Luc Robitaille

Los Angeles Kings at 2020 NHL Draft: Byfield or Stutzle with second pick?

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Thanks to the very zany (and very NHL) draft lottery, we don’t know which team will get to draft Alexis Lafreniere first overall. What about picks 2-8, though? PHT will break down those picks one by one, aside from the Senators and their two selections. Let’s start with the second pick, then: what should the Kings do with the No. 2 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft?

For many, the debate boils down to Quinton Byfield or Tim Stutzle. Let’s break down, and also ponder more elaborate ideas (that are probably pretty unlikely).

Kings head into 2020 NHL Draft with a top system already — and some quality centers

Before we dive into Byfield vs. Stutzle, it’s worth noting that they’ll be adding to the foundation of the Kings’ rebuild, rather than starting it.

The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler calls this an embarrassment of riches for the Kings (sub required). Wheeler noted that some ranked Los Angeles’ farm system first overall before they traded for Tyler Madden, let alone before they can add Byfield or Stutzle.

There are some concerned that the Kings might compile too much of a good thing, as they’re center-heavy among their top prospects. Kings GM Rob Blake didn’t seem concerned about adding a center to a group that includes Alex Turcotte, Rasmus Kupari, and Gabriel Vilardi, though.

“No,” Blake told Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman. “You mention those three, we’ll take four centers like that.”

Frankly, much of the “too many centers” talk seems silly to me.

For one thing, the game is trending more toward players rotating positioning. Even to the point where defensemen and forwards might swap spots depending upon certain circumstances.

Beyond that, we see prospects involved in so many trades that it often seems silly to overthink going for anyone but the “best player available.” That said, we’ll touch on some alternative ideas if the Kings want to avoid too many cooks/centers.

Case for Kings taking Byfield over Stutzle with No. 2 pick of 2020 NHL Draft

After observing how NHL teams fawn over size for years, the reflex might be to roll your eyes about Byfield. Until you realize that Byfield isn’t just a Huge Hockey Human; he’s also put up fantastic numbers during his hockey career.

Byfield produced 82 points (including 32 goals) in 45 games in the OHL last season. That 1.82 PPG pace matches not just fellow top prospect Cole Perfetti, it’s also not far behind the likes of Matthew Tkachuk (1.88 PPG in 2015-16).

Byfield isn’t just big, he’s also fast and skilled. Combining those types of factors inspire lofty comparisons to the likes of Evgeni Malkin or his possible Kings teammate Anze Kopitar.

But most of all, it’s a projection based on potential. Not only his Byfield huge (listed at times at 6-foot-4 or 6-foot-5), he might get a little bigger. The 17-year-old won’t turn 18 until Aug. 19. Several months might not seem like much, but this is the age range where players can make big leaps.

If for some reason Byfield couldn’t adapt to playing wing if needed … is that really that big of a concern? My guess is others will be trying to earn spots as his wingers, not the other way around.

The closest thing to a consensus I’ve found calls for the Kings to select Byfield at No. 2, rather than Stutzle.

Colin Cudmore compiled an expected range of mock drafts that generally favored Byfield at No. 2, as did PHT’s collection of mock drafts from before the lottery.

The case for Stutzle over Byfield for the Kings at No. 2

But it sounds like things are pretty close. You could joke that Stutzle is closing in on Byfield as if he was in a race, but scouting reports indicate that Byfield can put on the burners, too.

In a great Byfield vs. Stutzle comparison, Prospect Report’s Ben Misfeldt stated that while he believes Byfield reaches a faster “top speed,” Stutzle sets him apart from others with his agility and ability to accelerate.

Stutzle might be more NHL-ready than Byfield. The 18-year-old showed that he could keep up in DEL (Germany’s top hockey league), generating 34 points in 41 games for the Mannheim Eagles.

“They are both skilled,” An anonymous executive said of Byfield and Stutzle, according to Lisa Dillman of The Athletic (sub required). “Stutzle is just more polished at this point but it’s also hard to find 6-foot-5, 230-pound centermen that can produce.”

In a league shifting more toward skating and speed, could Stutzle be the better pick for the Kings than Byfield? Some lean that way.

Unlikely, but should Kings trade the No. 2 pick of the 2020 NHL Draft?

As stated, it doesn’t seem like the Kings would trade the second overall pick. You can certainly rule out the rebuilding Kings from trading the No. 2 pick for an immediate roster player.

While Alexis Lafreniere seems like a more seamless addition as a winger, it’s also tough to imagine the Kings trading up to get the top selection.

