2016 NHL DRAFT: The biggest need in the Los Angeles Kings player pipeline is in goal, with only one drafted goaltender prospect in their development system who is a long way away from the professional ranks. This story will look at the current situation and how it impacts their’ approach to the 2016 NHL Draft.
LOS ANGELES — When you look up and down at the Los Angeles Kings system, Jonathan Quick is firmly entrenched as their number one goaltender. But with Jhonas Enroth heading to unrestricted free agency, the job of backup goaltender is expected to fall to Peter Budaj, who lit up the American Hockey League this season as the best goaltender in the league with the Ontario Reign.
But behind Budaj, the only prospect the Kings have in goal is 20-year-old Alec Dillon, who they selected in the fifth round (150th overall) of the 2014 National Hockey League Draft.
When asked if Dillon was ready to advance to the professional ranks, Kings Director of Amateur Scouting Mark Yanetti replied, “not even close.”
As such, that would leave the Kings with no one capable of being their number three goaltender, a player who would be the starter in Ontario. Indeed, their system is devoid of goaltender prospects at either the AHL or ECHL levels.
“We clearly don’t have a young guy ready to even move into that apprenticeship as he learns the trade,” said President/General Manager Dean Lombardi. “It’s probably safe to say that we’re going to have to go outside our system again.”
The biggest reason the Kings have no depth in goal throughout their system is due to the loss of four goalies they developed but could not keep—netminders with a chance to be a starter in the NHL deserve the chance to do just that. But that won’t happen with the Kings as long as Quick remains entrenched as their number one goaltender.
“We had a relative [amount] of riches of guys coming through [our] system,” Lombardi noted. “We’ve got four goaltenders, [Jean-Francois] Berube, [Martin] Jones, [Jeff] Zatkoff and [Jonathan] Bernier, who would’ve been great for us to have, but you can’t keep’em. Then you look at it and think, ‘what’s the use?’ But obviously, it’s something that’s critical because it’s such a critical position.”
“I can’t think of a better analogy than backup quarterbacks,” Lombardi added. “You see how hard it is for a team to get a bona fide backup when you have a top quarterback. Even the Denver Broncos lost their guy who they were [grooming]. He goes somewhere else, even though the job is there.”
Digging the hole even deeper is that Christopher Gibson, who the Kings selected in the second round (49th overall) in 2011, didn’t pan out. Even worse, Patrik Bartosak, a fifth round pick (146th overall) in the 2013 draft, was set to move into the number three goaltender spot—he would have backed up Budaj in Ontario this season. But he faces twelve charges in Manchester, New Hampshire related to an alleged altercation with his girlfriend. He was suspended by the Kings and has returned to the Czech Republic.
Evidence suggests that the Kings are victims of their own development success and bad luck. But it’s not like they haven’t tried to fill that void in their reserve list.
“You have to recognize that there’s a gaping hole, organizationally,” said Yanetti. “We’ve tried to fill it via free agency. We weren’t able to do it. We put ourselves in the best situations, but it didn’t happen.”
“The funny thing about this is that we’re talking about having no depth in goal, but I can tell you this: we’ve lost three goalies in the time I’ve been in L.A. who wouldn’t sign with us because of the depth in goal [that we had, at the time],” added Yanetti. “[Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Sergei] Bobrovwsky wouldn’t sign with us [as an unrestricted free agent].”
The Kings also tried to fill the hole in previous drafts.
“We didn’t draft a goalie last year, but we were looking at goalies,” Yanetti noted. “We had two or three who we had rated quite favorably compared to their peers. But whether it was not having a pick in that spot, or a guy got drafted before we were ready to pick—that happens all the time.”
“People can say that we didn’t draft a goalie,” Yanetti added. “But that doesn’t mean we didn’t try to draft a goalie. I won’t tell you who, but there was a goalie a couple of years ago who we were very high on. He [was selected] in the middle rounds and we had him targeted to take in the middle rounds. We were dead on. We nailed the goalie, we nailed what kind of goalie he would be, we nailed where we were going to need get to [in order to select] him, and he’s [now] successful in the NHL. He [was selected] five picks before we picked.”
Yanetti believes they made a mistake on this one.
“We did everything right except get the goalie,” he said. “That means we were wrong. If you’re going to target a player, you have to get him, and we didn’t put ourselves in a position to get him, like we did with Tyler Toffoli. We identified where Toffoli was going to be taken, and we identified what kind of player we thought he was going to be. If we didn’t step up, trading up two spots to get him, we wouldn’t have gotten him.”
“We didn’t apply the same logic to the goalie, and that’s a procedural mistake we can’t make,” he added. “We’re looking at goalies again this year, we looked at goalies last year. That’s a mistake we won’t make again. We certainly won’t wait if we think the right goalie is there. But we also won’t step up and take a goalie out of his spot just because he’s a goalie.”
Even with the tremendous need for goaltending, as reported in this space previously, the Kings will continue to draft the best player available.
“If you look at this draft, yeah, we need to get a goalie,” said Yanetti. “That said, I’ll go back to when we first started in L.A. We had a team that got pushed around, so you go into the draft and you have to draft toughness. We needed it. But we eschewed the best player available, and we thought we filled the toughness void. But guess what? When that player was ready to play, we had a team that was tougher than anyone in the league, and the 15 guys we had ahead of him on the [roster] were all better and he can’t get into the lineup.”
“You have to recognize that you need a goaltender,” added Yanetti. “But you also have to have the patience, intestinal fortitude and strength not to draft a goaltender if he’s not the right one, or if it’s not the right time. You have to be strong enough and intelligent enough not to make the pick. He’s got to be the right one.”
“You have to recognize that you need a goalie, but you can’t forgo the best player available. We’ll have to find another Budaj on an American Hockey League team, or we’ll have to draft a goalie next year, or two goalies next year. Who knows?”
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