Heading into the 2021 NHL Draft, the Los Angeles Kings already had one of the best prospect pools in the league, if not the best. Like any team’s system, though, LA certainly has more depth at some positions than others. The team has a plethora of forward prospects, specifically centers, but not nearly as many on defense. At the draft, they filled in the pieces they were missing from their already stellar prospect pool, solidifying them as the team with potentially the brightest future in the NHL.
Kings Filled a Position of Need on Day 1
Considering that defense is the Kings’ weakest area in their prospect pool, most expected them to select a defenseman in the first round. The draft lottery granted LA the eighth-overall pick in the draft, which was just high enough to allow the team to select the player they needed—Brandt Clarke.
Even though the Kings selected the defenseman with the eighth pick in the draft, the selection could be considered a steal; he was ranked as high as second overall, and few ranked him lower than sixth overall. Out of the three players LA was most likely to select—Luke Hughes, Simon Edvinsson, and Clarke—Clarke has the most offensive upside, something the team is in desperate need of, as they have struggled to score over the past few seasons.
Clarke’s overall offensive game is top-tier in nearly every way; he is a decent skater, but he sees the ice very well, allowing him to create scoring chances. These attributes powered him to five goals and 10 assists in 26 games last season when he was on loan to HC Nove Zamky. Rob Stewart, GM of the Barrie Colts, commented on Clarke’s game, saying:
He’s not your typical smooth, flow-y skater, but I think that lends to the deception that he plays with. I think that at times, opponents will think they’ve got him in a spot where they can check him, and he seems to find a way to get out of it. I don’t see it as as big of an issue as what some people do.From ‘What prospect Brandt Clarke’s skating questions mean for the NHL team that drafts him,’ The Athletic, July 1, 2021
Clarke’s downfalls are his defensive zone coverage and the inconsistency he shows in his own end. That said, defensive capabilities can always be developed, and the skill he shows when he isn’t in his own zone more than outweighs his shortcomings.
The role Clarke is expected to fill will make him a crucial player for years to come. Once the Kings’ current core ages out and they look to once again become a championship-caliber team, they will have to score at a much higher level than they do now. LA certainly has offense covered as far as their forward prospects go, and with the addition of Clarke, they now have a defenseman that can be a significant producer.
Kings Valued Quality Over Quantity and Positional Fit on Day 2
The Kings only picked three times on day two of the draft, trading their selections in the later rounds to move up in the earlier ones. In the second round of the draft, LA traded picks 49 and 136 to the Ottawa Senators in exchange for pick 42, drafting Francesco Pinelli.
This trade was certainly worthwhile; Pinelli was ranked mostly in the second half of the first round, yet the Kings were able to pick up the center at the beginning of the second. He is the definition of a complete player; he has a great shot and hockey IQ. He also has impressive decision-making skills both in the offensive and defensive zone, and he has a willingness to drive to the net.
Pinelli has very few holes in his game, but if there is anything to critique, he doesn’t have the best hands. This is a minor fault when considering everything he brings to the table. Like Clarke, Pinelli went overseas last season to play on loan with HDD Jesenice, recording five goals and six assists in 13 games. Mike McKenzie, coach of the Kitchener Rangers, had this to say about Pinelli:
We just really liked his blend of hockey sense, his compete, and his skill level. He’s a dual threat. He can score, he’s got a really good shot, but he can also make plays and set guys up. He was the catalyst of that team offensively. He was always the guy.From ‘How Francesco Pinelli’s Slovenian hockey experience added extra maturity to his 2021 NHL Draft profile,’ The Athletic, July 24, 2021
Many thought the Kings would stay away from centers at the draft because of the depth they have at the position, but the Pinelli pick makes sense, given that he was still available when LA moved up. In all likelihood, if he does play for the team and doesn’t get moved, he will play on the wing, which he has experience with.
The Kings moved up once again to pick for the second time in the second round. They traded picks 72 and 109 to the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for pick 59, drafting Samuel Helenius. His biggest asset is his 6-foot-6, 201-pound frame.
Even with his size, Helenius is a great skater. He uses this skill to find open space in the offensive zone, creating scoring chances. In addition to what he brings in terms of scoring, he also shows very solid defensive play. His weaknesses are relatively inconsequential; he could add a bit more weight for his size, making his physical presence even more effective, and he could work on receiving passes.
Last season, Helenius played with JYP in the Liiga, putting up seven goals and seven assists in 54 games. He also participated in the World Junior Championship (WJC), recording two goals and two assists in seven games. He is a natural center, but the Kings clearly see something in him that made it worth it to trade up, despite having an abundance of centers in the system already.
The last pick the Kings made at the 2021 NHL Draft came in the third round, when they traded picks 89 and 168 to the Calgary Flames in exchange for pick 84. LA made an important selection here, adding defenseman Kirill Kirsanov, who was mostly ranked in the second round.
While Kirsanov doesn’t have a ton of offensive upside, the team covered that side of the game with the Clarke selection. Rather, Kirsanov is a dependable player with outstanding defensive awareness. He is strong on pucks, and he is a very agile skater, allowing him to give himself room to make a good first pass. He doesn’t have a great top speed, and his hands aren’t the best either, but he doesn’t play a style of game that utilizes those qualities very often.
Kirsanov played mostly with SKA St. Petersburg last season. He was only able to get three assists on the scoresheet, but having the experience of playing in the KHL is important for his long-term development. He played in the WJC last season as well, scoring one goal in seven games, adding one assist. The Kings ended their draft by selecting a player who provides depth but can also possibly get into the lineup one day as a defensive defenseman.
The Kings’ Rebuild Is Coming to a Close
The moves the Kings made at the 2021 NHL Draft signal that the rebuild is wrapping up. LA has expressed that their goal moving forward is to get better and make the playoffs, and they certainly showed this vision over the weekend. On day one, they added the player they were missing from their prospect pool, and the players they selected on day two are ones they truly believe can make a difference one day.
A rebuilding team wouldn’t trade away half their picks, but for a team exiting the rebuilding phase with one of the best pipelines in the league, it only makes sense to draft players who have the potential to be a part of the future. Moving forward, Kings fans can expect to see some of the team’s much-anticipated prospects in the lineup more often, beginning the process of building a Stanley Cup contender once again.
Zackary Weiner is a high school student from New York City who covers the Los Angeles Kings here at The Hockey Writers. He is a lifelong hockey fan and player, and his previous experience includes writing articles about the NHL for various online publications. His articles cover a wide variety of topics that concern the Kings and he takes into account a range of viewpoints, making his articles a perfect read for anyone who wants to stay up to date on the team. Zackary is more than happy to get into a conversation with fellow Kings fans, so feel free to leave a comment below any of his articles like this one to let him know your opinion and what you want to see next. You can also listen to him talk about the team on Fantasy Hockey Life, The Hockey Writers Live, and Blackhawks Banter.