But what about trading down?

As Wheeler and others have noted, the Kings’ biggest prospect needs revolve around defense. Theoretically, the Kings could move that No. 2 pick to slide a little lower, get another pick, and get the player they actually want. What if they view someone like Jamie Drysdale or Jake Sanderson as the player they need? Mock drafts and prospect rankings come in all over the place for those two, so the Kings could view it as feasible to get one or both of them later.

Granted, it’s unlikely for the Kings to land, say, the sixth pick from the Ducks. But what if the Red Wings (fourth overall) or someone else would pay fairly big for the No. 2 pick? It’s at least worth considering.

Not that I’d do it, mind you.

So, what should the Kings do with No. 2?

The Kings have a long time to make this decision. Maybe too much time.

That gives them opportunities to study tape and stats on Byfield and Stutzle. Perhaps they’d even soul search about that unlikely trading down idea, too.

But, if I were running the show? I’d probably try to keep it simple and just take Byfield. Luckily for the fans of all 31 NHL teams, I’m not making those calls, though. What do you think the Kings should do with the No. 2 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft?

More 2020 NHL Draft coverage from PHT

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL Power Rankings: Our favorite classic Costacos Brothers hockey posters

Costacos Brothers

If you’re of a certain age, you probably remember Costacos Brothers posters. Heck, you may have had some up on the walls of your childhood bedroom. The images married sports and pop culture, often dressing up athletes in various costumes to go along with the theme.

Do you remember Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire, also known as the Oakland A’s “Bash Brothers,” dressed as the “Blues Brothers,” giant bats and all? Or Lawrence Taylor, with bodies piled around him, dubbed “The Terminator” with lasers shooting out of his fingers? Perhaps you had the one with Karl Malone dressed appropriately to deliver mail?

The posters took off in the mid-1980s and were a big deal for any athlete who was fortunate enough to be a part of one. As Charles Barkley told Amy K. Nelson of SB Nation in 2013, “The poster made you cool. You didn’t make the poster cool.”

We took a dip into the hockey side of the Costacos Brothers poster world and picked out our favorites for this week’s Power Rankings.

1. Ray Bourque

A five-time Norris Trophy winner and stalwart on the Bruins blue line for 20 years, Bourque was clearly suited for the government role of Secretary of Defense. Though, we’re confident that the hockey stick would be a poor weapon in defense compared to that machine gun on the jeep.

2. Luc Robitaille

A play off the Paul Newman movie, here’s Robitaille cozying up next to a Kings-themed motorcycle standing in front of what appears to be an apocalyptic sky behind him. 

3. Jaromir Jagr

“OK, Jaromir, here’s our idea: You’re going to awkwardly stand, full uniform, and look at the camera, letting those bangs out, and you’ll act as a pawn. Czechmate. Get it?”

4. Brett Hull

Hull would definitely fill the “Ice Man” role in a “Top Gun” movie. And you just know he told Adam Oates, “you can be my wingman anytime.”

5. Magic Johnson and Wayne Gretzky

This “LA Story” didn’t end up being as successful as hoped. In the time that “The Great One” and Magic were in Los Angeles together, only the Lakers made the finals, losing both of them. Johnson returned after a four-year retirement in 1995-96, which would turn out to be the final seasons for both in LA.

6. Wayne Gretzky

Wouldn’t you have preferred Gretzky dressed as Wayne Campbell standing in front of a Marcel Dionne’s Donuts instead?

7. Chris Chelios and Jeremy Roenick

The two Blackhawks stars are hanging out in the middle of a lightning storm without a care in the world. They’re basically just here solely to show off their jeans and turtlenecks.

8. Ed Belfour

“The Eagle” put up his best seasons in Dallas, capping it off with the 1999 Stanley Cup. Surely this movie would be more watchable than “The Love Guru,” no?

MORE POWER RANKINGS:
Teams with the best long-term outlook
Looking at the top 2020 free agents
Best 2019-20 free agent signings
The most underrated players
Top MVP candidates

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Q&A: Luc Robitaille on Kings’ season, Ovechkin chasing Gretzky

NBC’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Saturday’s Stadium Series matchup between the Colorado Avalanche and Los Angeles Kings from Falcon Stadium at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Coverage begins at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

As the NHL brings the Stadium Series to Colorado Saturday night, it’s time to check what the conditions will be like at Falcon Stadium. It’s expected to be in the 20s F without any threat of rain or snow, which bodes well for the ice conditions, something that not just fans and media are checking.

