Rob Blake

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.

Kings say Jeff Carter won’t be back if season resumes

The Los Angeles Kings announced that Jeff Carter won’t be able to play if the 2019-20 season resumes.

Carter, 35, missed the last 10 games before the pandemic pause due to a core injury. The Kings explained that, since travel is restricted, Carter hasn’t been able to see a specialist regarding his injury.

“Part of the issue is he needs to travel to see a certain specialist to get a further diagnosis and nothing can be taking place right now,” Kings GM Rob Blake said via the team website on Wednesday. “He’s continuing a rehab program from home. He hasn’t been around the practice rink in that aspect, but I wouldn’t expect him to be able to play if our season were to start in the next couple of months.”

Honestly, it would be pretty silly to push Carter to play at anything but obvious full-strength.

Yes, the Kings entered the pause on a league-leading seven-game winning streak, but they did so with Carter on the mend. And even with that red-hot run, the Kings would just be playing out the schedule. They only have pride to play for as the second lowest-ranked West team.

Expect other Carter-type veteran players being “shut down” for 2019-20, at least among cellar dwellers. (Joe Thornton and other graybeards may need to keep themselves occupied by tragically shaving said beards.)

The Kings are better off not risking further injury to Carter. Also, Carter’s playing time could go to someone who could better use those reps.

Actually, that brings up a larger discussion surrounding Carter. What happens next, and in the longer run?

Will we see much of Carter suiting up for the Kings in the future?

Carter isn’t totally useless even in a more modest form, but it might sting his pride to be limited to 17 goals and 27 points this season. Carter’s headed for three straight seasons under 20 goals after being one of the league’s most dynamic snipers for quite some time.

All of the losing in Los Angeles probably wears on Carter almost as much as the literal wear-and-tear.

So, is there room for a “soft retirement” onto LTIR? Consider the structure of Carter’s contract starting in 2020-21:

2020-21: $5.273M cap hit, $2M salary
2021-22: $5.273M cap hit, $2M salary

Trading Carter’s cap hit to a budget team seemed like a logical direction, although there were possible stumbling blocks discussed in December 2018. But with the Kings in a rebuilding phase, and Carter struggling at times physically, maybe an extended LTIR trip might make sense? Could we even see Carter’s contract move around during the time of the Seattle expansion draft?

Let’s face it. Draft lottery machinations are likely to be the most exciting thing for Kings fans to consider over the next few months. There may be parallels for Carter, as off-ice shuffling might be more intriguing to watch than how the former All-Star fares on the ice. You know, if he eventually returns.

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.

What is the Kings’ long-term outlook?

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Los Angeles Kings.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

The Los Angeles Kings currently revolve around two cornerstone pieces, captain Anze Kopitar and defenseman Drew Doughty.

They were central figures during two Stanley Cup seasons in 2012 and 2014 and remain vital to the organization. The Ilya Kovalchuk experiment ended when they placed the veteran winger on unconditional waivers for the purposes of terminating his contract in mid-December.

But now the focus has shifted, and general manager Rob Blake is tasked with finding new pieces to help usher in a different era of Kings hockey.
Blake and his staff aim to build through the draft and own 11 picks in the upcoming draft, including three in the second round, two in the third round and two in the fourth round. The Kings currently sit in the bottom five of the NHL standings and will have a premium first-round pick depending on the results of the lottery at the conclusion of the NHL season.

The Kings also made two selections in the first round of the 2019 draft and have a top-five NHL farm system, according to The Athletic’s prospect rankings this past summer.

Los Angeles won’t return to glory overnight, but they have the ammunition to rebuild their foundation and become a contender in the Western Conference once again.

Long-Term Needs

The Kings need to hit on their upcoming draft picks, simply put. The decisions made by the front office in the upcoming offseason could define the success of the franchise. It will be the difference between a three-year rebuilding process or 10-year absence from the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Los Angeles also has to manage the salary cap over the next few seasons. Its patience will be tested, but the organization needs to wait until Dustin Brown and Jeff Carter’s lucrative contracts expire after the 2021-22 season. Goaltender Jonathan Quick’s deal expires the year after.

With new talent on the horizon, the Kings are in a position to clear out bad contracts but should avoid long-term commitments until a new core is established at the NHL level.

