Kings Have Good Forward Options at 2021 Draft

The Los Angeles Kings possess the eighth overall pick following the 2021 NHL Draft Lottery, where they didn’t move up or down in the draft order. LA is known for having one of the deepest prospect pipelines in the NHL. The pinnacle of the pipeline is 2020 second overall pick, Quinton Byfield. Second on the depth chart is 2019’s fifth overall pick Alex Turcotte, who alongside Byfield will be a great one-two punch at center. Further notable center prospects include Rasmus Kupari, Tyler Madden, and Akil Thomas. The duo of 21-year-old rookie centers Gabriel Vilardi and Jaret Anderson-Dolan, who recently both nabbed a gold medal in the 2021 World Championship, provide the Kings with one of the brightest up-and-coming center lineups in the entire NHL.

Overall, drafting more centers isn’t the Kings’ prerogative. However, a priority for the team should be adding a winger. Aside from the sharpshooting Arthur Kaliyev and Samuel Fagemo, the Kings don’t have many top-notch winger prospects. With that in mind, should Los Angeles opt to draft a forward, they should preferably select a winger.

Dylan Guenther, Right Winger, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL)

The Kings are in need of wingers, and Guenther could be an effective winger in a few years. In 2020-21, he had an offensive explosion, scoring 12 goals and adding 12 assists in just 12 games played. This gave him an incredible 2 points per game (P/G). He fits LA’s needs perfectly and is projected to be picked around eighth overall.

Dylan Guenther Edmonton Oil Kings
Dylan Guenther, Edmonton Oil Kings (Photo by Marissa Baecker/Getty Images)

Prior to the WHL season, he was loaned to the Sherwood Park Crusaders of the Alberta Junior Hockey League, where he posted five points in four games played, including scoring three goals. Known for his scoring prowess, his ability to dish the puck and his strong transitional game, he’d fit in with numerous Kings prospects. For example, Turcotte plays a quick-paced game and excels at moving the puck; perhaps they could form a deadly duo together.

“One thing of note is that [Guenther] has added nearly 20 pounds from last season without a decrease in agility or acceleration, and he remains difficult to contain in the neutral zone. Whether Guenther’s frequent positioning in unchecked danger areas is a tribute to either his anticipation or speed (or both), the fact remains that the kid always seems one, two, or even three steps ahead of his closest opponent. He’s in open ice a ton and displays smoothness and fluidity no matter the game speed he’s operating at”.

Steve Kournianos, The Draft Analyst

Kent Johnson, Center/Left Winger, University of Michigan Wolverines (NCAA)

Although he mainly is a center, Johnson has also played as a left winger before. He is a player who is by most projections expected to go around seventh or eighth overall. If he’s available at eighth, he’d be the most highly touted forward available at that pick. Some high estimates place him as high as third overall. However, the Kings could afford to draft a natural winger who fills a positional need rather than him due to their deep prospect pool.

Kent Johnson, Michigan Wolverines
Kent Johnson Michigan Wolverines (Jonathan Knight, Jonathan Knight Photography)

Johnson plays for the stacked University of Michigan Wolverines team with the likes of the projected number one and two overall picks in this year’s draft, Owen Power and Matthew Beniers. Johnson is impressive in his own right and the 18-year-old posted 27 points in 26 games with Michigan. Although 15 of Jonson’s 27 points were secondary assists, he had an outstanding freshman season with the Wolverines. Steve Kournianos projects Johnson to be a “top-line scoring winger similar to Nikolaj Ehlers or Artemi Panarin”, which is very high praise.

Johnson’s 2019-20 campaign in the British Columbia Hockey League highlights how dominant he can be. The Port Moody native was named the league’s MVP because he cracked the 100-point plateau with 101 points. The only other player to accomplish the feat since 2015-16 is Alex Newhook. Additionally, he took home hardware as the BCHL’s most sportsmanlike player. The next highest scoring player in 2019-20 posted 71 points, meaning he posted 30 more points than any other player.

William Eklund, Centre/Left Winger, Djurgarden (SHL)

The main downside in drafting Eklund is that he is only 5-foot-10. Although the NHL is shifting towards being a league more focused on skill and speed, size and physicality are still important traits, especially come playoffs. Despite his size, he isn’t afraid to play in the dirty areas of the ice. One such instance of him capitalizing from in front of the net is below.

