Despite the presence of “Lucky” Luc Robitaille, the Kings’ President, Business Operations and former star left winger at the event that was televised live in the United States and Canada, the last-place Tampa Bay Lightning won the lottery and will select first in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.
The Kings, who finished 29th in the thirty-team NHL, will have the second overall selection in the draft, which will be held June 20-21 in Ottawa.
The consensus first pick in the draft is expected to be center Steven Stamkos, who scored 58 goals and added 47 assists for 105 points this season with 88 penalty minutes for the Sarnia Sting of the Ontario Hockey League.
The 6-1, 180-pound native of Unionville, Ontario also scored eleven goals in four playoff games.
In the 2006-07 season, Stamkos scored 42 goals and added 50 assists for 92 points with 56 penalty minutes. In the playoffs, he tallied three goals and three assists for six points in seven games.
But with the Lightning all but guaranteed to select Stamkos, the Kings are expected to select one of a handful of young defensemen who are all projected to be solid NHL players, and perhaps play in the number one or number two defensemen role.
“Without tipping my hand, I think it’s safe to say that there are some pretty good defensemen there,” said Kings President/General Manager Dean Lombardi.
Lombardi pointed to the consensus top defenseman prospects, who are all among the top players in the 2008 draft class as well.
“If you want to focus on all four of them, it’s been awhile since there’s been a crop of four like that,” he said. “That’s pretty unusual, and they’re all worthy of consideration. They each bring some element to the table and it’s not often you see something like that. They might have the potential to be top two guys.”
Lombardi specifically pointed to defenseman prospects Drew Doughty, Alex Pietrangelo, Luke Schenn and Zach Bogosian, and later added that Tyler Myers should be considered to be in that group as well.
Noting that the Kings have some very large holes on the blue line, both with the big club and in their farm system, it would seem that drafting a defenseman would be a priority.
“All you have to do is look down the road at [Scott] Niedermayer and [Chris] Pronger and their impact on winning,” said Lombardi.
But if you think the Kings will be picking based on need, guess again.
“You still have to lean towards the best player,” said Lombardi. “What those picks do is give you options. Once your list is finalized and then layered—that’s the exercise we weren’t able to do last year as a staff just because they were only together for half a year.”
The 2008 draft is a crucial one for the Kings and their rebuilding, with fifteen picks in the draft, including two first round selections and three second round picks.
The Kings also have three third round selections, two fourth round picks, one fifth round selection and two picks each in the sixth and seventh rounds.
Although the Kings did not win the lottery, Lombardi knows that with the second overall pick, there will still be a lot of talent to choose from and he still has a ton of options available on draft day.
“I think everybody would like to have the option and the obviously, the [first pick] gives you more value if you wanted to move,” Lombardi explained. “I think everybody would like to win the lottery, but there is no doubt in my mind that we’re going to get a very good player at number two, so I’ll take it.”
Lombardi also explained that with his scouting staff fully in place now, the Kings will be that much better prepared to make any potential deals.
“This year, we’ll be totally prepared in our approach to moving,” said Lombardi. “That’s what those picks give you. They give you the potential to move up. They give you the potential to move back. They give you the potential to move picks into next year again to keep the supply line going.”
“It can be like a watershed, not only this year, but when you’re building a team, each sector of building—whether it’s the draft picks, the kids in junior hockey, the kids in the minors and the kids up here, the first stage is the picks,” added Lombardi. “Ideally, until you become a really good team, you don’t want to be in a situation where you don’t have picks.”
With fifteen picks in the 2008 draft, the Kings are loaded.
“We’re flush now, as we should be,” said Lombardi. “We’re not a very good team, but there’s also the idea that maybe we have the potential to load up to keep it strong again the next year if what you see is not there, or you can get it with a later pick.”
“As far as the work the staff has to do, you’ve got to run the hypotheticals and keep the mind sharp,” added Lombardi. “At the table, you have to move quickly, but you like to be able to be mentally prepared to do the some of the things you have to do so you’re not just doing it on a whim.”
And that applies even if no moves materialize at the draft table.
“You might do nothing,” Lombardi explained. “It’s the same old story, whether you’re at a trade deadline or everything. The work that goes in, if nothing comes out, it doesn’t mean you’re not looking at a lot of things and that’s critical at this draft, to try and maximize each draft position.”
“If you look at each draft position as having a certain value, that’s the way you have to look at the pick. There’s a whole process you have to go through to maximize it.”
Indeed, maximizing their return from their draft picks is something the worse-than-struggling Kings need now more than ever. Without question, all eyes will be on Dean Lombardi, even more than last season, on what he does with the second overall pick.
To be sure, Lombardi cannot afford to blow this one. Although the book on last year’s first-round pick, defenseman Thomas Hickey, has not yet been written, this year is very, very different, as the draft class is far stronger than in 2007. Given the consensus on the top handful of prospects, it would seem to dictate that going with Doughty, Pietrangelo, Schenn, Bogosian, or maybe Myers, rather than donning the black hat, boots and six-gun and going off the board on another prospect, would be the smart choice.
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