19 June 2007

NHL draft - #4 pick: Los Angeles

At pick #4 we have the Los Angeles Kings. Despite bottoming out last year - winning only 27 games (better than only Philadelphia) and missing the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season - the Kings have a burgeoning stable of young talent and are not far off from making a run at a playoff spot. With young offensive talents such as Mike Cammalleri, Alexander Frolov, Dustin Brown, a future superstar in Anze Kopitar, and then Patrick O'Sullivan and Trevor Lewis on the horizon, within a few years the Kings could be one of the better offensive teams in the league. As was written here on this site and elsewhere by Kings fans, goaltending was the main reason the Kings went into the tank so early last season, with Dan Cloutier suffering the wrath of fans and feeling the heat of red lights on the back of his jersey until his season mercifully ended with hip surgery. Goaltending will have to be a temporary transitional phase for Los Angeles until top-flight prospect Jonathan Bernier of the QMJHL champion Lewiston Maineiacs is ready to turn pro. Make no mistake: Bernier is the Kings' goalie of the not-so-distant future, so the Kings will be looking for a skater at the four slot on Friday.

Where the Kings could and should continue to build is on the blueline. Veterans Rob Blake and Lubomir Visnovsky provide a decent-enough one-two, but with one year left on both of their deals and Blake pulling in USD$6 million, the Kings will likely either try to deal Blake this season or simply not re-sign him when he reaches the end of his contract. Highly regarded youngster Jack Johnson - acquired from Carolina in a pre-season fleecing last September - will start the year with a full-time job in L.A. but will likely undergo growing pains for a few seasons. The Kings' greatest need for depth is at defence and at the number four position it is highly likely that either of Karl Alzner or Keaton Ellerby will be available.

The thinking here is that Alzner of the Calgary Hitmen would be the best fit for the Kings. Even though scouts agree that he could take more risks offensively, what Los Angeles needs is to take care of play in their own zone and develop a quality three-zone system to be a contender when their young talent begins to peak a few years from now. NHL Central Scouting writes that Alzner "...is calm under pressure and composed with the puck. Has good positioning and reads the play well." Exactly the kind of player who GM Dean Lombardi could see playing 24-27 minutes every night in front of Jonathan Bernier three or four years from now.

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