The light at the end of the tunnel for the Kings in April was the chance at getting Jack Hughes or Kaapo Kakko, the expected top two picks in the NHL draft.
The Kings’ scouting department hunkered down and vetted both players, including analytic studies and character checks.
“Hundreds of hours,” said Kings director of amateur scouting Mark Yannetti on the time spent analyzing. “You’d be surprised at how much time you spend on these guys.”
All that work got tossed when the pingpong balls left the Kings with the fifth pick in the draft. Tough luck, yes, but it will be the highest the Kings have drafted in 10 years and, coupled with their 22nd and 33rd picks, they are well positioned to expedite their rebuild.
The Ducks are in a similar boat with the ninth, 29th and 39th picks going into the first round Friday in Vancouver, Canada. The draft concludes Saturday.
The Kings could trade one of their first-round picks for, say, an established NHL player, but general manager Rob Blake said he isn’t inclined to do that, barring something attractive that comes to his table. He remains committed to restocking the shelves as the Kings climb out of the Dean Lombardi era, which left them without a first-round pick in three of the four drafts before Blake became general manager.
“Definitely the way the team improves the next few years is internally,” Blake said.
“You’d be hoping to get at least that type of player,” Yannetti said. “At five, you need to get a top-six forward or a top-four defenseman. You hope to hit a home run. I’m not quite sure there’s someone that high level, but there’s quality players.”
Among the players the Kings are believed to have targeted are forwards Dylan Cozens and Kirby Dach. Cozens is a 6-foot-3, 180-pound center for Lethbridge of the Western Hockey League with speed and a good shot. Dach is also a center, for Saskatoon of the WHL, with more size at 6-3, 197 pounds and play-making skills.
Cozens and Dach were ranked third and fifth, respectively, in the NHL Central Scouting bureau’s final rankings for North American skaters. Alex Turcotte, a center for the U.S. national development team, is also projected as a top-five pick.
Hughes and Kakko are expected to be taken by the New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers with the first two picks. The Chicago Blackhawks or Colorado Avalanche would then have a shot at Bowen Byram, regarded as the No.1 defenseman in the draft in the mold of Chicago’s Duncan Keith.
It gets grayer after that for the Ducks at No. 9, their highest selection since they chose Nick Ritchie at No. 10 in 2014. Martin Madden, the Ducks director of professional and amateur scouting, said the first three picks Friday could leave them with different scenarios and it’s been difficult to narrow their options.
Some mock drafts have them taking forward Trevor Zergas, a play-making center for the U.S. developmental team, or possibly Zergas’ teammate Cole Caufield, a dynamic scorer. Another center, Peyton Krebs of the WHL’s Kootenay Ice, is also considered a top-10 pick.
Yannetti and Madden said the first round is forward heavy and probably light on defensemen. If the Ducks keep the ninth pick, Madden is confident it could be someone on par with Hampus Lindholm, their No. 6 pick in 2012.
“We’d like to get another Hampus, for sure, a leader-impact player,” Madden said. “I think it varies every draft. I think there are 13 guys that are low-risk impact type of players, so I do think we’re going to get a good player.”
The last time the Ducks selected twice in the first round, in 2016, it proved bountiful with forwards Max Jones and Sam Steel. They have stockpiled forwards early the past three years with Isac Lundestrom last year and Maxime Comtois in 2017. This weekend is another opportunity to add building blocks.
“It’s always nice to have multiple picks in the first round,” Madden said. “It gives you flexibility in terms of a trade, but it also allows us to replenish. There is enough depth in this draft to make us happy.”
Kings prospect Gabriel Vilardi will not participate in development camp next week, Blake said. Vilardi continues to rehabilitate a chronic back injury and there is no update. … Rasmus Kupari, the Kings’ top pick last year, is expected to play in development camp.