Upon taking the helm of the Kings last year, general manager Rob Blake knew that building organizational depth was near the top of his to-do list.
The success from the Stanley Cup-winning era for the Kings was offset by what Blake acknowledged was one of the weaker depth charts in the NHL when he became general manager. He has taken steps to address that, and Friday’s NHL draft represents the next big stride.
“You look at the organization as a whole, some of the needs,” Blake said. “We filled a lot of needs with free agents, but there are still some holes that need to be filled.”
The Kings have the 20th pick and the Ducks the 23rd going into the draft in Dallas and that could change as the busy offseason begins. Draft day often features trades and preemptive moves leading into the start of free agency July 1.
Teams also will have more money to spend, with the announcement Thursday that the salary cap will increase from $75 million to $79.5 million.
“We’re going to explore all different options,” Blake said, “and I think pretty much everyone will say, ‘Whatever we think can improve or help our team, we’re going to look at those options.’”
The Kings are in the market for a scorer. They are among several teams that have made an offer to veteran free agent Ilya Kovalchuk and are believed to have interest in Jeff Skinner and Phil Kessel.
Meanwhile, the Ducks are at a crossroads with the triumvirate of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Ryan Kesler, east-west players in an NHL that is increasingly bent toward north-south skaters.
Martin Madden, director of scouting for the Ducks, said that his due diligence included scouting the top 75 players e because draft day can be so unpredictable.
“You need to be very aware of who you trade up for and who you trade down for,” Madden said of potential moves.
Given their lack of depth, it’s unlikely that the Kings would trade a prized prospect such as forward Gabriel Vilardi, last year’s No. 11 pick who is expected to crack the lineup in the next year or two.
Blake signed forwards Mikey Eyssimont, Sheldon Rempal and defenseman Daniel Brickley out of college this year, while defenseman Kale Clague and goaltender Cal Petersen are primary assets at their positions.
Ideally, the Kings need defensemen and more depth forwards in their system. With top-20 picks in consecutive years for the first time since the 2009 and 2010 drafts, when they chose Brayden Schenn and Derek Forbort, a second- or third-tier quality player is expected to be available.
“I think there’s good depth to the draft,” said Mark Yannetti, the Kings’ director of amateur scouting. “I think from picks, maybe 19-20, right where we are, we’re right at that cutoff. I think the picks from right around 20 to 50, or even 20 to 60, are very, very close. Maybe closer this year than any year I can remember in the past.”
The Ducks are well-stocked with defensemen Jacob Larsson, Marcus Pettersson and Andy Welinski in the pipeline. Offensively, Max Jones, Sam Steel and Troy Terry represent the next generation and could bounce between the minors and the Ducks. Jones was limited by an arm injury last season but is sound, Madden said.
Whether or not they make a move, the Ducks will stick to their philosophy of drafting the best available player. Among those they have recently chosen late int the first round are Jones, Shea Theodore and Kyle Palmieri.
“I think we will get a player that we value a little more than the average team in the league,” Madden said. “I think we’ll be happy with the guy that we get at 23, if we stay there. … It’s happened before that that wasn’t the case, but I’m hoping that this will be the case.”
Given their penchant for Swedish defensemen, the Ducks are probably salivating at Rasmus Dahlin, the consensus No. 1 pick and the face of the draft. Barring a major trade, Dahlin projects to be picked first by the Buffalo Sabres. Madden saw Dahlin at the World Junior Championships and said that the 18-year-old is as good as advertised.