The Los Angeles Kings were arguably the big winners of the NHL Draft Lottery. They did move up to No. 2 after all, and whichever prospect they pick will likely be a game-changer, but Adler Mannheim left-winger Tim Stützle is the one who puts them in the best position to be winners for years to come.
Kings Lose Out on Lafreniere
Technically speaking, the placeholder team did come out as bigger winners. They will get the honor of picking consensus-top-pick Alexis Lafreniere, to be clear. And, whereas the Kings moved up a few spots after holding the fourth-best odds heading in, technically the Pittsburgh Penguins, who finished the regular season with the seventh-best record in the league, could end up with the first overall selection, assuming they lose their play-in-round match-up against the Montreal Canadiens.
There’s little denying the Kings would love the right to draft Lafreniere in their own right. Any team would and No. 2 overall is in some ways a consolation prize in that respect. Nevertheless, it’s a pretty big one that should not be discounted in terms of its potential to positively impact the Kings for a decade, if not more.
Furthermore, it’s hard to assess unknowns at this stage, especially when it comes to the overall strength of the team that ends up selecting first. Theoretically, they could be very weak depth-wise, organizationally speaking, and may have just lucked into a half-decent season and a play-in-round berth.
In sharp contrast, there is no doubt that the rich just got richer, as far as the Kings are concerned. They’ve literally spent years developing their prospect pipeline, to the point that their system is ranked as one the league’s best, if not No. 1 overall in its own right. Now, they’ve got a No. 2 overall pick to add to it. That pick should be Stützle based on their relative lack of depth on the left side at the moment.
Byfield vs. Stützle
Sudbury Wolves star Quinton Byfield is ranked No. 2 by general consensus. However, he is a center, and the Kings already have Gabriel Vilardi (No. 11 in 2017), Alex Turcotte (No. 5 in 2019) and Tyler Madden (No. 68 in 2018) projected to slot in there. That’s discounting players like captain Anze Kopitar, who currently acts as the team’s top pivot and isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, with four years left on his deal, which has a $10 million cap hit and a no-trade clause to boot.
On the left side, the Kings really only have winger Arthur Kaliyev in terms of blue-chip prospects. Furthermore, Alex Iafallo is effectively their top-line left-winger, which should tell you all need to know in terms of their depth on that side, even if only due to the fact that he should be considered a top trade chip, as he only has one year left on his deal. The Kings simply need Stützle more than Byfield.
Granted, Stützle is projected to be able play center as well, but he’s primarily listed as a left-winger. And, for his part, Byfield does shoot left and could theoretically be converted into a winger, prompting arguments that the Kings should just select the best player available and cross that bridge, developing their prospects at a given position, when they come to it.
The fact of the matter is, we’re talking about a player who could be making the NHL as soon as next season as a top-six forward. And, since the Kings haven’t won a playoff game since 2016, ideally they’d be looking to make a run as soon as next season.
That isn’t to say Byfield, even if he is one of the younger players in the draft, is incapable of making an impact right away, because he is. However, there’s a thin line between the best player available and the best player for the Kings, and it’s Stützle in this instance, based on his playmaking and vision, which they simply lack on the left side. By some accounts, Stützle is even the second-best player available, behind Lafreniere.
Look at it this way: If the balls had fallen slightly differently and the Kings had gotten the first-overall pick, there would be no doubt who they would pick, as Lafreniere is the best player available by all accounts. He’s also a left-winger, making him a great fit. If the Kings wouldn’t have to be convinced into taking the best left-winger in the draft, they shouldn’t have to be into taking the best one left on the board. That’s Stützle.
After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has written for such publications as the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently covers the Habs for THW as a columnist.