They see me rollin'. They hatin'.
- Jul 28, 2004
Without a first-round selection in the 2023 NHL Entry Draft, Kings General Manager Rob Blake and his staff will largely appear to be passengers during Wednesday night’s opening ceremony. However, they’ll be busy behind the scenes laying some groundwork for Day 2 on Thursday. As of this writing, the team has five selections:
Round 1 – N/A
Round 2 – No. 54
Round 3 – No. 78 (from Pittsburgh)
Round 4 – No. 118
Round 5 – No. 160
Round 6 – No. 182
Round 7 – N/A
LA traded their 2023 first round pick to Columbus for Vladislav Gavrikov back at this year’s Trade Deadline. Their third round pick went to Buffalo around the same time for goaltender Erik Portillo. However, they still have a selection in the third round thanks to the Jeff Carter trade a few years ago. It was originally a fourth-round conditional pick, but was upgraded to a third-rounder when Carter met the games played requirement (minimum of 50 games in 2021-22). As for their seventh round selection, that was swapped with the Boston Bruins last year for a 2022 seventh rounder (with the Kings jumping back into the Draft and selecting 6-foot-7 forward Kalen Lawerence).
On a recent Kings Of The Podcast episode with Mark Yannetti — a true must-listen interview, by the way — he suggested the Kings will sowehow find a way to leave the 2023 Draft with more than five players. We’ll see if they’re once again able to make some magic happen.
Most likely, that would involve trading down at a few different spots in the Draft, acquirring an extra pick as a tax for sliding back a few spots. They’ve done this several times, including last year, moving down in the third round. Where this gets a bit dicey, is if somebody they really covet falls down the board in the second round and they want to reach up and grab said player. They’d likely be looking to move up to around No. 43-47 in that scenario. The trick there, of course, would be the tax to move up — it could be a prospect or a pick. If they use one of their other four 2023 selections, that would limit the total number of players they leave Nashville with. Will they go the quality or quantity route this year? Early in the second round, things will become a little clearer.
Complicating matters even further, though, is the depth of quality defensemen in this Draft. Scouts report it’s not very deep. Which means, if there is a big run on defensemen early, as teams scramble to make sure they get one, that makes things wonky for two reasons: (a) other players fall lower than originally expected and (b) could change what the Kings are likely planning. We believe they’re looking to take a forward at No. 54. If other teams ahead of them cause chaos, that potentially opens the door for LA to a longer look at a defenseman in that spot.
In preparation for the Draft, we’ve done extensive homework to cull together a solid candidate pool from which the Kings may be drawing upon when selecting prospects with their 2023 picks.
For the sake of brevity, we’ll post two more articles in our Kings Draft Guide Series.
Previously, we published:
2023 NHL Draft Preview: 10 Goalies for the LA Kings to Focus On
2023 NHL Draft Preview: 10 Players the Kings Might Select with Their First Pick
In that second article, we looked at 10 somewhat longshots, but certainly intrguing names, at No. 54. Included were five players who will most likley be gone by the time LA picks and five players who most likely fall a tier behind the names we’ll review below. In other words, players who will be drafted somewhere between No. 54 and before the Kings select again No. 78. Again, if things go sideways, LA could reach up and grab one of those players or they could trade down and select one of the second-five names listed in that article.
If the Kings hold and select at No. 54, below are the 10 names we feel they’re most likely to be focussing on:
REALISTIC OPTIONS FOR LA at NO. 54
(NOTE: Players listed in alphabetical order)
Tristan Bertucci, Flint Firebirds, Canada
Defense, 6-foot-2, 179 lbs, Shoots: L
OHL: 63 GP, 11 G, 39 A, 50 Pts, 66 PIM, Plus-12
U18: 7 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 0 Pts, 4 PIM, Minus-2
There’s been a wide variety of assessments of this left-shot defenseman’s abilities, where even his projected role is uncertain. Most seem to think he can become a two-way defender, yet others feel a shutdown role would be more appropriate. A lot of this confusion stems from a slow start with a ramp up in production after the first month.
Hunter Brzustewicz, Kitchener Rangers, USA
Defense, 6-foot-0, 187 lbs, Shoots: R
OHL: 68 GP, 6 G, 51 A, 57 Pts, 12 PIM, Plus-8
The right shot, puck-moving defenseman has shown some defensive acumen as well. The profile reads pretty typically, where strength needs to be developed more than anything else. Don’t look for him to pot a lot of goals, yet he could very well develop into a modern defenseman.
Jakob Dvorak, Bílí Tygři Liberec, Czechia
Defense, 6-foot-5, 209 lbs, Shoots: L
Czechia: 24 GP, 0 G, 2 A, 2 Pts, 6 PIM, Minus-2
U18: 5 GP, 1 G, 2 A, 3 Pts, 8 PIM, Minus-2
Hlinka Gretzky Cup: 5 GP, 1 G, 1 A, 2 Pts, 8 PIM
While the term often gets misused or misunderstood, raw is the best term to describe the rangy defender. Most likely projected to be a physical force, time needs to be allotted to let him acclimate his game to reach his full potential.
