With the likelihood of the NHL returning this season getting slimmer and slimmer, and the Kings out of the playoffs regardless, my thoughts turned to the NHL draft, which was originally scheduled for the weekend of June 26, but has since been postponed due to Covid-19 concerns.
Drew Doughty, Dustin Brown, Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Quick — the heart and soul of not only this year’s team, but more importantly two Cup champions — were all drafted by the Los Angeles Kings. Doughty, Brown, and Kopitar were first-round picks. Quick was a third-rounder. Undoubtedly, each player’s sweater will one day hang from the Staples Center rafters. In addition, Luc Robitaille, Dave Taylor, and Rob Blake, whose numbers have already been retired by the team, were also acquired via the draft — a distinction, as neither Wayne Gretzky, Marcel Dionne, nor Rogie Vachon was drafted by the Kings, despite their ties to the organization.
Unfortunately, the aforementioned roll call of homegrown legends fails to accurately reflect most of the team’s draft history. There have been many more disappointments than saviors. In their inaugural NHL, draft prior to the 1967-68 season, the Kings selected Rick Pagnutti with the first overall pick. Do you remember Pagnutti? I didn’t think so. He never played an NHL game.
Since that first draft, the Kings have passed on 26 available players, who were later elected to the Hall of Fame.
The number of course excludes players likely to be so honored in the future (e.g., Zdeno Chara, Jerome Iginla, to name a few), the five Soviet-era players who made the Hall of Fame after playing together with the Detroit Red Wings (Sergei Fedorov, Slava Fetisov, Slava Kozlov, Igor Larionov and Vladimir Konstantinov), fellow Russian Pavel Bure, as well as Vaclav Nedomansky, Peter Stastny and Dominik Hasek whom hailed from communist-controlled Czechoslovakia. Geopolitical concerns related to the Cold War caused nearly the entire league to fail to aggressively pursue Eastern Bloc players at that time (although Bure falling to the sixth-round (113th overall) in 1987 was more due to age-related eligibility issues than politics). Similarly, I also purposely omitted Borje Salming, the first European-trained player to make a significant impact in the NHL, because drafting European players wasn’t really a thing before he signed as a free agent in Toronto in 1973.
Lastly, to qualify for my list the Hall of Famer must have been been available at the time the Kings made their first pick in a particular draft, which due to previous trades, might not necessarily have been in the first round.
1969 — Bobby Clarke
The Kings had no first-round choice that year. With their second-round pick they drafted Dale Hoganson at number 16 overall. The Philadelphia Flyers used the very next pick to draft Bobby Clarke at 17th overall. According to QuantHockey, Clarke had more assists during the 1970s than any other player, as well as ranking fourth overall in points. Over his career he finished in the top-10 in assists nine times and points seven times. He captained the Broad Street Bullies for nine years, won three Hart trophies and led the Flyers to two Stanley Cups.
1979 — Michel Goulet, Guy Charbenou, Glenn Anderson, Mark Messier Joe Mullen and Dino Ciccarelli
In 1979, the Kings literally had the opportunity to draft six eventual Hall of Famers with their first six picks. The club’s first-round pick (16th overall) was used to select Jay Wells. Wells certainly made his mark on the franchise, making my December list of top five franchise goons.
However, would you select Wells’ career over that of Michel Goulet, who was taken by Quebec at No. 20? How about the careers of second-rounders Dean Hopkins and Mark Hardy, whom the Kings chose back-to-back with picks 29th and 30th overall, passing over Guy Charbenou (chosen 44th by Montreal) and Mark Messier (Edmonton, 48th). In the third round, the Kings used the 50th overall choice to select John Paul Kelly, passing on Glenn Anderson whom Edmonton selected in the fourth round, 69th overall. Finally, eventual Hall of Famers Joe Mullen and Dino Ciccarelli both went undrafted.
Just one question: what exactly was the amateur scouting staff doing that season? Because it doesn’t seem like they were really doing any scouting.
1980 — Paul Coffey* and Jari Kurri
LA had two first-round picks in 1980, though the team’s failure to draft Paul Coffey comes with an asterisk, as the Kings selected Hall of Famer Larry Murphy two picks before Edmonton took Coffey at No. 6 overall. Unfortunately, Murphy played only three seasons with the Kings before being traded to Washington. Coffey won the Norris Trophy three times.
With their second first-round pick the Kings drafted current broadcaster Jim Fox at No. 10 overall. I like Foxy both professionally and personally. He is an excellent color commentator, and he often responds to my tweets. However, I think he would be the first to tell you that he’s not holding his breath waiting for Toronto to schedule a bronze bust sitting.
