As we briskly approach the 2022 NHL entry draft, which will be held on July 7th and 8th in Montreal, Canada, we start to learn more about top prospects from the upcoming draft. With the 2022 NHL draft appearing as a relatively deep class, it’ll be interesting to see what the LA Kings will choose to do with their selections.
The LA Kings own six draft picks this year, including all three picks in the first three rounds. They don’t own their own third-rounder (84th) as that was shipped off to Nashville in the Viktor Arvidsson trade, but they do hold Pittsburgh’s pick (86th). They acquired that pick in the Jeff Carter trade.
A third-round pick is still considered to be quite the decent pick by NHL standards, so the Kings may use it in a trade to bolster their group once the draft rolls around. But in the case that they do decide to keep the third-round pick, here are three players that the LA Kings can select with their 86th overall pick this year.
Michael La Starza
Team: Sioux Falls Stampede, USHL
NHL Central Scouting rank (NA): 91
Stats: 57 GP, 16 G, 28 A, 44 PTS
Michael La Starza joined the USHL in 2020 when he became a member of the Waterloo Blackhawks. Recording 24 points in 50 games, he wasn’t seen as a standout player. The following season in 2021-22, La Starza arose to have his breakout season as he tallied 22 points in 25 games. His name started to move up the ranks and the spotlight was on him.
That’s when he got moved to the Sioux Falls Stampede. Playing in 32 games with Sioux Falls, La Starza tallied 22 points. The same exact point total, but in 7 more games.
He’s been ranked all over the place among scouts. Some have him as early as the second round, and others in their seventh. But while his inconsistency on the scoresheet holds him off a tad bit, he’s definitely a target for the LA Kings at 86th overall.
Best known for his two-way ability, La Starza has proven that he’s a smart hockey player on and off the puck at all times. His scoring and production could be a bit of a setback in instances, but his ability to match up against bigger opponents while at top speeds has been exceptional.
Although having a natural offensive instinct and being able to play sensible defensive hockey, one of La Starza’s best attributes has got to be his speed. His skating technique is a little bit awkward in the way that his strides tend to extend far, but when he goes at his fastest, he feels unstoppable.
An example of his speed would be the goal above. Firstly, La Starza finds open space in the neutral zone. He quickly bats an eye to visualize all the attackers from the opposition getting sucked in, so he takes that extra step up. Once he picks up the puck, he explodes into that stride, and he’s off to the net. As the defender attempts to catch up to Michael, he blasts right past the defender and uses a wrist shot to bury it.
That’s just one example of his active footwork and his knowledge of play. He read the play like a book, got that extra step in, and rocketed right to the net for a goal. Those types of quick decisions let him become extremely efficient in the offensive zone.
Being able to quickly transition from one end to the other, Michael has learned how to play with a pep in his step. Being able to generate offensive plays within milliseconds, he’s perfected the art of not overcomplicating anything. His adaptability allows him to make these high-danger plays without anyone being able to catch up to him.
Here’s an example of La Starza’s defensive skill:
La Starza played PK in both Waterloo and Sioux Falls. He’s gained the trust of his coaches to be given a defensive responsibility, and rightfully so. Because of his fantastic defensive awareness, he’s learned to calculate and read opponent’s plays in his head. Obviously, as you can depict, as he reads those plays that his opponents try to make, he immediately knows what to do to break up that play. His willingness to always take the extra step rewards him, too.
Now as perfect as he sounds, he does have a few holes in his game. The first is his inconsistent shooting. La Starza has a good aim when he shoots, but it’s on-and-off. You’ll see him gain the open ice from time to time, and he’ll put it in the top corner. There have been instances where he would have a great scoring chance, just to either completely miss the net or even not be able to raise the puck off the ice.
Another issue with his shooting is how long it takes for him to actually pull it off. Even though he weighs in at 185 pounds at 5’11, he doesn’t seem to have enough power in his shot. That’s why he tends to wind up quite a bit far back and then let it go. It’s been costly a number of times as defenders have that extra time to get in front of the shot or take it away altogether.
Even though having an exciting player is fun, he does tend to get over-excited. La Starza has acceptable hands, but he doesn’t always use them to his advantage. He can often overhandle the puck by making an unnecessary deke. This is more of a mental thing, but throughout the entire USHL season, that’s been one of his biggest issues.
La Starza is committed to Boston University in 2022-23, which gives him a bigger opportunity to prove himself and develop into a better shooter and stick-handler. With the potential that La Starza possesses, taking him at 86 wouldn’t be a bad option whatsoever.
Team: Örebro HK, SHL
NHL Central Scouting Ranking (EU): 37
Stats (SHL level): 17 GP, 0 G, 1 A, 1 PTS
No, it’s not that Elias Pettersson.
I wouldn’t be shocked to see Elias get drafted in the second round this year, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him fall, either. If he is available at 86, that should be LA’s target. Now we know that the Kings are in search of an offensive defenseman, but Elias Pettersson strikes me as a defensive defenseman. Being able to take down and shut down the most talented players in the SHL this past season has been beyond impressive. There’s a reason why Pettersson played 17 whole games with one of the best SHL teams.
He couldn’t record too many points, yet Örebro chose to keep him in the lineup for a lengthy amount of time. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound defender has shown his strength and tenaciousness in Sweden all season long, and it’s boosted him to make him so much better in his own zone.
One of Pettersson’s best strengths is his box-out flair. He’s learned how to push away the biggest and brightest players away from the net to give his goaltender extra space and time. Being able to simply push away and not let the attacker through has been his biggest key to success this season.
