The 2017 NHL Entry Draft symbolized the start of a new era for the Los Angeles Kings. When Rob Blake took over for Dean Lombardi as general manager this summer, he was handed an uncomfortable salary cap situation and a pretty shallow prospect pool. This summer represents a new beginning for the former Western Conference powerhouse. If this summer is an indication of where this franchise is headed, it won`t be long before the Kings are back on top once again.
Gabriel Vilardi: 1st round, 11th overall.
Ranked in the top five by most scouting services, Gabriel Vilardi falling outside the top 10 was a nice surprise for Blake and the LA Kings after leading the Memorial Cup Champion Windsor Spitfires in scoring during the regular season despite playing in just 49 games. The 6-3, 203-pound forward drove the Spits offence all the way to the championship final, where he posted two assists in a 4-3 win over the Erie Otters.
Vilardi`s play behind the opponent’s red line is downright dominant, as it`s almost impossible to take the Spits forward off the puck. His skating will need some work as he tends to fall behind the play at times, but his vision is underrated and he is almost impossible to defend when he has possession in the offensive zone.
Jaret Anderson-Dolan: 2nd Round, 41st Overall
Another really good pick for the rookie general manager, Jaret Anderson-Dolan from the Spokane Chiefs was also a player who was a major offensive threat for his team. Along with fellow 2017 draft eligibe, Kailer Yamamoto, Anderson-Dolan was one of the best on his team with the puck on his stick in the offensive zone. He has a great shot, as evidenced by his 39 goals, and has a knack for finding the open ice and anticipating where the puck will end up. He thinks the game at a high level while also having great leadership skills, which is why he was named captain of the Canadian U18 World Junior team.
An impressive resume and great value for the Kings in the second round.
Matt Villalta: 3rd Round, 72nd Overall
The goaltender position wasn’t very deep for the Kings, but they addressed that this summer with the Cal Peterson signing and the Matt Villalta selection. As a back up to one of the better goalies in the OHL, Villalta played in 33 games for the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds this season. It was good for his development to be behind Joseph Raaymakers and learn from him. He posted an astounding 25-3-0 record to go along with a .918 save percentage. Though the Greyhounds were a very strong team this season, Villalta posted those numbers thanks to his ability and solid positioning. Like most goalies, he`s obviously a project, but the foundation is there for him to develop into a solid goalie for the Kings.
Michael Anderson: 4th Round, 103rd Overall
The Kings decided to go with a defenceman in the fourth round, selecting Michael Anderson of the Waterloo Black Hawks. While he didn’t post numbers that jump out at you, Anderson plays a solid two-way game and is your prototypical calm and collected defenceman. He was also a vital part of his teams power play, finishing third among league defencemen in power play assists. His vision and puck moving ability make him stand out amongst his peers.
Markus Phillips: 4th Round, 118th Overall
In a season which saw the Owen Sound Attack make it to the Western Conference Finals before losing to the eventual champion Erie Otters, Markus Phillips was a main cog in a team that received contributions from top to bottom.
He moves the puck very well and poses a real threat when carrying the puck up the ice. Like most young puck-moving defencemen, Phillips will need to work on his game in his own end, where his decision making and positioning can be suspect at times. But he is another pick by the Kings that can be electric with the puck on his stick, much like Anderson-Dolan.
Cole Hults: 5th Round, 134th Overall
Drafted out of the Madison Capitols of the USHL, the blueliner is committed to Penn State University next season. On a team that struggled to produce offence, Cole Hults led the Capitols in assists and points, and led team defencemen in goals. He has good offensive instincts and his first pass on the breakout usually tends to be a very good one. Hults is yet another good puck mover, much in the same mold as the Kings previous two picks.
Drake Rymsha: 5th Round, 138th Overall
After missing a lot of games in his first season of draft eligibility due to a broken leg, Drake Rymsha impressed Kings scouts enough this season to warrant a selection. He started the season with the Ottawa 67`s before being dealt to the Sarnia Sting. He posted good numbers between both teams, and ended up leading the Sting in goals. He has a nose for the net and battles hard for loose pucks in dangerous areas. He`s the type of player that could go a long way based on work ethic alone and is a nice project pick for the Kings.
Kale Clague had another great season with the Brandon Wheat Kings, controlling the offence from the back end. He was a standout on Team Canada`s World Junior team and helped lead them to a silver medal. Such a fluid skater, Clague is great in transition and can stay out of trouble thanks to his speed. He sees the ice really well and will probably return to Brandon next season and continue to hone his skills by leading their blueline once again.
Adrian Kempe had a bit of a frustrating season, but it`s easy to forget he`s still just 20 years old. While showing flashes of brilliance at both the AHL and NHL levels, it was tough for him to find any consistency in his second full season of North American pro hockey. He is still one of the best prospects in the Kings system, but he needs to find a way to take that next step and become the player his team needs him to be. Next season is an important one for the development of Kempe.
The Los Angeles Kings development took place June 2th-30th at the Toyota Sports Centre. Along with first round selection Gabriel Vilardi, top prospects Kale Clague and Mike Eyssimont were also in attendance. The full roster is listed below.
Jaret Anderson-Dolan – second round (41st overall) in 2017 – Spokane Chiefs, WHL
Easton Brodzinski – camp invitee
Mikey Eyssimont – fifth round (142nd overall) in 2016 – St. Cloud State
Daniel Fischbuch – camp invitee – Eisbären Berlin (AEG owned team in Germany)
Alex Iafallo – free agent signing – Minnesota-Duluth, NCAA
Bokondji Imama – acquired from Tampa Bay Lighting, May 2017
Keegan Iverson – camp invitee – on AHL contract
Matt Luff – free agent signing – Hamilton Bulldogs, OHL
Phil Maillet – camp invitee – on AHL contract
Drake Rymsha – fourth round (138th overall) in 2017 – Sarnia Sting, OHL
Gabriel Vilardi – first round (11th overall) in 2017 – Windsor Spitfires, OHL
Evan Weinger – camp invitee – Portland Winterhawks, WHL
Michael Anderson – 2017 fourth round (103rd overall) – Waterloo Black Hawks, USHL (committed to Minnesota-Duluth, NCAA)
Simon Benoit – non-drafted, camp invitee – Shawinigan Cataractes, QMJHL
Kale Clague – second round (51st overall) in 2016 – Brandon Wheat Kings, WHL
Oscar Fantenberg – free agent signing – HK Sochi, KHL (born/raised in Sweden)
Jacob Friend – seventh round (202nd overall) in 2016 – Owen Sound Attack, OHL
Cole Hults – fifth round (134th overall) in 2017 – Madison Capitols, USHL (committed to Penn State, NCAA)
Brady Keeper – camp invitee – MJHL
Markus Phillips – fourth round (118th overall) in 2017 – Owen Sound Attack, OHL
Peter Tischke – camp invitee – Wisconsin, NCAA
Sean Walker – camp invitee – on AHL contract
Zach Whitecloud – camp invitee – Bemidji State, NCAA
Kai Wissmann – camp invitee – Eisbären Berlin
Mike Bitzer – non drafted, camp invitee – Bemidji State University, NCAA
Jeremy Brodeur – non drafted, camp invitee – Oshawa Generals, OHL
Kris Joyce – non drafted, camp invitee – University of Windsor
Matt Villalta – third round (72nd overall) in 2017 – Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds, OHL