More importantly, after drafting Fox, the Kings still had three opportunities to draft Jari Kurri, whom Edmonton did not choose until the fourth round at 69th overall. Instead, LA used back-to-back second-rounders to select Greg Terrion and Dave Morrison at 33 and 34, and then used its third-round selection to draft Steve Bozek at No. 52 overall.
1981 — Ron Francis, Al MacInnis, Grant Fuhr, and Chris Chelios
The Kings drafted center Doug Smith with the second overall selection. Three eventual Hall of Famers were taken over the next 14 picks: Ron Francis (fourth), Grant Fuhr (eighth) and Al MacInnis (15th).
But as they say on infomercials, “Wait, there’s more!” The Kings used their second-round pick, 39th overall, to select Dean Kennedy, opening the door for Montreal to draft Chris Chelios with the very next pick.
1982 — Doug Gilmour
The Kings did not have a first-round pick in 1982. They used their second-round selection (27th overall) to draft Mike Heidt. Heidt’s NHL career spanned six games, one shot and one point. Gilmour was taken by the St. Louis Blues in the seventh round, 134th overall. According to QuantHockey, Gilmour had more assists during the 1990s than any other player in the NHL. He also ranks sixth in points over that decade. His sweater number (93) is retired by the Toronto Maple Leafs.
1984 — Patrick Roy and Brett Hull
The Kings picked three times before the Blue, Blanc, et Rouge stole Roy in the third round (51st overall). In the first round, the King selected Craig Redmond at sixth overall. In the second round, the team chose Brian Wilks (24th overall). In the third round, LA drafted John English (47th overall). The Habs then took Roy just four picks later.
As for the three players the Kings selected instead of Roy? They played a combined total of 242 career NHL games. Roy played in 1029 games, won six Stanley Cups, and is the only player in NHL history to win the Conn Smythe in three different decades.
Brett Hull was drafted by Calgary in the sixth round (117th overall) after breaking the BCJHL scoring record. Between the time the Kings passed on Roy and the Flames selected Hull, the Kings used their fifth-round choice to select David Grannis (87th overall) and their sixth-round selection (108th overall) to draft Greg Strome. Neither Grannis, nor Strome ever played an NHL game. In 19 NHL seasons, Hull scored 741 career goals, placing him fourth all-time. According to QuantHockey, the “Golden Brett” scored more goals during the 1990s than any other player.
1985 — Joe Nieuwendyk and Adam Oates
In 1985, the Kings used back-to-back first-round selections at ninth and tenth overall to select forwards Craig Duncanson (38 career NHL games) and Dan Gratton (seven career NHL games). Niewendyk, who was drafted out of Cornell, was selected in the second-round (27th overall) by Calgary despite going undrafted the previous year. Over his career. Nieuwendyk scored 564 goals and 1,126 points, winning the Calder Trophy, Conn Smythe Trophy and three Stanley Cups.
Oates was an undrafted free agent who played college hockey at RPI. An elite playmaker, Oates retired in 2004 with 1079 assists, which at the time was the fifth-highest in NHL history. His 1,420 career points still ranks 16th most all-time. According to QuantHockey, Oates was the NHL’s third-best point scorer during the 1990s, trailing only Jaromir Jagr and Joe Sakic.
(Query: The driving distance between Cornell and RPI is 190 miles. They played each other twice that season. Did the Kings even have a college scout?)
Finally, it should be noted that the Kings did technically draft a future Hall of Famer in the fourth round that year, selecting Massachusetts prep star Tom Glavine. However, Glavine chose baseball over hockey, and was elected to Cooperstown in 2014.
1986 — Brian Leetch
The Kings used the second overall that year to select Jimmy Carson. The New York Rangers drafted Leetch with the ninth pick overall. Leetch not only won the Norris twice and the Calder, he also became the first non-Canadian to win the Conn Smythe when he led the Rangers to the 1994 Stanley Cup — still the Broadway Blueshirts’ only title in eighty years.
I’m actually not offended by the Kings drafting Carson over Leetch. Carson notched 141 goals, 145 assists and 286 points over his first three seasons. In my opinion, those stats evidence Carson’s enormous potential. Unfortunately, the pressure in Edmonton of “not being Gretzky” proved too much, and the trajectory of Carson’s career quickly sloped downhill.
