NHL Draft 2014: Final Look at Los Angeles Kings' Best Options in 1st Round
The Los Angeles Kings won the Stanley Cup for the second time in three years and nearly all their players should be back, which means the 2014 draft isn't important for short-term success.
It will be key, however, to keeping the championship window open long-term.
Dean Lombardi has signed Marian Gaborik to a seven-year deal, locking up one of the pieces to the Kings' playoff success.
The Kings' first-round selection is the 29th overall pick. There are a number of standout forwards who could be available late in the first round.
Here is a closer look at those players with the NHL draft set for Friday.
Conner Bleackley, C, Red Deer Rebels (WHL)
The captain of the Red Deer Rebels shares many of the same characteristics as current Los Angeles Kings players.
Conner Bleackley leads by example every shift. He battles in the corners, works hard on the forecheck and backchecks effectively.
Despite lacking the speed and high-end skill that many of the Western Hockey League's top players boast, the 6'0", 192-pound center racked up 29 goals and 39 assists for 68 points in 71 games last season.
TSN's Craig Button had high praise for the native of High River, Alberta:
Determined, competitive player who doesn't take any shortcut. Smart and in right areas and is a catalyst for positive plays all over the ice. Doesn't allow himself to be denied or his team to be denied. Whole is greater than sum of parts!
Bleackley needs more time to develop, but has the potential to be a great depth player long-term and could fill a role similar to those of Jarret Stoll and Mike Richards with L.A.
Ryan MacInnis, C, Kitchener Rangers (OHL)
Ryan MacInnis was born in St. Louis, where his father—legendary defenseman Al MacInnis—played for the Blues.
The younger MacInnis is a center and doesn't have a lot in common with his dad in terms of playing style. However, he does appreciate the defensive side of the game.
"I like skating forward more than backwards. I realize that the defensive side of being a centerman is very important. Everyone needs to play defense so you can win games," he told Mike G. Morreale of NHL.com.
At 6'3", 175 pounds, he does need to bulk up, but MacInnis already has many of the skills necessary to be a good center at the professional level. He's a good skater, playmaker and he sees the ice well in all three zones. MacInnis racked up 16 goals and 21 assists for 37 points in 66 games in 2013-14.
Brendan Lemieux, LW, Barrie Colts (OHL)
From one son of an NHL great to another, Brendan Lemieux is the son of three-time Stanley Cup champion Claude Lemieux.
The young left winger uses his 6'0", 205-pound frame to his advantage. Brendan often plays the role of the pest and brings a physical edge every shift—much like his father.
He also offers offensive production. He has a hard shot, good puck-handling skills and is willing to drive hard to the net and battle in the corners. He notched 27 goals and 26 assists for 53 points in 65 games with the Ontario Hockey League's Barrie Colts last season.
Lemieux is ranked 33rd by both Bob McKenzie and Button of TSN.
"Brendan initiates and makes life most uncomfortable for those opponents who get in the way of where he wants to go. Powerful player who is productive at critical times and just won't allow himself to be denied," Button wrote.
He has the potential to be a power forward in the NHL, but will have some work to do on his skating to become a top-six player.
Sonny Milano, LW, USNTDP (USHL)
Sonny Milano has spent that last few years in the U.S. National Development Program.
Last season, he racked up an impressive 14 goals and 25 assists for 39 points in 25 games. Milano has excellent skill and speed. He can handle the puck in small areas—especially around the net—and has a strong shot as well.
He isn't afraid to drive hard to the net and take the body along the boards or in the neutral zone. However, at 6'0", 183 pounds, he will need to bulk up a bit before entering the NHL.
Button is confident in Milano's offensive abilities, writing, "An offensive threat with magic hands around the net and the confidence to carry out plays despite opponents bearing down on him. Has the ability to be in the scoring spots at the right times. Ability to be a game changer."
The only problem is some scouts have Milano being selected in the No. 18-25 range.
If he's still available when the Kings take to the podium, he should be their pick. He could turn out to be similar to Tanner Pearson or Tyler Toffoli.