THE DRAFT STARTS TONIGHT. I started writing a long beautiful post that was supposed to cover both rounds one and two but then I had to do my actual job and stuff, so here is this hastily-completed post about who I think the Kings should target in round one only, sorry.
Basically the only downside of your favourite team winning the Stanley Cup is that the draft becomes a considerably less exciting experience. I remember getting pretty worked up about it during the dark old days, but lately, the whole experience has seemed a bit perfunctory. I've been to two drafts (including the one where I drunkenly booed Tanner Pearson oh god I have so many regrets) and everybody has stopped caring by the end of the first round. It's all very underwhelming.
The Kings organisation has done fairly well recently in that early mid-range - Tanner Pearson went 30th overall, Tyler Toffoli went 47th overall, Slava Voynov went 32nd overall, blah blah blah - but as you've probably heard, this year's draft is shaping up to be a bit of a dud. With a bunch of middling talent that nobody really seems that excited about, it may be trickier to get a quality player at the 29th spot. But obviously I know best, so Dean Lombardi & Mike Futa should do exactly as I suggest, and everything will be fine.
Nikita Scherbak, LW, Saskatoon Blades
Scherbak is 6'0", 172 lbs, a highly skilled and versatile winger. He's not huge, but he's strong for his size, and he'll almost certainly fill out as he ages. After playing in the MHL (the KHL's developmental league) with so-so results, Scherbak came over to North America and was a whiz in the WHL this past season, putting up 78 points in 65 games with a truly awful Blades team. He's fast, has great positioning on the forecheck, and finishes well.
When I say that the Blades were truly awful, I mean truly awful. They're currently in full-on rebuild mode, and Scherbak was far and away the only actually good player on the team, meaning that he was the one who had to make it happen for twenty minutes every single game, facing the league's best defencemen. You can check out his CHL stats here. To get the results that Scherbak did, playing a critical role with crappy teammates on a crappy team in the low-scoring WHL, is indicative of pretty impressive offensive prowess.
I've seen some talk that his defensive game needs work, which is fair - but how many CHL graduates don't need to work on their defensive games? Put your hand down, Sean Couturier, nobody asked you. His defense is adequate/isn't noticeably weaker than anybody else liable to go in the late first round, and his offensive upside is, I think, considerably underrated by many. (Craig Button has him going 35th. THIRTY-FIFTH. Ridiculous.) If the Kings are proof of anything, it's that you can really heighten those defensive abilities if the offensive instincts are already there. Look at how great Scherbak is:
The problem with Scherbak is that he's got a lot of momentum headed into the draft. Despite being projected by most to go in the late first round, he's been one of the most talked-about prospects, widely touted as a potential steal of a pick. I think it's more likely than not that he'll be taken before the Kings go at 29th, but if he's still available, he should certainly be the guy.
Josh Ho-Sang, C, Windsor Spitfires
Josh Ho-Sang is complicated. He has been famous, more-or-less, in Canada since he was 15, when he had his own TSN commercial. I don't think there's any doubt that he is one of the handful of most purely talented players in this draft. Warren Rychel, his coach with the Windsor Spitfires, has stated that Ho-Sang is the most talented player ever to come through the Spitfires system - if you're keeping track at home, that includes Taylor Hall, Adam Henrique, our beloved Andrei Loktionov, and Rychel's own kid Kerby (a first-round pick last year). I've watched him play live a handful of times, and he is just a beautiful hockey player. But unless you live under a rock, you've heard about the controversy that's embroiled him lately: try reading this or this.
Steve Simmons and Craig Custance are both total doorknobs, but I think they've accurately managed to capture the situation here. Ho-Sang is real good at hockey and for some reason, people think that his unwillingness to pretend that he's not good at hockey is a character flaw. Why should he pretend? He's objectively very good, scoring 32 goals and 53 assists in 67 games on a middling OHL team (with so-so linemates) this season, not quite doubling his point total from his rookie season. If 53 assists in 67 games counts as not "sharing" enough with his teammates, then think of how many assists he'll score when Darryl Sutter has scared him into behaving. A teenage boy hockey player having an oversized ego in a country that venerates its teenage boy hockey players is pretty natural, and is an eminently fixable problem. His skill makes it well worth the risk, I think.
Here is a video of Josh Ho-Sang doing things:
Nick Schmaltz, C, Green Bay Gamblers
This is probably my most realistic pick. First of all, it satisfies Dean Lombardi's huge boner for America. Second of all, although Schmaltz is projected to go earlier in the second half of the first round, he doesn't have as much buzz going into the draft, so the likelihood of him slipping just a bit to the Kings at 29 seems greater. There are a lot of other things to like about Nick Schmaltz, though. Schmaltz played 55 games with the Gamblers of the USHL this past season, scoring 18 goals with 45 assists. Although his goal total is a little low, he's also generally regarded as one of the more naturally talented and offensively dynamic players in this draft class. His stick-handling and playmaking have all been praised highly, while his drawbacks (lacking upper body strength, weaker defensive game) are things that I think the Kings' system of developing players can remedy nicely.
Here is a video of Nick Schmaltz doing stuff:
As is probably clear by now, I'd like the Kings to draft somebody smart - you can teach defensive responsibility to somebody who already has the hockey sense to know where he's supposed to be on the ice, but you can't teach Trevor Lewis how to score a fucking goal. (Sorry, Trevor.) "But Trevor Lewis had good numbers in the OHL," you say. Thanks, smartass. I know that. Trevor Lewis had good numbers in the OHL skating real fast, passing a lot, and hoping for the best. At that level, it's enough. At higher levels, it's obviously not. Nick Schmaltz might not play Kings hockey right now, but he's good enough at hockey that he can learn. I think this is especially true in a draft where there are no standout talents or complete packages - pick the best natural player you can, and then fix him up.