Jerry Buss, owner of the Kings and Lakers, invited the media to Pickfair, his Beverly Hills estate, the other day to watch videotapes of the top prospects in the National Hockey League draft.
As the tape rolled on a large-screen TV in Buss' bedroom, he said, "This is like trying to pick a high school player to play with the Lakers."
Just the same, the Kings figure to improve themselves in today's draft. They finished with the second-worst record in the NHL last season and will pick second. The first choice belongs to the Detroit Red Wings, who finished with the worst record. The draft will begin at the Montreal Forum at 7 a.m. PDT.
Barring last-minute trades, the Kings are expected to select center Jim Carson, 6 feet and 185 pounds, an American who has played in the major Canadian junior league for the last two seasons.
Several teams have reportedly talked to King General Manager Rogie Vachon about a trade. There was a report from Buffalo that the Sabres, who have the No. 5 pick, were trying to switch places with the Kings, but the deal never materialized because Buffalo couldn't come up with a player the Kings wanted.
The Kings have a history of trading away their top draft picks, but Vachon said he plans to hold onto it this time. If the Kings don't trade, this will be only the fourth time in 19 years that they have had their own first-round pick.
Carson, 18, was rated by NHL central scouting as the second-best player in the draft, behind center Joe Murphy, 18, of Michigan State. The Red Wings said they plan to draft Murphy, but there are reports that the Montreal Canadiens are trying to deal with Detroit for the rights to Murphy.
Said Vachon: "We have to go under the assumption that Detroit's going to take Murphy unless they make a trade for the first pick.
"But it's still up in the air as to who we'll pick. We're still debating if we're going to take a defenseman or a forward. We want to be sure. But there are so many good players that we can't go wrong."
Carson played for Team USA in the World Junior tournament last December at Ottawa, leading the team to the bronze medal.
The Kings are hoping that Carson can play right away. If they draft him, they plan to use him on a line with left wing Luc Robitaille, the top player in Canadian junior hockey last season. Robitaille was drafted by the Kings in 1984, and club officials said he has a good chance of making the team next season.
The NHL scouting report on Carson reads: "Finesse player all the way. . . . Explosive and deceptive skater with excellent peripheral vision who can shoot on the fly. Unselfish but not known for physical game."
Vachon is also high on right wing Scott Young of Boston University and on defensemen Shawn Anderson and Zarley Zalapaski of Team Canada.
Young, 6-0 and 185; Anderson, 6-1 and 190, and Zalapaski, 6-1 and 190, are ranked third, fourth and fifth, respectively, by NHL central scouting.
If Carson goes second in the draft, it will be the first time that an American has been selected second. Only one American has ever been picked first in the NHL draft--center Brian Lawton of Rhode Island by the Minnesota North Stars in 1983. Two U.S. players were No. 3 picks--Washington's Bob Carpenter in 1981 and the New York Islanders' Pat LaFontaine in 1983.
Murphy, who led Michigan State to the NCAA title last winter, is 6-1 and 175. He scored 24 goals and had 37 assists last season.
"Without a doubt, he's the player we're going to pick," Jimmy Devellano, general manager of the Red Wings, told the Associated Press. "Whether he can come right in, that's the question mark. We obviously think he can help our club."
Murphy has three years of college eligibility left, and he also has a chance of playing for Team Canada in the 1988 Olympics.
"I haven't made my decision yet," Murphy told a Detroit newspaper. "I'm going to wait until after the draft to decide what I'm going to do. I want to see what the Red Wings or whatever club picks me has to offer.
"If they say that I'll have to spend time in the minors, I might return to MSU.
"I really don't care who picks me. If it's the Detroit Red Wings, I'll be happy. Everyone says I'll be the top pick, and I feel fortunate that everyone thinks I'm that good."
Murphy played in the World Junior tournament last December, leading Canada to a silver medal.
Comparing Murphy to Carson, Neil Smith, Detroit's scouting director, said: "Murphy is a more complete player at this point. That's an important three words, at this point. Murphy does everything well. Jimmy Carson doesn't do everything well. He does some things very, very well. He can't hit and he's not as good defensively."
Carson is one of seven Americans rated among the top 15 players by NHL central scouting. The others are left wing Dan Woodley of the Portland Winterhawks; defenseman Greg Brown of St. Mark's High in Boston; center Tom Fitzgerald of Austin Prep High in Boston; defenseman Brian Leetch of Avon Old Farms High in Avon, Conn.; center Craig Janney of Boston College, and left wing Everett Sanipasse of Verdun, Canada. Sanipasse was born in Canada but has dual citizenship.
"It's the best year in the history of the NHL for the American kids," Boston Bruins scout Bob Tilden said.