It cannot be overstated how important the 2020 NHL Entry Draft is to the Kings’ rebuild. Armed with the second overall pick and ten additional selections in a deep draft year, there are few ways that Kings general manager Rob Blake can go wrong.
But for GMs across the league, this draft being held virtually isn’t just a novelty. It’s part of a long list of barriers that, while essential, have also kept scouts from traveling to meet with prospects over the last several months. Where teams may have explored more options in years past, this year they may have been forced to be more reserved.
Mark Yannetti, the Kings’ director of amateur scouting, detailed to The Athletic that in other circumstances, he would’ve had lengthy interview processes with at least four players. That in-person scouting element being missing is proving difficult on their decision-making:
“I can tell you that if you don’t scout live, you will make mistake after mistake after mistake,” said Yannetti, who will be at Kings headquarters in El Segundo for the draft. “You can’t replace it. You can bring in other elements, analytics. Teams have tried it. Buffalo tried it way back when and had disastrous results. You can’t get rid of one facet. Inefficiency is one of the prices you pay … until we get transporters or play everything in a bubble.”
At the end of the day, the circumstances are what they are. The Kings have a franchise-changing draft ahead of them, and that starts with the decision between Quinton Byfield and Tim Stutzle.
In my ideal draft for the Kings, they select Quinton Byfield at second overall. I believe that Byfield is a player that will eventually carry a franchise. Byfield’s ceiling is 1C, but it wouldn’t be the worst thing if he pans out as a 2C. He’s an offensive machine with defensive intuition and at 6-foot-4, he’s got the one cliche you can’t teach: size. There’s a reason I selected Byfield in our SB Nation Mock Draft.
The Kings front office has emphasized that the second overall pick is going to have a huge impact on the rebuild timeline. They’re banking on the player they select being about to step into the line up soon. I worry they’ll overthink this point.
If it comes down to Byfield or Stutzle, age is an apparent factor. Byfield just turned 18 years old on August 19. Stutzle is three months from turning 19. They’re on opposite ends of the spectrum, and Byfield isn’t helped by his World Juniors performance as the team’s youngest player.
In Stutzle, the Kings would get an older player, one who has been playing against adult men in Germany’s top league when he’s not representing Germany internationally. Though Stutzle might adjust to the size and physicality of NHL competition, he’s also going to need time to adjust to the North American game, another factor the rebuilding Kings need to consider.
There’s a wealth of forward talent in this draft, but the Kings’ primary goal after the first round should be a defender. That volume of forwards means that defenders are going to go at unpredictable times.
Top defensive prospect Jamie Drysdale isn’t necessarily being eyed for a top-three pick and could just as easily fall out of the top 10 as teams take advantage of a crop of forwards with high ceilings. I would expect the Kings’ second round to be focused on taking a defender. With seven picks between the second and fourth rounds, I can also see the Kings packaging picks to target specific defenders they have an eye on.
After taking Byfield or Stutzle at center, the next thing the Kings will be looking for at forward will be wingers, which they’ll likely pick up in later rounds.
Round 1 of the 2020 NHL Entry Draft starts Tuesday night at 4 p.m. PT/7 p.m. ET.