Long-Term Strengths

The good news is Kopitar and Doughty are still performing at a high level. The captain led the team in scoring with 62 points, surpassing his total from last season in 11 fewer games. Doughty leads the team in ice time, averaging a shade under 26 minutes per game and was close to eclipsing the 40-point mark for the sixth straight season.

In addition, Sean Walker secured a spot on the blueline with strong play in the first 70 games of his career. The undrafted defenseman also showed ability on the offensive side of the ice with 24 points, most of which came at even strength.

Most importantly, Todd McLellan looked to be making strides in his first year as head coach. The Kings finished (maybe) the season with an impressive seven-game winning streak and went 10-2-1 in the final 13 games.

The team has a lot of flexibility going forward and now it’s up to Blake to make the correct decisions, and McLellan to execute that plan on the ice.

MORE ON THE KINGS:


Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Kings face key stages of rebuild with trade deadline, 2020 NHL Draft

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.

While the Avalanche hope to become true Stanley Cup contenders, the Kings wonder how to reclaim that form.

The next few months are crucial for both teams, only in dramatically different ways. After looking at Colorado’s climb to contention, let’s ponder how the Kings are handling their rebuild.

Kings get off to strong start with rebuild

Experts already rave about the building blocks the Kings have amassed.

The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler (sub required) and The Hockey Writers’ Josh Bell both ranked the Kings’ farm system number one in recent articles. In fact, Wheeler ranked the Kings first with “no hesitation.”

They seem to be combining quantity with quality. Wheeler’s Athletic colleague Corey Pronman placed six Kings prospects in his top 100 rankings (sub required), with Arthur Kaliyev finishing highest at seventh. Five of those six landed in the top 50 of that list, with Samuel Fagemo barely missing at 53.

You can nitpick elements of that pool, as with just about any. But overall, it seems like the Kings are pressing many of the right buttons. So far.

Trade deadline provides opportunities as Kings rebuild

Rob Blake could accelerate this rebuild with deft trades.

To his credit, he was already aggressive in landing a nice haul for Jake Muzzin last season, and once again extracted a solid package from Toronto in the Jack Campbell trade.

Neither Tyler Toffoli nor Alec Martinez boast the same trade value as Muzzin, but maybe the Kings can seize some opportunities anyway? This year’s deadline market seems pretty shallow, so perhaps Blake may take advantage.

Who should stick around?

Looking further down the line, it’s tough to imagine the Kings shaking loose from Jeff Carter or Dustin Brown. Moving Jonathan Quick also sounds unlikely.

(That said, the Kings should pull the trigger if there are suitors, and if Carter and others would comply.)

Ultimately, your optimism may vary regarding the futures for veteran stars Kopitar (32, $10M AAV through 2023-24) and Doughty (30, $11M AAV through 2026-27). Actually, go ahead and take a moment to wince at those contracts. That’s a natural reaction.

There’s only so much the Kings can do about the aging curve, at least since they already signed the extensions. The Kings could at least take steps to be proactive, though, with hopes that Doughty and/or Kopitar can still help out once the prospects (hopefully) bloom.

Right now, Doughty is averaging almost 26 minutes of ice time per game (25:56) while Kopitar is logging almost 21 (20:46). With the Kings far out of contention, I must ask … why would you run them into the ground? Wouldn’t it be wiser to take measures to keep them fresher for 2020-21 and beyond?

That’s where Todd McLellan creates an interesting dialogue. On one hand, there’s evidence that he’s a good or even very good coach, including in Hockey Viz’s breakdowns. That data argues that McLellan positively impacts his teams on both ends, especially lately:

McLellan HockeyViz

The Kings can’t judge their coach based on structure alone, though. McLellan received some criticism for how he handled young players like Jesse Puljujarvi in Edmonton, so Los Angeles must be wary about McLellan’s development impact.

If McLellan can’t be convinced to scale down minutes for the likes of Doughty and Kopitar (at least after the deadline, in particular), then that’s a contextual problem, too.

Kings need some lottery ball luck for next phase of rebuild

Right now, the Kings rank as the worst team in the West, and second worst in the NHL. The Senators could sink below the Kings and grab the second-best lottery odds:

via NHL.com

Shrewd moves propel rebuilds forward, but luck is crucial, too. As excited as people are about their prospects, the Kings’ rebuild could swing based on getting the chance to draft Alexis Lafreniere, landing another blue-chipper like Quinton Byfield, or slipping just out of the truly elite range.

