Ducks looking for defenseman at entry draft

By Lisa Dillman, Los Angeles Times

Two blue-chip defensemen were taken by the Ducks in the first two rounds of the 2008 entry draft, seemingly assuring a secure future for Anaheim at that position.

This was long before the best-laid plans went seriously awry. Now, four years later, the Ducks are at the entry draft in Pittsburgh, in the spot of looking for reinforcements.

Thinking they had one top defenseman in reserve (Justin Schultz), the Ducks traded the other (Jake Gardiner) to the Toronto Maple Leafs in February of 2011 in the Francois Beauchemin deal. They expected Schultz in Anaheim near the end of this past season. Then, as the weeks clicked off, it became obvious he would be taking his talent elsewhere, preparing to explore free agency.

A loophole in the collective bargaining agreement allows him to do so because he played an extra year of major junior hockey before going to the University of Wisconsin.

Bob Murray, the Ducks’ executive vice president and general manager, and his lieutenants remain mystified as to why Schultz changed his mind. Murray, in fact, said he planned on asking the representatives of Schultz again Thursday when they met about another matter.

The first round of the entry draft is Friday night and Rounds 2-7 are Saturday. The Ducks have been interviewing prospects and Murray said they met Thursday with about 10 players. Anaheim has the sixth selection overall.

There is no shortage of defensemen at the upper ends of the various mock drafts but this year is fairly remarkable with a general lack of consensus after the top spot. Right wing Nail Yakupov is projected to go No. 1 to the Edmonton Oilers.

After that? Randomness rules.

“Going into the year, Yakupov was clear and I think he had an OK year,” Murray said. “I don’t think he was outstanding. I think other people just narrowed the gap.

“They’re good kids, but they’re all really close together. One or two or three of them are going to be stars. We don’t know which ones.”

Said Kings President and General Manager Dean Lombardi: “The Dustin Brown/Ryan Getzlaf/Corey Perry draft [in 2003], that’s not the norm. That’s not reality.”

Lombardi could be sitting idle until the fourth round. Or he could be making the last selection of the first round. Columbus has an option on the first-round pick it acquired from the Kings in the Jeff Carter trade. But the Blue Jackets do not have to inform the Kings of their intention until two picks beforehand.

Columbus has been front and center in Pittsburgh, attempting to trade captain Rick Nash. Those efforts have been complicated by reports of Anaheim forward Bobby Ryan’s availability. The Ducks have not commented but executives from two other NHL teams have heard Ryan is on the market. One official said that trade talk, thus far, was unusually and surprisingly quiet at this stage in Pittsburgh.

Schedule update

Future planning … barring labor unrest. The Kings’ home opener for the 2012-13 season, and the raising of the Stanley Cup banner, will be Oct. 12 against the New York Rangers. Anaheim’s home opener is the same night against the San Jose Sharks. The only meeting between the Kings and the New Jersey Devils will be on Feb. 9 in Newark.