The Los Angeles Kings have taken advantage of some lean years and savvy trades to stockpile an envious cache of young talent. While some of those players have graduated to the NHL or been moved to other organizations, things still seem rosy for the Kings future with their deep pool of prospects. Prior to the season, they were probably planning to add to their highly-ranked group of young players with another high draft pick. A surprising run to the playoffs may have lowered their draft spot, but with a deep pool of potentially solid NHL players available, they may still get a future impact player.
The 19th spot in the draft, a spot the Kings have never picked at before, is an interesting one as most of the perceived top talent has already been selected, but it’s still possible that some future stars are available. Whether it’s through perceived flaws (“he can’t skate”) or teams drafting based on need instead of best available players, possible stars can be there for the taking for the smart team.
With the pipeline they’ve built, the Kings don’t necessarily need instant help at the NHL level. They can afford to draft a player that may take a year or three to develop in college or at the junior level. That’s usually the path that players selected around this spot take.
In the past some recognizable names such as Olaf Kolzig (1989), Keith Tkachuk (1990), Ryan Getzlaf (2003), Andrei Vasilevskiy (2012), and Josh Norris 2017) have come from this slot in the draft. For all of those names that are known, there are plenty of prospects that have missed out as well.
Based on the players remaining in the draft, the Los Angeles Kings select, from the U.S. National Development Team, forward Isaac Howard.
If this was a decade ago, Howard would probably be a potential second or third round pick, not because of his skills, but because of his size. Listed at 5’10” and 183 lbs. Thankfully, due to the success of smaller forwards like Brayden Point, Cole Caufield, Johnny Gaudreau, and Viktor Arvidsson, being under six-feet is no longer a detriment to being drafted.
On pure offensive talent alone, Howard is one of the top players in the draft. Bob McKenzie has him ranked 20th in his final rankings, NHL Central Scouting has him as the 9th-ranked North American skater, and he’s considered the 23rd best prospect in the draft according to Elite Prospects Consolidated Rankings.
It’s not shocking he’s considered that high based on how he’s performed during his tenure with the U.S National Developmental Program. In 111 games over two seasons, he’s recorded 155 points (65 goals, 90 assists) for an impressive 1.40 points per game average. As you can see by his numbers, he not only can fill the net, but he’s a pretty accomplished playmaker as well.
The first thing you notice about him when watching highlight reels is his ability to find the open spots on the ice. Howard has the goal-scorer’s knack for being in the right spot and the ability to finish off those plays with an excellent shot.
Part of that ability lies in his smooth skating. While he might not be a pure, blazing skater a la Pavel Bure he is above average and has excellent acceleration that should translate well to the pro game. The Hudson, Wisconsin native possesses a high on-ice IQ and can anticipate plays before they happen which allows him to put the puck where it needs to be for his teammates to score.
With the bevy of talent the Kings already have in the system down the center of the ice in players such as Quinton Byfield, Alex Turcotte, and Samuel Helenius, the left-shooting winger would fit in well as a potential top-six forward. His ability to shoot and pass will keep defenses off-balance when he’s on the ice.
It isn’t just on offense that Howard uses his hockey knowledge. He is aware of his defensive positioning and can use his skating to disrupt plays through the neutral zone. While offense might be his calling card, he isn’t going to hurt a team on defense. In the modern NHL, that’s exactly the type of forward coaches are looking for.
Howard is already committed to the University of Minnesota-Duluth and will likely spend at least a couple of years there while also popping up for Team USA in international competitions. In the U-18 World Junior Championships earlier this year his 6 goals and 5 assists in 6 games led the US in scoring on their way to a silver medal. He is also among the 60 players selected (along with Kings current defensive prospect Brock Faber) to attend the National Junior Evaluation Camp at the end of July that will help determine Team USA’s roster for the 2022 and 2023 IIHF World Junior Championships.
That time in college will allow him to get a little stronger, helping him stay on the puck a little more and win a few more board battles. It should also allow him time to improve his passing decisions. At times he can get a little hopeful with his choices and that can lead to turnovers.
At 18-years-old, Howard already has showcased the ability to be at least a middle-six NHL forward. Following a few more years in college, playing against better competition, he could develop into a potential difference maker at the NHL level.