Andrew Gibson, Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, Canada
Defense, 6-foot-3, 198 lbs, Shoots: R
OHL: 45 GP, 7 G, 14 A, 21 Pts, 30 PIM, Minus-4
U18: 7 GP, 0 G, 3 A, 3 Pts, 25 PIM, Plus-5
Unpolished but skilled. Commended for his two-way ability, the native of LaSalle just hasn’t put all the tools together yet. With size, instincts, and skills, there’s good promise to grow into a mid-pairing defenseman role.
Riley Heidt, Prince George Cougars, Canada
Forward, 5-foot-11, 179 lbs, Shoots: L
WHL: 68 GP, 25 G, 72 A, 97 Pts, 36 PIM, Minus-3
U18: 5 GP, 0 G, 2 A, 2 Pts, 0 PIM, Minus-2
Hlinka Gretzky Cup: 5 GP, 3 G, 3 A, 6 Pts, 0 PIM
Heidt is the type of all-purpose forward who everybody loves. A natural playmaker, he has already solidified himself as a No. 1 center at the young age of 17. The grit accompanying his game is always welcome, although his smaller than average stature may relegate him to pest status more than power forward.
With 3 primary assists last night, Riley Heidt broke the all-time single-season assist record for the Prince George Cougars (60).
He's up to 22 goals and 82 points in 60 games on the season – 3rd among DY skaters and 6th among all WHLers. pic.twitter.com/sy8kaVK8KJ
— /Cam Robinson/ (@Hockey_Robinson) March 9, 2023
Jesse Kiiskinen, Pelicans U20, Finland
Forward, 6-feet-0, 187 lbs, Shoots: R
U20 SM-sarja: 31 GP, 20 G, 23 A, 43 Pts, 8 PIM, Plus-12
Liiga: 7 GP, 0 G, 1 A, 1 Pt, 2 PIM, Plus-2
U18: 5 GP, 3 G, 2 A, 5 Pts, 2 PIM, Plus-1
Hlinka Gretzky Cup: 5 GP, 2 G, 2 A, 4 Pts, 0 PIM
A skilled sniper who also has some playmaking ability and a touch of grit, Kiiskinen ups his game on the international stage. The past two seasons, he has led his U18 and U17 team in scoring (and last season, the margin was almost double of the second-leading scorer). The Kings might also be more familiar with him, as prospect Aatu Jamsen was his teammate this year in Liiga.
Martin Misiak, Youngstown Phantoms, Slovakia
Forward, 6-feet-2, 198 lbs, Shoots: L
Slovakia: 29 GP, 1 G, 9 A, 10 Pts, 10 PIM, Plus-6
USHL: 27 GP, 6 G, 11 A, 17 Pts, 26 PIM, Plus-2
U20: 3 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 0 Pts, 2 PIM, Plus-1
The tenacious forechecker started his season playing in the home country of Slovakia. When the ice time didn’t improve at all, a move was made overseas and to help the Youngstown Phantoms win their first USHL championship. His aggression and strength is revered, though overall reads and skillsets may limit him to a reduced role at higher levels.
Jayden Perron, Chicago Steel, USA
Forward, 5-foot-8, 157 lbs, Shoots: R
USHL: 61 GP, 24 G, 48 A, 72 Pts, 18 PIM, Plus-15
One of the smallest draft-eligible players, he’s also an intelligent playmaker. The native of Winnipeg is committed to the University of North Dakota. If the Kings want to bring in a player to bring fans to their feet, Perron would be a great candidate.
Carson Rehkopf, Kitchener Rangers, Canada
Forward, 6-foot-1, 194 lbs, Shoots: L
OHL: 68 GP, 30 G, 29 A, 59 Pts, 40 PIM, Minus-9
Hlinka Gretzky Cup: 5 GP, 1 G, 4 A, 5 Pts, 2 PIM
The consensus is pretty clear with Rehkopf – skilled, especially at shooting, yet the consistency and compete levels just aren’t there. The native of Barrie, Ontario is a teammate of Kings prospect Francesco Pinelli, and General Manager Rob Blake and crew should have a good read on his character to see if the engagement can be improved.
Gracyn Sawchyn, Seattle Thunderbirds, Canada
Forward, 5-foot-11, 165 lbs, Shoots: R
WHL: 58 GP, 18 G, 40 A, 58 Pts, 68 PIM, Plus-36
A rookie on the Seattle Thunderbirds, who won the WHL championship, and managed to score at a point-per-game rate while in a secondary role. He was largely helped by his skill and vision, with 40 of his 58 points being helpers. Size and strength could be questionable currently, yet his no-quit attitude has endeared him to many.
Gracyn Sawchyn has to be the most divisive prospect in this 2023 class.
He's slight and slippery with some edge and pushback. But the statistical profile is lacking. The deployment was limited. And the risk is as real as the upside.
But man can this kid handle the biscuit. pic.twitter.com/e4OBe2IRNn
— /Cam Robinson/ (@Hockey_Robinson) June 11, 2023
More to come in our fourth and final article of this series, where we’ll look at the LA Kings options for Rounds 3-7 of this year’s Entry Draft.