NHL Draft: Kings' biggest needs, top prospects

After a surprisingly good season, the Los Angeles Kings could take the next step with a talented prospects corps ready for primetime. (Getty Images)
After a surprisingly good season, the Los Angeles Kings could take the next step with a talented prospects corps ready for primetime. (Getty Images)

The Los Angeles Kings went through their struggles, and they’re about to emerge with a haul of talented young players competing in the NHL. Long time cornerstone Dustin Brown announced his retirement, and aging stars Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar, and Jonathan Quick are on the downward slope while the team continues to ascend. It appears, however, that the throne is safe, as the heirs are ready to claim spots in the National Hockey League, perhaps with the exception of a goaltender. This season, Los Angeles had youngsters including Arthur Kaliyev, Rasmus Kupari, Tobias Bjornfot, and Sean Durzi in full-time roles, and another crop featuring Quinton Byfield and Jordan Spence took extended dress rehearsals. Next year the youth movement will take a giant step forward as more burgeoning stars enter the lineup.

Top Prospects

Alex Turcotte, F - Whether his game translates to a top-six scoring role, or he becomes the stereotypical two-way third line center, is yet to be seen. Alex Turcotte is tenacious on the puck, and plays a calculated two-way game. Few are going to outwork Turcotte on any given shift, but using that work ethic to generate offensive opportunities is next on his list. While Turcotte is NHL ready in a checking role, the Kings might give him another year in the AHL to play those scoring line minutes. In terms of timelines, as the fifth-overall selection in 2019, his arrival, however, is already overdue.

Gabe Vilardi, F- Back from injuries, Vilardi endured a new challenge this season - leaving the center ice position he’s played all through junior and into pro to become a winger. It’s an organizational need as Los Angeles has an abundance of talented prospects at center. The 6’3” now winger has gifted vision and has a poised style, but at times he needs to rely more upon his offensive instincts and just play the game. Vilardi will almost certainly start the year in the NHL next season and look to cement himself as a full time NHLer.

Brock Faber, D - Takes care of his own zone first. Faber’s defense-first approach is not a bad characteristic, but it does limit his upside, as he’s unlikely to contribute much offensively. Faber is a fabulous skater who closes gaps, and defends using his stick and positioning. He keeps attackers away from danger zones effectively, and has been heralded for his character. Faber represented Team USA at the Olympics and will likely play one more season at the University of Minnesota before making the jump to pro hockey. Los Angeles may give him games at the end of this season, but time in the AHL wouldn’t hurt his development either.

One To Watch

Few blueliners in the 2021 draft showed the offensive upside of Brandt Clarke. When Canada left the 6’2” right shot defender off their World Junior roster, it raised concerns. What did Hockey Canada see that other scouts didn’t? Clarke responded by scoring more than a point-per-game with the OHL’s Barrie Colts. Never afraid to join the rush, he’ll quarterback the Kings’ powerplay in the future. How soon? That’s up to Clarke. Jaret Anderson-Dolan is another prospect of interest. He played the entire pandemic shortened season in the NHL dressing for 34 games. This year, that time was reduced to seven contests, and he was held off the scoresheet for each. Anderson-Dolan had good production in the American League and could step into a third-line role for the Kings immediately. If Los Angeles keeps Anderson-Dolan in the AHL, it will be up to the 2017 second-round pick to force the Kings’ hand.

Ready To Step In

Los Angeles Kings fans have been waiting patiently for the arrival and promised impact of Quinton Byfield. The wait is almost certainly over as Los Angeles will hand the keys to their second line to Byfield. The 6’4” center was the second overall pick in 2020, and he’s looked less than dominant at times, but when he has the puck, Byfield powers down the ice and has soft hands for a big player. On the blueline, Jordan Spence already looks like a fourth-round steal. An excellent distributor of the puck, Spence scored at almost a point-per-game in the AHL before spending 24 games with Los Angeles. His value was evident when the team entrusted Spence with three games in the playoffs. Turcotte, Vilardi, and Anderson-Dolan will also make their case for roster spots.

Needs At The Draft

It may not be an issue they can address in this draft, or in time to meet their needs, but the Kings have no goaltender in their top ten prospects. Matt Villalta played well for Ontario in the AHL this season, David Hrenak turned pro after a strong NCAA career, and Jacob Ingham is working on his game in the ECHL, but there are no blue-chippers in the bunch. At the draft, perhaps big Finnish netminder Topias Leinonen, who could become the best goalie in the class, will still be available when the Kings are willing to spend a pick on the position. Aside from their net, the Kings will look to shore up their wings and blueline.

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