Los Angeles Kings Best Draft Class in History

Los Angeles Kings best draft class
NHL teams build their teams in many different ways. Some construct their clubs via free agency while others do it through trades. However, the main way teams create a roster is through the NHL Draft. Most years have maybe one or two players make the roster, but some years the general manager gets it right and gets a cornerstone or two for the franchise. The Last Word on Hockey is doing the best draft class for each team with the exception of the Seattle Kraken. Today we look at the Los Angeles Kings best draft class.

Los Angeles Kings Best Draft Class: 1980

In the summer when the Kings had just four selections, we jump to a year they had 12 in a ten-round draft. In their history, Los Angeles has had some good luck with later picks or with one particular risk, but we’ll talk about them later. Our target year has a couple of stars, some decent “fill-in” players, and a few who made it to the league. Yes, they had a lot of selections, but those selections still have to hit. Otherwise, a team will be left with a double handful of missed opportunities and not much else.

Larry Murphy – 1st round, 4th overall

The Kings knew Larry Murphy was big – 6′-2″ and 210 pounds – and they knew he was good. Certainly good enough to draft fourth overall. But as a 19-year-old rookie defenceman, Murphy scored 16 goals and 76 points. He finished second in Calder voting in 1980-81, losing out to the 24-year-old Peter Stastny. Which… okay, fair. But still, Murphy finished fourth in team scoring behind the legendary Triple Crown line. As a rookie. As a rookie defenceman!

Unfortunately, LA could never get far in the playoffs, going no further than the second round since their inaugural season of 1967-68. Then in 1981-82, the utterly mad first-round playoff series with the Edmonton Oilers changed everything. It started with an 18-goal Game 1 and ended with the Miracle on Manchester. That would have to do as the Vancouver Canucks were on their own Cinderella run and the Kings were stopped – again – in the second round. Put a pin in that for later.

When the team couldn’t build on that adrenaline – they missed the playoffs entirely in 1982-83 – Murphy was traded away. He would go on to a Hall of Fame career, playing over 1,600 regular-season games. There were another 215 in the playoffs, netting him four Stanley Cup rings.

Jim Fox – 1st round, 10th overall

While Jim Fox didn’t have quite the instant success Murphy did, he carved out a decent career for himself. Fox spent his entire career with the Kings, picking up three 30-goal seasons and a 28-goal performance in his first five seasons. Unfortunately, knee injuries limited his games played and his speed, leading to his retirement in the 1989-90 season. He finished top-five in team scoring five times in his seven full seasons. That’s not bad at all, but he’s really known for his assist on the tying goal in, well, you know. Not everyone has a shot of them stripping Wayne Gretzky of the puck embedded in team lore.

Greg Terrion – 2nd round, 33rd overall

Greg Terrion was a perfectly good winger who added supplemental scoring to both the Los Angeles Kings and the Toronto Maple Leafs in his eight-year NHL career. He switched his focus to the defensive side of the game, and partially as a result never broke 40 points in a season. He ended his career with 561 NHL games, scoring 93 goals and 243 points. Like his career, he’s not the reason that 1980 was the Los Angeles Kings best draft class ever, but he contributed.

Steve Bozek – 3rd round, 52nd overall

It’s always a bit hard when you peak early, and Steve Bozek‘s career peaked awfully early. Injuries haunted him almost from Day One, but his 1981-82 rookie season was a dream. In 71 games played – a number he tied just twice more – he scored 33 times. He was part of three different trades involving important pieces for their teams, but never the core ingredient. He was traded alongside Brett Hull, Doug Gilmour, and Paul Reinhart at different times, so it’s not like the NHL didn’t know who he was. Bozek ended his NHL career with the San Jose Sharks in their inaugural season before playing professionally in Italy.

Bernie Nicholls – 4th round, 73rd overall

And here is why we chose 1980. He’s tied to Wayne Gretzky in many people’s minds, but Bernie Nicholls was doing pretty darned okay before The Trade. Nicholls spent one more season in the Ontario junior league before joining the Kings, unlike many of the players here. No surprise, as he was a fourth-rounder. He spent another 55 games at the farm in New Haven as well, but after scoring 41 goals there the team decided to give him a shot. Nicholls had a 22-game rookie season and got 14 goals and 32 points during it. He stayed.

The next year didn’t quite live up to those lofty heights – 28 goals and 50 points in 71 games – but he was fine. Seasons of 41 and 46 goals followed, then three straight in the 30’s. Nicholls was one of the scoring leaders with different players: Marcel Dionne, Luc Robitaille, or – of course – Wayne Gretzky. While Nicholls had reached triple-digits once, with Gretzky he reached 70 goals and 150 points.

In the middle of 1989-90, he was moved to the New York Rangers. Just 47 games into the year, he had scored 27 goals and 75 points. After the trade – and for the rest of his career – he was often a point-per-game player, but never reached his Los Angeles heights again.

And The Rest…

At the risk of seeming injustice, Daryl Evans – 9th round, 178th overall – is the most interesting story of the remaining players here. Evans was a core player for that wild 1982 Kings-Oilers series. Evans played 14 regular-season games in his rookie year, then led the team in scoring in the playoffs. In their five games, Evans scored five goals and five assists.

The next year Evans played his only full season with the club, scoring 18 goals and 40 points. After 1982-83, though, he couldn’t stick and played mostly in the AHL, with just 19 more NHL games spread between the Kings, Leafs, and Washington Capitals. He ended his career with the Whitley Warriors in Great Britain.

Darren Eliot – 6th round, 115th overall – played goal for 89 regular season NHL games. Billy O’Dwyer – 8th, 157th – got 120. Proof that they weren’t all hits has Dave Morrison – 2nd round, 34th overall – playing mostly in Europe, but managing 39 NHL games over five years. All told, three of Los Angeles’ 12 picks didn’t make the NHL. Not a bad ratio, and a year deserving of the “Kings Best Draft Class Ever” title.

The Kings Best Draft Class Addendum

A bit less about great years, and a bit more about striking gold in late rounds, here. On one side is sheer longevity. Finding Dave Taylor 210th overall in 1975 is pretty astounding. Overlooking ah, indifferent skating ability to take Luc Robitaille at 171st in 1984 was as close to a “Oh, why not” pick as you’ll find. Pretty good time to snag the highest-scoring left winger in NHL history. The high-scoring Kimmo Timonen was found at 250th in 1993 and played over 1,100 games.

But if we must choose a year, it should probably be the one that produced a top goalie and centre. In 2005, the highly-touted, still-doubted Anze Kopitar slipped to the Kings at 11th overall. He was much higher than that, but Slovenia was not only an unknown hockey producer then, the 1,000-point man remains one of three to have reached the NHL. In the third round the Kings scooped up netminder Jonathan Quick who is at – so far – 666 NHL games, all with Los Angeles.

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