I recently published an article discussing defensemen the Los Angeles Kings can target at the 2022 NHL Draft. To follow up on that article, I wanted to write a similar article discussing forwards the Kings should target. The organization is overloaded with prospects, but having too many good prospects is a great problem to have. At 19, the team will have several options at forward.
Under normal circumstances, the Kings would have no chance of drafting Ivan Miroshnichenko, as many view him as a top-10, even top-5, prospect based on talent. Unfortunately, the terrible situation surrounding his Hodgkin’s Lymphoma diagnosis has seen him fall down draft boards. The current political situation in Russia has also negatively impacted his draft stock, but his talent would have still seen him drafted in the top-10 had it not been for illness. He’s expected to miss the entire 2022-23 season because of illness, giving him a longer development path than some other prospects. However, the Kings have the depth of prospects to wait on Miroshnichenko if they choose to select him. The team has shown patience with their prospects in the past, so drafting a long developer like Miroshnichenko seems like a perfect fit.
Miroshnichenko is one of the most well-rounded offensive players in this draft. He can beat you in a lot of different ways and is always a threat with the puck. His goalscoring jumps out at you right away. He’s got a great shot and possesses a wide arsenal of tools. He’s got a good release and generates power in his wrist shot, snapshot, and one-timer.
He’s also shown solid playmaking, with his vision and hockey IQ shining. His size and speed are what sets him apart from other goalscorers. Miroshnichenko can play a power game most high-skilled forwards cannot. He’s not afraid to get physical, he’s good on the forecheck and doesn’t shy away from contact. He’s a bit like a more physically engaged, better skating Arthur Kaliyev, although his shot is a class below Kaliyev, who has a world-class shot. Still, the tools are extremely exciting and a first line featuring Miroshnichenko, Quinton Byfield, and Kaliyev would rival the league’s best. There’s a lot of risk in drafting Miroshnichenko at 19, but the Kings are in the perfect spot to take that risk, and if he’s available at 19, they should absolutely draft him.
Jiri Kulich has shot up draft boards in recent months, off the back of his incredible U18 World Championships, where he posted nine goals and 11 points in just six games. With Gabe Vilardi’s move to wing, Alex Turcotte’s health concerns, and question marks surrounding Rasmus Kupari’s future, perhaps the Kings should look to add another high-end center to their prospect pool, and Kulich could be that. There are still questions about whether he will be a center or wing at the NHL level, mainly because of his size and average skating, but he’s excellent defensively, so I’m banking on him playing center.
Kulich is one of the better two-way centers in this draft, featuring a very developed defensive game. He reads the play well and is rarely out of position. He displays an active stick and wins a lot of battles in the corners. Offensively, his game is all about scoring goals. Like his defensive game, positioning is a huge strength for Kulich in the offensive zone. He gets himself into dangerous areas of the ice and has that knack for finding the puck in these areas. When he gets the puck, it’s off his stick in the blink of an eye, and often in the back of the net. He’s also shown a tendency to get goals in tight and is willing to score dirty goals.
He’s a decent playmaker and excels in the cycle game, as he protects the puck very well, but playmaking isn’t where his game shines. He’s an exceptional skater, showing off a powerful stride. However, some scouts disagree about his acceleration, as it can take him an extra step or two to reach full speed. I do think this will fix itself with added lower-body strength, though. His stickhandling is good, but he sometimes has puck control issues. He has a similar issue to Byfield, where he will bobble the puck and lose it with no pressure at times. His skating, goalscoring, and two-way play make him an excellent prospect. The most common stylistic comparison for Kulich is Bo Horvat, but some question if he can reach that level. I’d be confident in him becoming a second-line center, and on a line with playmakers such as Vilardi, or a high-motor player like Turcotte, there’s plenty of goalscoring potential.
A polarizing player amongst scouts, Brad Lambert could fall to the Kings at 19. Every year, a highly talented prospect falls into the late teens or early 20s, and it looks like that player will be Lambert. Just 12-18 months ago, he was one of the top prospects in this draft, a consensus top-five and even top-three pick in the eyes of most. A poor draft season, splitting time between JYP and the Pelicans in the Finnish Liiga has seen Lambert plummet down the draft boards. He’s now seen as a middle first-round pick, so there’s a chance he’s on the board at 19. Very much a boom-or-bust prospect, there’s serious upside with Lambert.
I don’t think it’s an over-exaggeration to say that Lambert is one of if not the best skater in this draft. He has an explosive stride, needing just two or three steps to reach top speed, while also having elite edgework and balance. He pairs this elite skating with great stickhandling, making him a dangerous puck carrier who can gain zone entries at a high rate. He can make high-end plays once in the offensive zone as well, particularly as a playmaker. He shows great vision and the ability to pass through seams and make plays at high speed. When he’s on, he pushes the pace of play and makes things happen offensively. The issue is, how often is he on? The big question mark is his compete level, as he’s shown a tendency to take nights off too regularly.
Lambert’s shot doesn’t bring much to the table — it’s just average — but his hands and high hockey IQ does see him grab a few goals. At the NHL level, he will be more of a pure playmaker, looking to carry the puck and set up teammates. This would make him an excellent linemate for someone like Kaliyev of Samuel Fagemo. Defensively, he is also just average. His skating allows him to backcheck effectively and make up for some positional flaws, but there’s work to be done. Fortunately, the Kings have shown an ability to develop this side of their prospects.
Kings’ fans who kept an eye on prospect Samuel Helenius at the U20 World Championships last December would have gotten a good look at Lambert, though it was a tiny sample size. He had an excellent first two games alongside Helenius and showed his upside. If he can improve his compete, he’s a game-breaking forward who adds elite skill to the team’s top six. He could easily be this year’s Aatu Raty, who dropped after a poor draft season but looks like a steal after a strong draft-plus-one season.
Good Options at Forward
There’s a real possibility that one of Lambert or Miroshnichenko drops in this season’s draft and if that happens, the Kings should pounce on the opportunity. The team proved last year they’re willing to move up if there’s a player they like, and I wouldn’t be against them moving up to grab one of these forwards. Even if they don’t, Kulich should be available at 19 and would be an excellent option. The Kings are in a unique spot where they don’t have many glaring weaknesses outside of goalie prospects, and can comfortably draft the best player available. I’ll take that a step further and say they can take a shot on a high-risk, high-reward prospect like Miroshnichenko or Lambert, and I hope they do exactly that.
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.