The L.A. Kings jumped up to the number two pick in the 2020 draft last Friday. The only team above them? A placeholder team, yet to be decided. If that confuses you, don’t feel bad. Things are being done a bit differently this year. Even though the Kings missed out on the top pick, they are in a great spot. Worst case scenario, they pick between Quinton Byfield and Tim Stützle. Best case scenario, they manage to steal generational talent Alexis Lafrenière. Here are a few ways that could happen.
The NHL is a bit different from the MLB and NFL when it comes to drafting by positional need. Since there are fewer positions in hockey, it is more common to take the best player available rather than filling a hole. However, there are certain teams that might prefer drafting Quinton Byfield over Lafrenière purely because Byfield is a center, and Lafrenière is a winger. The teams that fit this description the best are the Minnesota Wild, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Montreal Canadiens.
The Wild have been in a limbo state the past few years — not good enough to sniff the conference finals, not bad enough to grab a top pick. The team has a few promising prospects and young studs, but they certainly don’t have a generational first-line center. If the Wild could slide Byfield in with Kirill Kaprizov and Kevin Fiala, they suddenly have a promising future top line.
The Blue Jackets over preformed this year after losing Panarin, Bobrovsky, and Duchene to free agency. Pierre-Luc Dubois is the closest thing they have to a franchise center. He has scored at least 48 points in each of his three NHL seasons, including a 61-point campaign in 2018-19. However, he has yet to take the step that many other young star centers — Elias Pettersson, Mathew Barzal, Aleksander Barkov, etc. — have taken. As of right now, Columbus would love to draft a high-caliber center, as they have more of a need at center than on the wing.
The Canadiens have been chasing a first-line center longer and harder than anybody. Their revolving door of top pivots has left them with a bunch of B-plus centers that don’t quite fit the bill. Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Nick Suzuki, or Ryan Poehling may eventually make the leap to bona fide 1C, but for now the spot is up in the air. The Canadiens are more likely to select Lafrenière than the Wild or Blue Jackets, but you never know what Marc Bergevin is cooking up.
If one of these three teams decided to swap picks with L.A., they would most likely ask for a roster player and a draft pick/prospect in addition to the second-overall pick. That could mean sending away Alex Iafallo or Adrian Kempe along with a mid-tier prospect, such as Kale Clague or Akil Thomas. The Kings also have three second-round picks this year (their own plus Vegas’ and Vancouver’s), and could use one of these as a sweetener. If it means moving up a spot and selecting Lafrenière, the Kings can certainly swallow this cost.
Moving Up Via Blockbuster
This draft has the potential for the Pittsburgh Penguins, who finished seventh in the NHL, to end up with the first-overall pick. The Oilers, who finished ninth, could also get the same honors. The fact of the matter is, a team that is not in a rebuild could find themselves number one on the big boards.
Pittsburgh, or any of the other win-now teams that could win the lottery, might prefer to use the top pick to acquire more short-term talent rather than a long-term investment. The Kings have a lot of star power they could throw around if this is the case.
Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar are the biggest names on the Kings’ roster right now. They both have big cap hits, so L.A. might have to retain some salary or take on one of the other team’s worst contracts to make the move work. Doughty and Kopitar both have a No Movement Clause, which they would have to waive. The good news is, if one of these players has the chance to be traded from a tanking team to a contender, it’s hard to see them saying no.
Kings Don’t Have to Do Anything
Moving up and grabbing a franchise winger would be amazing. Only one team gets to pick first each year, and it usually serves them right — unless we are talking about Edmonton in 2011 or 2012. However, don’t overlook the potential value of picking second in this year’s draft, which is oozing with talent. Byfield and Stützle are two fantastic prospects, and both will make a huge impact wherever they go. For a team that could have drafted as low as seventh, the Kings shouldn’t be upset if they remain second in line this year.
Also, don’t forget that the Kings have eight draft picks in the first four rounds. In such a deep draft, the Kings are likely to nab a few players that will become part of their future core. They may package two second or third-round picks to make a second selection late in the first round. If the Kings stand pat, they’ll walk away with 11 new players drafted. No matter what, this is shaping up to be a critical draft for L.A.