When you talk about the best prospect pools in the NHL, at some point in the conversation the Los Angeles Kings and the Detroit Red Wings will both come up. Both teams have a deep pool of prospects, and while the Kings managed to win the second overall selection in the 2020 draft, both teams have plenty of potential difference-makers waiting in the wings. However, the Kings find themselves in second place in the Pacific Division this season while the Red Wings are slowly starting to fade away from the playoff conversation with just 24 games left on their schedule.
This means that, while the Red Wings are in a position to add to their rebuild by selling off some pieces ahead of this year’s trade deadline, the Kings might be in a position to reward their team’s strong season so far. After all, the Kings haven’t made the playoffs since 2018, and they haven’t won a playoff round since their Stanley Cup championship in 2014. After adding forwards Viktor Arvidsson and Phillip Danault in the offseason, this is a team that has a nice mix of experience and youth, and they have plenty of prospects and picks from which they can dig into to add even more help.
That’s where the Red Wings come in. The strength of the Kings’ prospect pool is down the middle, with players such as former first round picks Alex Turcotte, Gabriel Vilardi, Rasmus Kupari all being able to play down the middle. The Red Wings’ biggest need in their own pool of prospects is a good, young center that could feasibly develop into a player of Dylan Larkin’s caliber, or better. You have to give to get though, but luckily the Red Wings could have exactly what the Kings are looking for….
Red Wings Have Premium Trade Pieces
While most of the discussion surrounding the Red Wings’ trade deadline plans involves defenseman Nick Leddy and forward Vladislav Namestnikov, they have other players of interest that could fetch a bigger return. With the emergence of Lucas Raymond this season as well as getting Jakub Vrana back from injured-reserve, the Red Wings have a solid group of top six wingers, and that’s without accounting for prospects such as Jonatan Berggren that could factor in very soon. One such name that gets thrown around a lot lately is 22-year-old winger Filip Zadina. In fact, insider Frank Seravalli recently listed Zadina at number 12 on his trade deadline targets list.
With just 19 points in 56 games this season, many have begun to speculate that Zadina’s time with the Red Wings could be coming to a close. Chosen sixth overall in 2018, the Czech winger still has a ton of upside, and fans of his will tell you that his analytics suggest that he’s doing the right things without reaping the rewards. This is a player that, if traded, could grow with his new team as he continues to develop as an NHL forward. A clean slate may be just what the doctor ordered here, but Red Wings general manager (GM) Steve Yzerman isn’t going to give him away for pennies on the dollar.
While Zadina offers a skill game that is still developing, another one of their forwards is in his prime and could fetch a king’s ransom (pun intended) based on his performance this season. That player is Tyler Bertuzzi, and despite the controversy surrounding him this season, he has been one of the Red Wings’ best players this season.
With 24 goals and 48 points through 50 games, Bertuzzi is having a career year and is vastly outperforming his price tag of just $4.75 million. With another year still to go on his deal, his trade value may never be higher as teams are more willing to deal away premium assets for players with term left on their deals. He plays a style of hockey tailor-made for the playoffs, as evidenced by the American Hockey League (AHL) playoff MVP award that was given to him following the Grand Rapids Griffins’ run to the 2017 Calder Cup. If the Red Wings were a playoff contender right now, this is a player that would probably be untouchable. Instead, Detroit is at least another year away from challenging for a playoff spot, and few more years beyond that away from being a Stanley Cup contender. Between now and then, Bertuzzi is only going to get older (he just recently turned 27), and his cap-hit is only going to rise.
The Red Wings, as they have been since the start of Yzerman’s tenure, should use the pieces of today to acquire the building blocks of the future.
The Kings Could Make Noise in the Pacific
The Kings currently sit second in the Pacific Division. If the playoffs started today, they’d hold home ice advantage in an opening round series against the Vegas Golden Knights. It’s safe to say that not many people predicted Los Angeles would be this successful this season, but a resurgent season from goaltender Jonathan Quick as well as strong seasons from franchise cornerstones like Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty have led them to where they currently sit. Despite that fact, the Kings are not necessarily gunning for the Stanley Cup this season.
“The Kings are in the same place they were in 2010, meaning that they are not quite ready to make the big splashy moves that they will need to make to become a Cup contender,” said Katie Nash, who covers the Kings here at THW. “Most people around the organization are saying that the Kings are out on (Arizona Coyotes defenseman Jakob) Chychrun because the asking price is far too high for a player who still has some unknowns.”
So while a move for Chychrun or even Claude Giroux seems out of the question, that doesn’t mean Kings GM Rob Blake won’t be listening to offers.
“They shouldn’t be unwilling to make trades, but they don’t need to be aggressive in the trade market either. Especially with Alex Edler set to return later this month,” said Austin Stanovich, who also covers the Kings here at THW.
The Kings are already strong down the middle, with an established one-two punch of Kopitar and Danault, with Quinton Byfield starting to get comfortable at the NHL level as well. But how does that group look in, say, three year’s time?
“The makeup of the Kings center group in three years is entirely dependent on what happens with Kopitar during the next three seasons, with his contract being up at that time,” said Stanovich. “My best guess would be: first line Byfield, second line Danault, third line Kopitar, fourth line Jaret Anderson-Dolan or Samuel Helenius.”