The top-rated international player by NHL Central Scouting, Eklund may not be available when the Kings are selecting. Dobber Prospects projected him as the second overall pick in their March rankings. In that same projection, Eklund is described as:

“Eklund is probably the player in this draft class that has come furthest in his development and is closest to be NHL ready. He has gone through a tough season with really high highs and really low lows. He has had Covid, which made him ineligible to play in the World Juniors and he also required surgery to his appendix but despite this, he has played very well in one of the best leagues in the world as an 18-year-old. He’s well-rounded with not a lot of flaws. He can skate well, shoot well, his vision and passing are very good. The question is if the high upside is there but with his development the last year or so, it isn’t something you could rule out”.

Mikael Holm, Dobber Prospects

Other rankings have him rated at:

Known for his two-way play, Eklund thrived both offensively and defensively in the SHL during the 2020-21 season. His point production as a draft-eligible SHL player is spectacular, as his 23 points in 40 games are only exceeded by the Sedin Twins, Elias Lindholm and Nicklas Bäckstrom. If Eklund’s available, LA should definitely try to snatch him up.

Reach #1: Cole Sillinger, Centre, Sioux Falls Stampede (USHL)

Sillinger is a center, meaning he doesn’t fill any of the Kings’ holes among their forward prospects (a lack of natural wingers). He’d also be a reach with the eighth overall pick because draft projections place him between 11th overall (Peter Baracchini of The Hockey Writers) and 20th (Bob Mackenzie of TSN). In the 2019-20 season, he posted 53 points in 48 games in the WHL.

Related: THW’s 2021 NHL Draft Guide

Due to uncertainty surrounding the WHL’s season in 2020-21, he was loaned to the Sioux Falls Stampede, where he scored 24 goals and tallied 46 points in 31 games. His effort earned him USHL rookie of the year honors; the award was determined by the league’s coaches and general managers (Per ‘Stampede’s Cole Sillinger named USHL 2020-21 Rookie of the Year’, Argus Leader, 7/6/21).

Cole Sillinger Medicine Hat Tigers
Cole Sillinger of the Medicine Hat Tigers (Randy Feere/Medicine Hat Tigers)

Sillinger is a very skilled player, but a potential reason to select him higher than he’s projected to go is his family’s NHL history. His father, Mike Sillinger, played in the NHL for 17 years and played for a record number of teams (12). Players whose fathers played in the NHL often seem to have an edge in hockey IQ compared to their peers, including current NHL players: the Tkachuk brothers (Matthew and Brady), the Nylander brothers (Alex and William), Paul Stastny, and the Foligno brothers (Nick and Marcus).

Reach #2: Matthew Coronato, Right Winger, Chicago Steel (USHL)

Coronato fits a positional need for the Kings as he is a right winger. Similar to Sillinger, Coronato had a successful 2020-21 campaign in the USHL. In 51 games played, he scored 48 goals and posted 85 points, ranking first and second in these respective categories. Additionally, he had a plus/minus of plus-37, which was the highest in the league, indicating he is responsible in his own zone. There is a discrepancy about where he should be drafted. Here’s how he placed in The Hockey Writers draft rankings:

Although selecting Coronato eighth overall could be a reach, the Kings require scoring wingers and he scores a boatload of goals. Additionally, he has a two-way prowess and has shown tremendous signs of improvement. For example, with the Chicago Steel in 2019-20, he posted 40 points. In 2020-21 with the same team, he scored more goals (48) than he had points in the previous season. His improvements are something his coach has noticed too.

“He’s got a really good shot, good release, he can shoot the puck a bunch of different ways, and he can one-time a puck… He’s also a good skater with great explosiveness and edge work, and he’s really hard on the puck. If he gets into traffic with possession, he comes out with it. He’s just a really smart player. When we first got him, he was a guy who would beat players one-on-one and he would beat guys down the ice, but he has shown he has the ability to add pieces to his game. He’s more of a playmaker now and has learned to use his teammates more and play at different paces.”

Brock Sheahan, head coach of the Chicago Steel

Lots of Options

The Kings have lots of options heading into the draft. They could go with a safer pick such as Guenther, Johnson, or Eklund. However, due to their stacked prospect pipeline, they could also afford to select a forward such as Sillinger or Coronato as a reach. Additionally, LA could trade down their first-round pick for an asset and draft one of the two prospects whom I listed as reaches. Finally, they could trade the pick outright if the “right” player becomes available. No matter what they do, LA is poised to have another interesting draft.

Stats per Elite Prospects and HockeyDB