The Los Angeles Kings have an elite goaltender under contract for the next nine seasons in Jonathan Quick. Despite the ups and downs Quick has had since winning the Stanley Cup, he’s unquestionably “the man” for the Kings. Having said that, too much depth at that position is never a bad thing, and given the market for solid No. 1 goalies adding another potential star between the pipes might be in the Kings’ best interest.
While drafting a goaltender in the first round is often a game of Russian roulette, Dean Lombardi has shown a knack for rolling the dice throughout his tenure as the Kings general manager. Thatcher Demko is a freshman at Boston College and the top ranked North American goalie in this year’s draft. In his first year of college hockey he was the youngest player in the NCAA (he didn’t turn 18 until December) and was dominant as BC advanced to the Frozen Four. He also happens to be from Southern California (San Diego) and played is midget hockey with the LA Jr. Kings. If the Kings ever wanted to groom a “homegrown” star this would among their best opportunities, as this young man is special.
The key to having a great team is not only building for now but looking towards the future as well. Quick is 28 years old and just entering his prime, but it wouldn’t hurt to draft a teenager who needs plenty of development to possibly push Quick down the line. Demko is a prototypical, technically sound goalie who combines size (6-foot-4), positioning and athleticism. While he still needs time to develop, the Kings can afford to bring him along slowly by letting him play at Boston College for the next three seasons and then playing in the American Hockey League to adjust to pro hockey. If he plays those three more seasons at BC then 2-3 more in the AHL, he will be 24 years old and ready to push a now 34-year-old Quick. At the very least the Kings would have a veteran/youngster duo in net that would be similar to what the Boston Bruins had with Tim Thomas and Vezina finalist Tuukka Rask a few years ago (most notably their Stanley Cup winning season in 2011).
Even if Demko never sniffs the NHL with the Kings, if his stellar play/development continue he (and Martin Jones) would be a very attractive trade asset. Much like the way the Kings moved Jonathan Bernier for draft picks and players, having a valuable trade chip like Demko/Jones would make addressing more pressing areas of need at the NHL level easier. A rebuilding team that doesn’t have goalie of Quick’s level might be willing to overpay for a potential future star in Demko in a manner that would bring the Kings what they need to keep competing (a No. 2 defenseman to complement Drew Doughty, more scoring, etc.). The Kings have shown a willingness to move top prospects to solidify other areas of need as recently as this year’s trading deadline (the Kings traded University of Minnesota star Hudson Fasching to the Buffalo Sabres for minor league defenseman Brayden McNabb). A smart front office is always thinking of way to keep the team competitive in the long and short term, and with Lombardi at the helm, the Kings have just that.
The Kings have organizational needs at every position, which is a drawback of having a great team perennially and therefore picking low in the draft. That being said, the Kings should take the best player available in this draft with all of their picks, and depending on where they pick in the first round (right now they have the No. 20 pick) I can honestly say there will be few players better than Demko. While some of Lombardi’s gambles have paid off amazingly for the Kings (trading for Mike Richards and Jeff Carter), others have failed miserably (drafting Colten Teubert over Erik Karlsson and Jordan Eberle in 2008). Demko continues his amazing development, drafting him will fall in the former category.