LA Kings: Grading all picks in ‘quality over quantity’ NHL Draft
The LA Kings entered the 2021 NHL Draft with seven draft picks and left with four players. Here are the grades for each pick.
Before noon on the west coast, the LA Kings had already wrapped up their version of the 2021 NHL Draft. Mark Yannetti and the Kings scouting department entered Friday with seven picks to work with. However, they were done making their selections after the third round.
In the second and third rounds, some draft shuffling eliminated the picks into the fourth, fifth, and sixth rounds in what Kings management described as “quality over quantity.”
We knew entering the 2021 NHL Draft, the LA Kings had a plethora of prospects in their organization, and seven more might crowd the room further. Instead, Yannetti and the Kings brass focused on the right players, players who are presumably closer to stepping into an NHL role.
As such, the Kings left the draft with four quality players. Here are the grades for each pick in the LA Kings 2021 NHL Draft.
Round 1, 8th overall
Brandt Clarke – Defenseman
Already drawing comparisons to Drew Doughty, Brandt Clarke is masterful in breakouts and quarterbacking the powerplay. Without an OHL season, Clarke took off for Slovakia, playing for HC Nove Zamky, and proved he belonged against grown men. He returned to North America for the U18s, tallying seven points in seven games for Team Canada.
If you look at the Kings prospect pool, there’s no arguing that it’s forward top-heavy. Players like Quinton Byfield, Alex Turcotte, Rasmus Kupari, and Arthur Kaliyev dominate the headlines. This was the draft class to grab a top-tier defenseman, but it became a matter of whether one would actually be available at the No. 8 overall slot.
While Los Angeles would have likely preferred a left-shot defenseman, Clarke is a tremendous talent along the right side; one that features prospects like Brock Faber, Jordan Spence, and Helge Grans, among others. Clarke gives the Kings a true offensive defenseman to eventually replace Doughty on the Kings’ top pairing.
“If you go to Clarke, he’s something we’ve never had,” Kings Director of Amateur Scouting Mark Yannetti said on Saturday. “The style of play, the offense-driving, offense-first, borderline dynamic, offensive defenseman. Clarke is something different. I don’t want to compare guys. I don’t think that’s the fair thing, but what Clarke is, is something we haven’t had. He’s an offense-generating player. He can generate offense through transition. He can generate it individually. He can generate it on the blueline, all three ways.”
Brandt Clarke on Being Drafted by LA Kings: ‘Best Day of My Life’
Round 2, 42nd overall
Francesco Pinelli – Forward
Pinelli was largely projected as a late first-round draft pick, so the fact that the Kings got him near the middle of the second round is a win in itself. Los Angeles originally held the 49th overall pick but moved up to grab the Hamilton, Ontario, native.
In fact, Yannetti identified the Kings’ approach as “a more aggressive, a more move-up centric strategy, and the plan played out.”
“Every single guy we moved up for was the guy that was targeted with that plan. Every time we moved up, we were moving up for a specific guy, and we got that guy,” Yannetti added.
The forward blossomed with the Kitchener Rangers of the OHL during the 2019-20 season, accumulating 18 goals and 23 assists in 59 games, finishing with the eighth-most points on the roster. But like Clarke, Pinelli played in Slovenia for HDD Jesenice in 2021, tallying 11 points in 13 games.
He outperformed Clarke at the U18s, scoring four goals and 11 points in seven games for Team Canada. Pinelli’s strengths are his vision and puck handling skills.
Round 2, 59th overall
Samuel Helenius – Forward
The Kings added a 6-foot-6 center to their prospect pool in Samuel Helenius. The Järvenpää, Finland, native is just as physical as his father Sami was, throwing his body around on the forecheck. His statistics don’t exactly jump off the page, though, and he’s not the fastest skater.
However, Mark Yannetti beamed on Saturday when discussing what kind of player the Kings are getting in Samuel Helenius.
“This kid is already an NHL skater, and he hasn’t even come close to growing into his body,” Yannetti said. “When his body catches up to his feet, we look at him being an above-average NHL skater, and he’s 6-foot-6. He plays a hard, heavy game. He leads with compete and physicality to go along with his skating. If you watched him at the World Juniors, while offense is certainly not the primary aspect of his game, he possesses a really good shot.”
This past season, the 18-year-old center tallied seven goals and 14 points in 54 games for JYP of Finland’s top-tier hockey league. And, as Yannetti alluded to, Helenius played well for Team Finland at the World Juniors, accumulating two goals and two assists in seven games.
If he can develop into an above-average skater, as Yannetti suggests, Helenius could be a nightmare to play against.
Round 3, 84th overall
Kirill Kirsanov – Defenseman
Kirill Kirsanov was viewed as the 16th best player in The Athletic‘s final draft rankings. In general, he probably fell much further than he should have. Already 6-foot-1, 198 pounds, the Tver, Russia, native is a defensive defenseman, tallying no goals and three assists in 29 games for SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL last season.
More of a facilitator than a shooter, Kirsanov possesses terrific skating and puck-moving abilities. After splitting the 2020-21 season across three Russian leagues, Kirsanov represented Team Russia at the World Juniors, scoring a goal and an assist in seven games while averaging 20:26 time-on-ice.
“Really strong defensive play, very mature game that way,” Yannetti said of Kirsanov’s game on Saturday. “He has some physicality, though it manifests itself a little bit more in a heavy presence, an ability to control opponents, rather than a ‘run you over’ type of physicality. Very good straight-line skating. This is an 18-year-old kid who played in the KHL, and he played real minutes. Then, he goes to the World Juniors, and he becomes their number-one defenseman, in our opinion, by the end of the tournament.”