With the Los Angeles Kings getting eliminated in the first round, now is the time to transition focus to the 2022 NHL Entry Draft. The Kings will be outside of the top 10 for the first time since 2018, picking 19th overall. With one of the deepest prospect pools in hockey, the team has several options at 19. There will always be the debate about picking for positional need versus picking the best player available, but for this article, I’ll be discussing based on positional need. The two positions where the team lacks high-end prospects are goalie and left-shot defensemen. But with no top goalie prospects available, I’ll be focusing on left-shot defensemen.
Defensemen Who Will Be off the Board at 19
Before I get people yelling that I missed some of the high-end prospects in this year’s draft, I wanted to discuss the three left-shot defensemen who will almost certainly be gone at 19. Kevin Korchinski, Denton Mateychuk, and Pavel Mintyukov are three fantastic prospects who the Kings should snap up if they fall to 19. However, it seems very unlikely that happens, so I don’t want to spend too much time on them. Mateychuk would be the only one I could see available at 19, and the undersized offensive defenseman would add the much-needed dynamic blueliner to the Kings’ left side. Still, I don’t see him or the other two as options.
Lian Bichsel, Leksands IF
Lian Bichsel is the player I’m hoping the team gets. He’s a 6-foot-5, 225-pound left-shot defenseman with excellent two-way ability. Drew Doughty mentioned in his exit interview that the team could use some more size on the blue line, and Bichsel would fill that need. This wouldn’t be picking a player based on his physical tools, though, as his skill set gives him one of the highest ceilings amongst defensemen in this draft.
The defensive side of Bischel’s game is already very refined. He displays fantastic positing, uses his size well to physically impose himself, and uses his long reach to make plays. His top speed could use work, but his edge work and lateral movement are very impressive for a prospect with his size. This makes him difficult to beat one-on-one, as he displays good gap-control and uses that skating and reach to funnel forwards to the outside. His physicality stands out, even among adults in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL), and as he gets older, that will only develop further. Defensively, he could probably make the NHL next season, but his play with the puck needs some refinement.
Related: THW’s FREE 2022 NHL Draft Guide
The term most often associated with Bichsel’s offense is “raw.” The tools are there, but he hasn’t learned to apply them just yet. The two areas he excels with the puck are his ability to carry it and his first pass out of the defensive zone. He uses his skating and size to protect the puck effectively and can carry the puck out of his zone and through the neutral zone with ease. He also displays an excellent first pass and is able to retrieve dump-ins and get them up to his forwards quickly and accurately.
Bischel can struggle once in the offensive zone, though. While his puck carrying is excellent, he can rely on it too much, trying to skate through entire teams instead of making a safe play. The same can be said about his passing away from breakouts, as he’ll try passes that are too aggressive and are easily intercepted. Still, I prefer a prospect who is confident in their ability with the puck rather than one who shies away from it. He produces plenty of velocity on his shots but can struggle to get it off quickly and accurately. If he can improve his decision-making, he’ll be a true two-way defenseman with offensive upside.
There are differing opinions about how soon he can reach the NHL, but I think he can make the jump very quickly. After one more season in the SHL, Bichsel should be ready for the NHL. A player he’s been compared to is Moritz Seider, and while I would never set that kind of expectation on a player, I do think there are similarities in how quickly they can jump into the NHL. Like Seider, Bichsel is physically ready for the NHL and just needs time to iron out small areas in his game. He’s a defenseman who can carry his pairing and would be an incredible future partner for someone like Brock Faber or Helge Grans in the Kings’ system.
Owen Pickering, Swift Current Broncos
The other option at 19 is Swift Current Broncos defenseman Owen Pickering. Pickering has more offensive certainty than Bichsel but displays less defensive certainty. Another big blueliner standing at 6-foot-4, 187 pounds, Pickering would also check the size box Doughty mentioned. There’s a lot to like about Pickering’s game as a big-bodied, mobile defenseman with offensive upside.
Defensively, Pickering struggles in his decision-making, but he has shown flashes of good instincts. He often tries to make the right play but falters in his execution. He makes his decision a second too late or bails out of the decision entirely on too many plays. His skating is fantastic, which masks a lot of his defensive issues in the Western Hockey League (WHL). He’s able to recover from positional mistakes with his quick feet, and his long reach can quickly take away passing and shooting lanes. One area where he needs significant improvement is in his physical play, as he leaves a lot to be desired from a 6-foot-4 defenseman. But with added muscle, this can be easily fixed.
Offensively is where Pickering shines. He displays a great first pass and ability to skate the puck up ice like Bichsel but can do far more in the offensive zone. He can hit teammates with impressive seam-splitting passes across zones, leading to breakaway chances, and he makes smart plays on the offensive blue line. Pickering shows some inconsistency in this area, as he can throw those two-zone home-run passes on one shift but mess up a 10-foot pass on the next, but that should fix itself with more reps. His shot also stands out, as he gets it off quickly from the point and generates an impressive amount of power. An underrated skill among offensive-defensemen is their ability to get shots through traffic and avoid blocks, something Pickering does well. There’s genuine power play upside to Pickering, as he could easily quarterback the Kings’ second unit behind Brandt Clarke.
Pickering has a longer development path than Bichsel and will need another two years in the WHL and at least one more in the American Hockey League (AHL) before he’s NHL ready, but patience could pay off with this player. It’s important to remember that he’s a late-blooming prospect with plenty of runway left in his development. This stems largely from his late growth spurt; he was just 5-foot-7 when he was taken in the ninth round of the WHL draft and has added nine inches since then. It will take time for him to get more comfortable in his frame, and that could see him take a huge leap in his development. Tage Thompson is an example of this, another late-bloomer who had a career year in Buffalo with the Sabres. Pickering more fits the offensive-defensemen archetype that Kings fans want on the left side, and he would be a great pick at 19.
Kings Have Great Options at 19
The Kings have two excellent options in Bichsel and Pickering. Both players have genuine top-four upside and can check a lot of boxes for this team. As I said, my personal choice would be Bichsel. There’s more certainty to his game, and I’m higher on his offensive upside than some. The tools he possesses are easily translated into the NHL, and he could be on the Kings’ roster soon.
Pickering is still a great option, though, he has so much room to develop, and his ceiling is endless. With that said, his floor is also lower than Bichsel’s. It’s interesting that The Athletics’ Corey Pronman recently mentioned that Bichsel’s name is trending with NHL teams, and a top-20 pick isn’t out of the question.
“Bichsel is a name trending with a lot of NHL teams, and a top 20 pick is absolutely in the cards for a 6-foot-5 defenseman who skates well enough and provides physicality with first pass offense. I could see him or Pickering make sense at the Capitals spot.”Corey Pronman The Athletic (From, ‘NHL Mock Draft 2022: Picks, analysis for the entire first round’, The Athletic, May 17, 2022)
Perhaps Bichsel will continue moving up the board and not be available at 19. But that would likely leave one of Mateychuk or Mintyukov available, and the Kings really can’t lose in that situation. Regardless, the rich will get richer, as the Kings will add another excellent prospect into their pipeline.
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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.