“We’re more checking the weather for what we’re going to wear,” Kings president Luc Robitaille told NBC Sports this week. “My theory on the ice is it’s the same for both teams, so you can’t use that as an excuse. We’re checking. I’m pretty confident at the time of the game we’re going to be fine. It might be a little bit colder. The whole thing of playing outdoors is what makes it so special.”

Robitaille is no stranger to outdoor games. He played in the 1991 preseason game between the Kings and Rangers outside of Caesars Palace in Las Vegas and was in a management role with LA when they played Stadium Series games in 2014 and 2015 at Dodger Stadium and Levi’s Stadium.

We spoke with Robitaille this week ahead of Saturday’s Stadium Series game about where the Kings are in their rebuild, Alex Ovechkin‘s pursuit of 895 goals and more.

Enjoy.

PHT: For as difficult as this season has been and the last few weeks, how much can a game like this help morale. It’s still two points but it’s also a memorable experience for everyone involved.

ROBITAILLE: “Obviously we’d love to be at a different position, but it’s a great experience for our players. It’s a great opportunity to showcase our franchise. Mr. Anschutz, he’s from Denver, he’s done a lot with the Air Force Academy over the years. For us, to have an opportunity to showcase our franchise to be part of an outdoor game, we don’t take it for granted. We think it’s very, very special.”

PHT: Where is your dream outdoor game location?

ROBITAILLE: “Right on the beach. That would be something special. Right in Santa Monica where you see the [ferris wheel] right in the back, right by the pier.”

PHT: Where would you say the organization is in this phase of turning things around? Close to where you and [GM] Rob Blake want it to be?

ROBITAILLE: “Obviously, what people write is what people write. The proof is in the pudding. In 2017-18 we said we weren’t going to trade any draft picks moving forward until we had a chance to reload knowing we had a lot of contracts expiring at the end of this season. We haven’t traded anybody, but we really started to recreate the way our organization is last year. We find ourselves today with a lot of different [media outlets] naming our organization the No. 1 prospect pool.

“I like what our guys are doing. It does take time to build it right. We’re not trying to build our team to compete, we’re trying to build our team to give us a chance to win the Cup. To do that you’ve got to be patient and there’s going to be some growing pains. But if we do it right and we’re patient and do the right job in developing our players… we’re sitting in a good spot right now.”

[WATCH LIVE – COVERAGE BEGINS AT 8 P.M. ET – NBC]

PHT: How do you balance that patience and with the pressures of quickly trying to build a contender?

ROBITAILLE: “We’re lucky that we have guys like Drew [Doughty] and [Anze Kopitar] and [Jonathan Quick] that are very high character, they know how to win, they know what it takes, and they can really teach these kids what it takes to win. A lot of times when you start that, take Toronto, they didn’t have any of those guys. And we’re starting with those guys, so that gives us a huge jump on everyone.

“We’re pretty comfortable that once these kids starts coming, we already had a few this year, our team should be performing better. Now there’s going to be some growing pains, they’re going to make mistakes and you’re going to lose some tough games. This year there’s many games we thought we deserved a better fate. It didn’t happen and now we find ourselves where we are. At the same time we had to change our entire system, the way we play, and that’s a hard thing to do. Last time around I think it took us three years to learn the system we ended up winning the Cup with and we’re at Year One right now.”

PHT: Who’s one of the younger players that might be off the radar that you’re high on going forward?

ROBITAILLE: “When you want to build a team it’s always about character, and when you watch Blake Lizotte, the way he approaches every practice, everything he does, every game, is the way we want to be as a team. To me, if we have everybody coming in, regardless of their height, their skating ability, their skill, if everybody plays as hard as him we’re going to be really, really tough to beat.”

PHT. You’re almost three years into the job as president. What have you learned about that role that maybe you didn’t know when you were in business ops?

ROBITAILLE: “I kind of knew it, but it’s reiterated everyday, you’ve got to really trust your people. You’ve got to make sure you stick to what you believe and what the plan is. It’s so important to reiterate and to stick to what our beliefs are as an organization. It’s hard because sports is hard. Every game is hard and we get emotional. But at the same time it’s very important that we stick to something that we believe is going to get us to the right place. It’s hard to do everyday because no one likes to lose and no one likes to underperform.”

PHT. You were one of the number of NHL greats who Alex Ovechkin passed in goals this season (Ed. note: Robitaille finished with 668). Are you surprised that he’s been able to be so consistent at scoring goals for this long?