“Byfield, Kopitar, Danault are the clear top three.. the fourth line depends on the direction the Kings want to go. It could be Turcotte but he could also be traded or converted to wing, same with Anderson-Dolan,” added Nash. “There is a slight chance that Blake Lizotte is able to stick around in that role as well. Other center prospects like Tyler Madden or Akil Thomas will also be traded or converted to wing.”
It is important to note that the Kings’ core is running out of time to go on another Cup run. Kopitar is 34 years old. Doughty is 32. Quick recently turned 36. If the goal for them is to get this group one more championship before they retire, they don’t have a ton of time to make it happen. With a strong group of young players already on the roster, as well as one of, if not THE best prospect pool in the NHL, Los Angeles certainly is capable of forming a Cup-worthy team in a short period of time.
They just have to be willing to be a bit bold.
Red Wings & Kings Are Fit to Help Each Other
The Kings have so many center prospects that, as Nash noted, some of them will have to be converted to the wing for them to stick in the NHL. That transition isn’t always easy as some players are just a more natural fit down the middle. Meanwhile, for as deep as they are down the middle, they aren’t nearly as deep on the blue line. Outside of 2021 top pick Brandt Clarke, the Kings don’t have many defensive prospects that project to really stand out at the NHL level.
One of their centers that may have to be converted to wing is Turcotte, who the Kings selected fifth overall in the 2019 draft. Drafted as a center, his standing in the organization took a bit of a hit when LA landed the second selection in the 2020 draft, which they used to select Byfield, the consensus second-best prospect in that class. With Danault on the first year of a six-year contract, Kopitar locked-in for as long as he still wants to play, and Byfield as the heir apparent to their top line center position, it’s fair to wonder if Turcotte isn’t long for the Kings’ system (also note that Nash mentioned the possibility of trading him, completely unprompted, in her earlier quote.)
Turcotte, selected one spot before the Red Wings selected defenseman Moritz Seider, hasn’t been dominant in the AHL, but to say he has struggled wouldn’t be accurate. In 58 games with the Ontario Reign to date, he has 12 goals and 39 points. He is also pointless in eight games with the Kings this season. The 5-foot-11 center is known as a playmaker, but his two-way game is a little underappreciated. If put in the right situation, he could definitely develop into an all-situations center that sees time on both the power play and penalty kill.
On the Red Wings’ side of things, their prospect pool is filled with high-end defensive prospects – so much so, in fact, that it’s becoming obvious that not all of them are destined to wear the winged wheel; there simply isn’t enough space on the roster for all of them. Meanwhile, their biggest need heading into the 2022 draft is a top-six center, as previously mentioned.
I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this….
If the Kings want to add an impact forward for their roster right now and the near-future, Bertuzzi could add a blend of skill and grit that they haven’t enjoyed since Dustin Brown’s peak. He has another year on his deal, and he has experience playing with current Kings forward Andreas Athanasiou, so he’d theoretically already have a friend on the team. If there’s a fit, the Kings could re-sign Bertuzzi to the big-money deal he’s bound to sign next year.
Going the younger route, Zadina is a pending restricted free agent, so there’s some cost-control that might appeal to the Kings or any other interested team. At just 22 years old, so he could definitely grow with the team and become a big part of their lineup when they start contending for Stanley Cups again. In the same way that Byfield hopped over Turcotte in Los Angeles’s depth chart, Lucas Raymond essentially did the same thing to Zadina; both Turcotte and Zadina could benefit from escaping the shadow of their draft day expectations.
And if the Kings simply want to shore up a deficiency in their prospect pool, the Red Wings can help them out on that end. Would a framework of Turcotte for Albert Johansson or William Wallinder make sense for either sides? This wouldn’t help the Kings make a push this season, but having quality prospects in place ensures that they won’t have to overpay in free agency to fill those spots, so long as those prospects develop of course. It also should be noted that both Nash and Stanovich mentioned the Kings’ need for help on the blue line.
Meanwhile, the Red Wings can seize the opportunity to add a former blue chip center prospect without paying too hefty of a price. Top six centers are hard to come by – you usually have to draft them or trade for them, and trading for them once they’re established is almost always cost-prohibitive. While the Red Wings will have a shot at the draft lottery this year, their chances will be slim, and they will most likely consider themselves “lucky” if they manage to secure a top-10 pick considering how long they were a part of the playoff race this season. Adding Turcotte would provide some insurance in case they are unable to secure a prospect that fits their needs during the draft this July.
Before i close, it is also important to note that this isn’t to suggest that any of these could be simple one-for-one swaps. Draft picks and other pieces could be added to either side of the deal, depending on who’s going where.
Both the Kings and the Red Wings have done a good job of stocking their cupboards throughout their respective rebuilds. Now it’s time for both franchises to use what they have to address their other needs. After battling against each other for years in the NHL, Yzerman and Blake have a unique opportunity to help each other accomplish their goals. The question now is whether or not this is an opportunity that makes sense to them.
I am a Western Michigan University alum whose passion for hockey knows no limits. Dr. Pepper enthusiast. Catch me and my fellow Red Wings writers’ YouTube show “The Hockey Writers Grind Line” which drops every Saturday.