[Mock Draft for 2020; prospect rankings heading into the season]

Up to this point, the Kings are doing a good job “making their own luck.” Even so, the trade deadline and 2020 NHL Draft represent the biggest make-or-break moments of all.

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.

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.

Toffoli trade could be a win for all involved, including the Kings

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The best type of trade may also be the rarest: one where everyone – each team, and all of the players involved – end up “winning.”

It’s possible that such a situation could play out between Tyler Toffoli, the Los Angeles Kings, and a savvy team that might determine that now is as good a time as any to try to “buy low” on the 27-year-old forward. Let’s consider those perspectives.

“Whatever happens, happens”

Toffoli was a healthy scratch during the Kings’ 5-3 loss to the Vancouver Canucks last Wednesday, and inspired a frank review from Kings head coach Todd McLellan, as Jack Harris of the Los Angeles Times reported.

“Tyler was a really good player for a good period this season, then things kind of fell off for him,” McLellan said. “He’s got so much to give this team and to give himself, that maybe an opportunity to get a little angry – whether he’s angry at the coach or whoever – and then come and give us what he has, that’s what we’re looking for.”

As much as McLellan framed the situation as not much more than tough love, the healthy scratch ignited trade rumors, and Toffoli responded to such questions from Sportsnet’s Luke Fox by giving an “it is what it is”-style response of “whatever happens, happens.”

Toffoli is on the last year of a contract that carries a $4.6 million AAV, and the 2019-20 season figures to have an enormous impact on whether or not Toffoli gets much of a raise and/or receives the term that most players yearn for in a dangerous league.

Even if the healthy scratch is just a one-time thing, Toffoli must feel concerned. There’s the possibility of him yo-yoing in and out of the lineup, and on a team that isn’t expected to be a big contender to boot.

Although Toffoli may in fact prefer to stay in Los Angeles, it wouldn’t be that hard to sell him on a change of scenery if whatever happens does … uh, happen.

Depreciated asset

It’s easy to forget just how dangerous “That ’70s Line” was with Toffoli, Jeff Carter, and Tanner Pearson.

Toffoli’s bad luck (particularly in 2018-19, when a 5.8 shooting percentage translated to a disappointing 13 goals) makes it even easier to forget that, in the grand scheme of things, he can help a team win.

The offense may come and go, but Toffoli brings value as an all-around player. His possession stats are consistently strong, this season included, and he looks better and better as you dig deeper (and, ideally, not get too preoccupied with one night where he has a -4 rating).

If you’re more of a visual learner, glance at Evolving Hockey’s multi-season RAPM chart for Toffoli and you’ll see that Toffoli can bring value even when he isn’t scoring:

A smart team could either a) extend Toffoli after trading him, maybe before his true value is clear or b) mitigate risks of him not fitting in by going through a trial run in the form of a “rental.” With Toffoli’s value being arguably artificially low, a contender could get a steal.

Royal reality

Considering their still-quite-recent two Stanley Cup victories, and the combined $21M AAV of Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar, it’s understandable if the Kings still don’t want to embrace the reality of a rebuild.

To be fair, McLellan’s seemingly restored some of the Kings’ former luster as puck hogs, even if the standings don’t make that clear. The Kings rank at or near the top five in a wide variety of underlying stats at Natural Stat Trick from expected goals to Corsi to controlling high-danger scoring chances, yet mediocre shooting luck and terrible goaltending doom Los Angeles. You can see how an organization might simple wonder what might happen if some of those bounces balance out, and if so, maybe Toffoli could be part of a playoff run.

If you zoom out, it’s more and more difficult to deny that a soft reboot is in order. By the time the Kings sort everything out, Toffoli may start to leave his prime. Los Angeles should be willing to make tough decisions to move on from good players, and such tough decisions might mean saying goodbye to Toffoli, along with Alec Martinez. It was the right — if again, painful — choice with Jake Muzzin, and likely would be the same with Toffoli.

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A Toffoli trade wouldn’t necessarily be simple, but it’s still easy to see why the winger, the Kings, and a prospective buyer would all benefit from such a move.

MORE:
• Toffoli interview from back in Nov. 2017
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.