The Los Angeles Kings finished the shortened regular season with a record of 21-28-7, totaling 49 points. Though the team’s .438 points percentage came in below their 2019-20 points percentage of .457, the Kings did show that progress is being made. Their play this season granted them the eighth-overall selection at the 2021 NHL Draft, dropping from the second selection in the year prior.
Due to complications with scouting this season, the coming draft will be very unpredictable. Though there may be a consensus on the general area where certain players will go, there is no telling what teams might do on draft day. This is good news for the Kings, as their eighth-overall pick might allow them to select a player ranked higher in the draft.
The Kings Should Target a Defenseman in the First Round
The Kings have one of the best prospect pools in the league, if not the best. That being said, there is an issue with the balance of prospects the team has. The organization has an abundance of forward prospects, specifically centers, such as Quinton Byfield, so targeting a forward in the first round might not be the best idea.
Some have suggested that the Kings should select a goaltender in the first round, and while that viewpoint can be understood given Jonathan Quick’s downfall over the last few seasons, the younger Calvin Petersen has proved he is the real deal.
When looking at the bright future of the team, the biggest hole is on defense. The team does have some exciting prospects including Tobias Bjornfot, Kale Clague, and Helge Grans, but the future defensive core doesn’t show close to the depth that the forward group does.
Prior to the trade deadline, the general manager of the Kings, Rob Blake, expressed interest in a defenseman; he was looking for a “dynamic” defenseman who is also a left shot. The team did pick up Christian Wolanin, but I don’t believe this is the player Blake was looking for. Though the team was unsuccessful in getting their desired player at the trade deadline, they will have the chance to select a player at the 2021 Draft who might be able to fill that role in the future, and they have several options that would achieve that goal.
When looking over the top prospects at the 2021 NHL Draft, Luke Hughes appears to be the best fit for the Kings, and he should be their number one target come July. He certainly fits the bill when it comes to a “dynamic” defenseman and he shoots left.
Hughes is a powerhouse offensively, showing elite skating and passing. He can also run the top unit on the power play. This is crucial, as Drew Doughty won’t be able to do it forever. That being said, he struggles with his defensive play and decision-making. I don’t think the Kings should pass on him because of this, though. Defensive capabilities can always be further developed and the team already possesses one of the best dependable defensive prospects in the league in Bjornfot.
In the 2020-21 season, Hughes played for the U.S. National U18 Team, posting six goals and 28 assists in 38 games. He also played 18 games for the USNTDP Juniors team, putting up four goals and 11 assists. Next season, he will be playing at the University of Michigan, which will allow him to hopefully develop his defensive game.
Many speculate that Hughes will be picked up by the New Jersey Devils who hold the fourth-overall pick, joining brother Jack Hughes. If this doesn’t happen, though, it is not unreasonable to suggest that Luke could slide down to the Kings if his defensive capabilities scare teams away. Bob McKenzie sees him falling all the way to the 10th selection, making him a realistic target for the Kings at eighth.
The main selling point of Simon Edvinsson is his massive 6-foot-5, 207-pound frame; he certainly has the size and strength to play in the NHL. He is also a great skater and can protect the puck. These skills, combined with his size, allow him to weave through the neutral zone like it’s nothing.
The left-shot defenseman who boasts a long reach could be a very good option for the Kings, but along with everything he brings, he is also a very risky pick. Edvinsson can be unreliable when it comes to his subpar decision-making, which gets in the way of his otherwise stellar game. If he can figure this side of the game out, though, he could end up being one of the best players out of the 2021 Draft.
Related: THW’s 2021 NHL Draft Guide
Last season, Edvinsson played with Frolunda HC J20, putting up one goal and five assists in 14 games, and Frolunda HC of the SHL, posting one assist in 10 games. He also played on loan with Vasteras IK, showing five assists in 14 games. He is a very feasible pick for the Kings, as he is mostly ranked near the bottom of the top-10.
The third option for the Kings is Brandt Clarke, an all-around great defenseman. His biggest strength is his first-class skating ability. He is an incredibly smooth and fast skater who can join the rush. He also shows great ability in his passing and shooting, and he can run a power play as well.
In the 2020-21 season, Clarke went overseas to Slovakia where he played on loan with HC Nove Zamky. He played 26 games, recording five goals and 10 assists. Like Hughes and Edvinsson, he is projected to be a top-10 pick, making him a possibility for the Kings if he is passed on early in the draft.
Kings May Have to Select a Forward if None of the Top Defensemen Are Available
Outside of Hughes, Edvinsson, Clarke, and, of course, Owen Power, the projected first-overall pick, there aren’t too many other defensemen at the top of the draft. If all four of these players go before it is time for the Kings to pick, they may have to go with a forward.
There is no reason to pick a player ranked significantly lower in the draft simply because of his position, as the Kings always have the option to trade one or more of their top-tier forward prospects for an equally good defenseman. If they do end up going with a forward, it will only add to their options up front.
That being said, if the Kings are able to pick one of the top defensive prospects, he will certainly be a big piece of the puzzle when it comes to finishing the rebuild.