2014 NHL Draft: 5 Perfect Fits for Los Angeles Kings
Their forwards aren't necessarily big up and down the lineup, but they buy into a system where playing a two-way game is the primary focus. On the blue line a mix of skilled and shutdown defensemen are rarely caught out of position in the neutral and defensive zones. And, of course, it helps to have Jonathan Quick in goal.
General manager Dean Lombardi will no doubt be looking for many of the same smart, fearless, two-way players when the 2014 draft rolls around.
Here are five players he should take a long look at.
Stats courtesy of HockeyDB.com.
Alex Tuch, RW, U.S. National Development Program
Alex Tuch has all the abilities the Kings look for in a winger.
He is a strong skater who protects the puck well and excels on the forecheck. At 6'3", 219 pounds he has the potential to play a gritty role alongside more skilled playmakers. Not unlike current Kings Dwight King and Dustin Brown.
Tuch has racked up 10 goals and nine assists for 19 points in 16 games this season. He ranks 19th on the latest 2014 NHL draft rankings by TSN analyst Bob McKenzie, meaning L.A. may have a chance to take him in the first round.
Alexis Vanier, D, Baie-Comeau Drakkar
The Kings selected Valentin Zykov with their first pick in the 2013 NHL draft. In 2014 they should consider his Baie-Comeau Drakkar teammate, defenseman Alexis Vanier.
Vanier failed to register a goal in his rookie campaign in the QMJHL last season, finishing with just eight assists in 53 games. But, he's looked like a different player in 2013-14, notching 15 goals and 16 assists for 31 points in 43 games.
With a 6'4", 210-pound frame, Vanier can outwork his opponents in the corners and deliver hard, clean open ice hits. If he can improve his skating he may find a place on a second or third pairing in the NHL.
Jacob Middleton, D, Ottawa 67s
A defenseman like Willie Mitchell doesn't garner much attention from fans around the league or the national sports media. However, it's these tough, smart, relentless blueliners who can be the difference-makers in the playoffs.
Jacob Middleton has a long way to go before he will play an NHL game, let alone hoist the Stanley Cup, but he certainly has potential.
At age 18, Middleton stands 6'3" and weighs nearly 200 pounds. He won't make a major impact on offense—he has 15 points in 44 games this season—but he can play quality minutes against the other team's top forwards.
With Willie Mitchell nearing the end of his career, Middleton could work to replace the hardworking veteran.
Brendan Lemieux, LW, Barrie Colts
Brendan Lemieux is looking to follow in the footsteps of his father. No, not Mario, but Claude Lemieux.
At 6'0", 186 pounds Brendan may not have his father's size yet—Claude was weighed over 215 pounds—but he does have his mean streak.
The elder Lemieux played a major role in initiating the Red Wings-Avalanche rivalry of the 1990s when he hit Kris Draper from behind. Brendan was suspended eight games in December, 2012 for delivering a similar check from behind.
Lemieux still has a way to go in his development and may not be NHL ready for a few years. However, with his level of intensity and physicality, he could be a welcome addition to the Kings bottom-six in the future.
Conner Bleackley, C/RW, Red Deer Rebels
Conner Bleackley is the captain of the WHL's Red Deer Rebels because of his work ethic and his ability to lead by example.
Bleackley has great hands and a quick release, but also has the makings of a solid power forward. He's strong on the forecheck and a good puck possession player.
With 22 goals and 34 assists, the 17-year-old leads his team with 56 points in 49 games. If he continues to do the little things well and further improve his skating, he should be a legitimate third line player in the NHL.