1987 — Joe Sakic and Ed Belfour
The Kings used their first round selection (fourth overall) to select defenseman Wayne McBean. I am reminded of this fact every time I pass the McBean Parkway exit on the 5 freeway while taking my family to Magic Mountain. McBean’s posted a plus/minus of -72 over 211 career games. Sakic was chosen by Quebec at 15th overall. A Nordique/Avalanche lifer, Sakic led the Avs to two Cups, winning the 1996 Conn Smythe. When he retired, Sakic was eighth among NHL’s all-time point leaders, 11th in assists and 14th in goals. Sakic scored more points than any other player during the 1990s, except for Jaromir Jagr.
Ed Belfour played one season at North Dakota before signing with Chicago as an undrafted free agent prior to the 1987 season. His 484 career wins places him fourth all-time among NHL goaltenders. “Eddie the Eagle” finished in the NHL top-ten in wins eight times, goals-against average ten times, shutouts 11 times and save percentage six times. In his rookie season, Belfour led the NHL in wins, goals against average and save percentage, taking home the Calder, Vezina and Jennings trophies.
1988 — Teemu Selanne, Mark Rechi
The Kings used the seventh overall pick to select Martin Gelinas, whom they dealt later that summer to the Edmonton Oilers as part of the Wayne Gretzky deal. The original Winnipeg Jets (now the Arizona Coyotes) used the tenth pick overall to draft Selanne. The “Finnish Flash” lit the lamp 684 times over his career, currently placing him 11th in NHL history. He also ranks 12th in all-time points. Selanne won the Cup with Anaheim in 2007 and is the second Finnish national to make the Hall of Fame behind Jari Kurri, whom you might recognize as another could’ve-been-former-King.
After bypassing Selanne in the first round, the Kings drafted Paul Holden in the second round (28th overall) and John Van Jessel in the third round (39th overall). Neither Holden nor Van Jessel ever played in the NHL. Philadelphia selected Mark Recchi in the fourth round, 67th overall. Recchi played 22 years in the NHL, winning Stanley Cups with three different franchises. Over the course of the 1990s, he accumulated the sixth-most assists, seventh-most points and third-most assists per game among NHL players, trailing only Gretzky and Lemieux in the latter category.
1989 — Niklas Lidstrom
The Kings did not have a first round pick that year. They used their second-round selection to draft Brent Thompson at 39th overall. Thompson played a total of 121 NHL games. The Red Wings chose Niklas Lidstrom out of Sweden in the third round, 53rd overall. Lindstrom spent his entire 20-year career in the Motor City, winning four Stanley Cups. He also won the Norris Trophy seven times, including a period where he won the distinction six times in seven years. Lidstrom was a 10-time first-team all-star and ranks eighth all-time in plus/minus.
1990 — Martin Brodeur
The Kings used their first-rounder, seventh overall, to draft Daryl Sydor. The Devils used the No. 20 pick to draft goaltender Martin Brodeur. Brodeur led the NHL in victories 10 times, playing in and winning more games than any goaltender in the history of the game. Over his 22-year career, Brodeur won three Stanley Cups, five Jennings Trophies and four Vezinas. In 1996-97 he led the NHL with a goals-against average of 1.99.
1997 — Martin St. Louis
St. Louis went undrafted after a stellar college career at Vermont, during which he was named All-American three times. He played over 1000 career NHL games, scoring over 1000 points. Listed generously at 5-foot-8, he won the 2004 Hart Trophy as league MVP by leading the NHL in assists and points, and winning the Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning. Nine years later, at age 37, St. Louis became the oldest player to earn the Art Ross, leading the NHL in both points and assists. Over his career, St. Louis finished in the the NHL’s top-10 six times in assists and five times in points.
Even excluding Eastern Bloc players and Borje Salming, that leaves 26 Hall of Famers the team had the opportunity to draft but failed to do so. What’s up with the Kings bypassing two important pipelines: college players and European players (i.e. those who did not rise out of the Canadian junior ranks) in the draft? Was Don Cherry clandestinely running the team’s draft operations?
Of course, the team’s attitude has changed over time. College and European players made a strong impact on the Kings’ two Stanley Cup squads, as well as this year’s team. From all indications, the Kings are committed to rebuilding through the draft. As shown here, top players can come from anywhere. Luc and Rob should know. Luc was drafted in the ninth round, and Rob the fourth. Several of the Hall of Famers discussed above began their careers as undrafted free agents. Dave Taylor — who is not a Hall of Famer, but whose number 18 is retired by the Kings — was taken in the 15th round, a round that no longer exists.
For now, all we as fans can do is wait to see what happens both hockey and health-wise. Let me close by reminding Kings management that in chance the draft will go virtual like the NFLs, I have not only both my own laptop and iPad, but I’m also prepared to Zoom.