With three picks in the second round of the NHL Draft, should the Los Angeles Kings try to move back into the end of the first round?
Whenever the NHL decides to hold the 2020 Draft – tentatively scheduled for October 9-10 of this year – the Los Angeles Kings will hold the second overall pick. While that selection seems like a slam dunk in the form of centerman Quinton Byfield, what direction the Kings will go after that is anyone’s guess. But general manager Rob Blake will have a ton of flexibility with three second-round picks at his disposable.
Of course, the Kings hold their own pick in the second round, but they also acquired two more when they dealt Alec Martinez and Tyler Toffoli this past season. Looking ahead, the Kings also hold two picks in both the third and fourth rounds, so they have a fantastic opportunity to add to an already exuberant farm system.
But there’s no doubt that the farm system is heavily swayed in the offensive direction. Alex Turcotte leads the way, ranked seventh in The Athletic’s top 124 prospects, with Arthur Kaliyev and Rasmus Kupari not far behind. The Kings best defensive prospect is Tobias Bjornfot, who played in three October games but was sent back down to Ontario to avoid starting the clock on his three-year entry-level contract.
Mikey Anderson played in six games before the shutdown, scoring his first NHL goal against the Avalanche, and Kale Clague saw time in four games last year as well. In terms of veterans, Ben Hutton, Joakim Ryan, and Sean Walker are all set to hit the free-agent market, although Walker will be a restricted free agent.
Walker is likely to be re-signed, given that he’s still 25 and had a key role on the second powerplay unit. He played in 70 games last year, tallying five goals with 19 assists for 24 points. Walker is projected to receive a sizeable increase, with a four-year contract at a $3.8M AAV coming his way, according to Evolving Hockey.
Both Hutton and Ryan are not expected to be back next year, so the Kings will need to find a left-side defenseman. Hutton scored four goals with 12 assists for 16 points last year, but he’s projected to fetch a five-year contract at a $4.3M AAV in the free-agent market.
And Ryan scored just one goal with four assists, as he was limited for the majority of the year due to injuries. He’s projected to garner a one-year deal worth approximately $1M, but Blake is likely to move on from the 27-year-old defenseman, anyway.
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That said, the Kings are not going to trade back from second overall, so Byfield is the logical pick there, despite having a plethora of centerman prospects. Some of those guys can transition to the winger position if needed. But it might make some sense for Rob Blake to package two second-round picks to move into the back of the first round to grab a better defenseman.
Kaiden Guhle or William Wallinder have consistently been projected to be taken off the board late in the first round, and both are natural left-side defensemen.
Guhle is 18 years of age and spent the last couple of seasons playing for the Prince Albert Raiders of the WHL. He scored 11 goals with 29 assists for 40 points in 64 games last year. According to The Draft Analyst, Guhle is a two-way defenseman who boasts physicality.
Guhle’s impact on defense covers many areas. His one-on-one play — gap control, footspeed, stick positioning, timing — is excellent, and he can finish off an opponent with a thunderous check that creates a change in possession.
As for Wallinder, the 17-year-old spent this past season playing for Modo Hockey of Swedish HockeyAllsvenskan. He tallied just one assist and a +4 rating in 18 games, but scouts love his abilities to quarterback a powerplay.
He whips the puck around the horn with accuracy but he also walks the line and can look off a checker while delivering a backdoor feed. Making plays on his backhand seems natural and he can saucer a pass over a harassing checker’s blade while luring away from the circle.
Blake has done an excellent job of drafting players since he’s taken over GM duties, so the Kings could conceivably stand pat with their three second-round picks. However, if another team is looking to acquire additional draft capital, it might make some sense to at least consider moving up.