legends. If there was an Mt. Rushmore of Kings personnel, his face would certainly be on it. He is also the second-lowest drafted player to reach 1,000 points — second only to fellow Kings legend Dave Taylor. His 668 goals make him the league’s highest-scoring left-wing to this day, not bad for a ninth-round pick.
With three Hall of Famers on this list, the Kings have certainly had their share of draft steals. It is interesting that all these players were drafted before 1990, showing how far the league has come in its scouting. The team has a rich history of finding stars in the late rounds of the draft, and with two players on this list currently running the team, hopefully, that tradition will continue.
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.