ROBITAILLE: “If you look at the player and watch him play, no. But to say 10 years ago is this guy going to keep doing it every year, I would be lying to say that he’s the one guy. I never, ever thought we would ever be able to say I think this guy has a chance to catch Wayne Gretzky. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that. And now, we’ve got a player that, if everything goes the right way, has the opportunity to do something absolutely incredible and it would be the greatest thing for our game if he could get anywhere near it.”

PHT: It’s quite amazing with his style that he’s been able to stay incredibly healthy throughout his career.

ROBITAILLE: “Yeah, I think it’s amazing. I’m going to knock on wood for him because I think it’s incredible. It does take luck. All it takes sometimes is you get hit by one slapshot and you can be out for six weeks. It’s pretty amazing that he’s been able to last for so long and be resilient because he plays really hard.”

PHT: Do you think he can break Wayne’s record?

ROBITAILLE: “I think so. I’m not sure we’ll ever see it again. It’s hard to figure out someone that would do it. I’m going to enjoy this ride because it’s special. It’s very special and this is something that’s really good for our game. I’m rooting for him that he does it because it’s going to be absolutely incredible.”

MORE STADIUM SERIES:
Improved depth makes Avalanche Stanley Cup contender
L.A. Kings approach key stages of rebuild

Kenny Albert, Eddie Olczyk, and Brian Boucher will call the matchup. On-site studio coverage at Air Force Academy will feature Kathryn Tappen hosting alongside analyst Patrick Sharp and reporter Rutledge Wood.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Fanspeak: Gretzky voted best player in Kings franchise history

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This summer, NBC Sports’ social media team is conducting the #NHLGreatest initiative, designed for fans to choose the best player in each franchise’s history. Balloting was conducted through three platforms — Facebook, Twitter and Instagram — with thousands of votes being cast. The results of this initiative will be released throughout the month of August, in conjunction with PHT’s Team of the Day series.

Los Angeles Kings

1. Wayne Gretzky – 1,321 Votes

2. Luc Robitaille – 767 Votes

3. Jonathan Quick – 238 Votes

4. Other – 161 Votes

Even though he sits just 16th all-time in games played for the Kings — heck, Sean O’Donnell played more — it’s hard to deny Gretzky’s place atop this list, or the impact he had on hockey in Los Angeles. No. 99 brought the Kings the type of Hollywood limelight normally reserved for the Lakers, and paced the team to its first-ever Stanley Cup Final appearance in 1993.

In short, he put hockey in the map in L.A.

Here’s what the No. 2 guy on this list, Robitaille, said about Gretzky’s impact (per The Hockey News):

Here in L.A., Wayne is The Guy. He made us a respectable franchise. People became believers because of him. You talk to Drew Doughty, he’ll tell you he wanted to play for the Kings because he’d seen and heard about Gretzky.

We have a history and obviously there was Marcel Dionne, but Gretzky and that trade changed the NHL.

(Oddly enough, Dionne failed to crack the top three on the list.)

Gretzky’s time with L.A. also produced a number of numbers and awards. He won his last Hart Trophy as league MVP in a Kings uniform (in 1989), and captured three Art Ross trophies as the regular season scoring champ.

All told, he finished his L.A. career with 918 points in 539 games — a 1.7 points-per-game average — and, during the ’93 Cup run, scored a staggering 40 points in 24 games.

So yeah, no real surprise No. 99 is the No. 1 King of all time.

Robitaille: Kings should go unaffected by AEG news

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The recent news of Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG) being taken off the market and the resignation of Kings governor Tim Leiweke has some fans wondering if it will have a drastic effect on the team itself.

Los Angeles’ President of Business Operations Luc Robitaille tells Jon Rosen of L.A. Kings Insider that there shouldn’t be any issues with how the team is run.

“Nothing’s going to change from day-to-day operations. I run the business operations, and Dean [Lombardi] runs the hockey operations, and the way it is right now is the way it’s going to stay. Our ownership group stays the same. A lot of us were discussing with Dan [Beckerman] from time to time, so we don’t see anything changing.”

Considering how surprising the news was of AEG turn of events was, Kings fans should be relieved to hear this. After all, we’ve seen how ownership shuffling and front office issues have affected other teams negatively.

Hearing it come from Robitaille also has that added effect of getting good news from someone everyone in L.A. loves. Even if there was bad news, having it come from him would somehow make it a little better.