And even when he isn’t boxing out attackers in the defensive zone, you’ll also catch him doing it in the neutral zone. He’ll gap out players to not let them move into the zone in time, and that’s where his doggedness and his strength really starts to show. Being able to push away experienced players and serve as a brick wall amongst some of the top competition has made many fall in love with his defensive structure.
As for basic defensive traits like shot-blocking and matching up in corners, he’s mastered that version of hockey as well.
The clip above shows him carefully skating backward, making sure there can’t be a scoring chance from the player to his left, which is later followed by a blocked shot. After the block, he got up and continued to play in his own zone.
He’s always willing to take a shot to the most painful areas, even if it means him getting hurt. You can tell that his mindset is defense first, which is a trait that every player needs to bestow.
While his offensive game does need some more work, and it isn’t nearly as good as I would hope it to be, he does have the power of strength. And as you may guess, a powerful player has a powerful shot.
He doesn’t use this shot as much as he should, and he isn’t given much of an offensive opportunity, but he does have the advantage of a hard shot. If only Pettersson can become much more active and be as extensive as he is in the offensive zone as he is in the defensive zone, you may be able to find the gem in the mid-rounds of the draft.
Pettersson needs to look a little more quickly and move around a little less stiffly around the ice, but his puck movement and transitioning basically cancels that out. He may not move as nicely as you would want him to, but overall, he’s a great puck carrier, and he does his duty as a defensive defenseman. In a sense, he does have the look of Jonas Brodin– just a little bit less offensive-sided.
Team: US National Development Program, USHL
NHL Central Scouting Rank (NA): 201
Stats (USHL): 24 GP, 2 G, 9 A, 11 PTS
You either love him or hate him. For some reason, there really hasn’t been much of an in-between amongst fans and scouts. But one way or another, there’s a promise that he will fall in the draft. His size, frequent mistakes, and inconsistency make him a wild card, giving him the feeling that you either hit big or you’ll completely miss.
The chances of a team missing after drafting him heavily outweigh the chances of him becoming a steal, but I personally see the glass half full.
At 5-foot-9, Duke’s best attributes are his speed, powerplay skills, zone exits, and analytics.
Duke is unbelievably fast. His explosiveness makes him uncatchable. A huge factor in that is his active footwork. Being able to constantly keep his feet striding while making sharp crossovers is outstanding.
The clip above shows Duke making a nice one-on-one defensive play to cause the Latvian player to turn the puck over. Once it goes into the corner, Duke quickly picks it off, and that’s where he explodes. Speedily grabbing the puck and jumping into a stride, Duke keeps moving and exits his zone. All in the span of less than 10 seconds.
Duke has the ability to start breakouts after causing turnovers (just like in that video). His talent of getting the puck out of his zone and into the opponent’s zone all by himself using that speed of his has been one of the best things to watch with this year’s USNDP team.
Every time he steps onto the ice, he’ll make himself clear because he’s usually the first guy to get back on defense to make a quick play and then join the offensive rush because of his velocity and offensive touch.
Not only is Duke handy to join rushes while making quick plays using his hands and feet, but he’s also a fantastic addition to the quarterback position and the power play.
Duke knows how to move the puck around, cycle the puck, detect where to pass it to and where the worst places to pass it to would be, and he’s also got a quick wrist shot that helps him score a few goals occasionally. That isn’t a surprise, either.
Duke excels in the offensive zone. He only makes nice pinches when he should, he reads the play like a book assisting him whenever he wants to set up a play, and because of his agility, he’s able to fake out defenders to score goals and record assists.
Duke’s analytics are a huge plus as well.
Here in this RAPM chart, you can visualize how he has almost no negatives to his game. With his isolated shots for per 60 being the lowest factor on the chart, it makes it even more impressive seeing how it’s better than a lot of other defensemen’s iSF/60.
Here’s his microstat card from Mitchell Brown:
Again, everything is surprisingly high. His offensive attributes are jaw-dropping, his transition at a good level, and his defensive stats at an exceptional level. Notably, his controlled entries are his best attribute. His shooting and passing are also big factors.
It’s terrific how analytically amazing Duke is. It shows us that he’s capable of so much more, and it will be so much fun to watch him develop.
There is an issue, though, of course. Him transitioning to the NHL level is a concern. He doesn’t have nearly enough poise as he needs– a huge red flag. Additionally, he makes plays and does some intangibles that really make me question if he’ll be able to do those things at the NHL level. To him, the USHL isn’t a challenge for him. He’s figured out how to get away from pressure and make plays that put him ahead of anyone else.
Where the concern is at is how he’ll be able to do that sort of thing in University. If he isn’t able to transition his current skills into the NCAA or even the AHL, things will not work out. If he can’t keep up with players in those two leagues, there’s a promise that he won’t be able to do that in the NHL. But if he does learn how to pull off his style of game in the NCAA or AHL, you may have hit the gold mine.
His analytics make me fully believe that he will be able to transition into those leagues, but there’s still a huge chance that he won’t. And if he doesn’t, you may as well just throw a pick away.
Tyler Duke’s case study is definitely an interesting one, and it almost feels like a coin flip, but it feels really hard to pass up the opportunity to draft a player like himself. As mentioned previously, if he hits, the team that drafts him will be able to get an absolute steal wherever they do draft him.
There are a ton of other great players available for the LA Kings to take in the third round of the 2022 NHL entry draft, and these are only three of the players that could possibly be available by then. Drafting any three of these players would be considered a fit for LA, seeing how they all fit Todd McLellan’s system, and they do match a number of players that the Kings have.
The third round is where the draft starts to become very subjective to the scouts and general managers, so it’s really difficult to predict who goes where around that spot. But whatever does happen, it’ll be interesting to see who the Kings end up with on July 8th.
(All videos courtesy of InStat)