2016 NHL DRAFT: Frozen Royalty begins its coverage of the Los Angeles Kings and the 2016 National Hockey League Draft with exclusive comments from Kings Director of Amateur Scouting Mark Yanetti on what the Kings are thinking and looking at in the draft this year.
LOS ANGELES — Heading into the final days before the 2016 National Hockey League Draft on June 24-25, the Los Angeles Kings are in the home stretch of their preparations for what will be a challenging draft for them, one in which, barring any trades in which they may acquire or lose draft picks, they have just four selections and no first round pick.
The Kings sent their first round pick (21st overall) to the Carolina Hurricanes, along with defenseman Roland McKeown, in exchange for defenseman Andrej Sekera on February 25, 2015.
The Kings’ draft picks:
2nd round (51st)
4th round (112th)
5th round (142nd)
7th round (202nd)
Despite having no first round pick and just four selections, the Kings know that they must select at least two players who will eventually make it to the NHL—this is always their minimum standard.
“The goal is the same,” said Kings Director of Amateur Scouting Mark Yanetti. “We’re holding ourselves to the same standard. I know we’re picking later, I know we’re not picking as often, and I know we don’t have a first round pick—we’ve only had two first round picks in the last [four] years. Again, we don’t have the ammunition, we don’t have the volume, and we don’t have the level of picks, either. That said, [Montreal Canadiens star defenseman] P.K. Subban was picked in the third round. [Kings center prospect] Nic Dowd was picked in the seventh round.”
“Again, we don’t have a first round pick, but we can’t use that as an excuse,” added Yanetti. “You can’t say that it’s not critical to get that done because you don’t have a first round pick. It becomes even more critical, I think. You now have to find a first rounder in the second round, or you have to be creative, in terms of moving up or down in the draft. But you also have to resist the temptation to give up too many assets to move up simply because you don’t have a high pick.”
“You have to find those guys, so now, the work becomes harder. This is where innovation has to come in, because we’re expecting the same results. We’re holding ourselves to the same standard without having the same opportunity.”
Since Dean Lombardi took over as President/General Manager in April 2006, he has always maintained that the Kings would always take the best player available at the draft whenever their time on the clock came. That still holds true today, perhaps even more so, because they have been instances where they didn’t practice what they preached.
“I’ve told this to people before, and I’m certainly not going to run and hide from it,” said Yanetti. “When we, as a staff, have foregone taking the best player available, for whatever reason, whether it was organizational need, or organizational depth, whether it was a perceived lack of toughness, [individually, or in terms of team toughness]—one of those organizational needs—and we haven’t done it often—it’s not fair to say who the players were. It’s not fair to the players and it’s certainly not fair to the [scouts]—the times we didn’t take the best player available, and did it intentionally, I would say the results bordered on tragic.”
“I don’t want to use hyperbole, but you can’t minimize the mistake,” added Yanetti. “It’s been bad. So I think we’ve learned our lesson, and I think we learned it quite quickly after we did it.”
“If you’re going to make a mistake, you damned well better learn from it, and I do think we learned from those mistakes. I won’t say the last time we made that mistake, but I don’t recall making that mistake again since the last time we did it, and that was a long time ago.”
But what about organizational needs? What if the organization lacks depth at a particular position (such as in goal…more on that in another story, coming soon)?
“Certain things do happen when you’re talking about the best player available,” Yanetti explained. “If you have two guys—and we’re talking micro-differences now. We’re not talking macro-differences—if it’s too close to call and Player A is slightly better, then you may look at position. Then you may look at situations. [For example], we’ve never done it, but if you drafted three Europeans in a row, you may go with a college guy, or a guy [who played major junior hockey in Canada], because having three Europeans in a row would limit the access you have to [their] development. In that case, or if you had three college guys in a row, you don’t have the same access, development-wise. [In terms of] age distribution, you don’t know when they’ll be ready. It’s more of an ethereal thought process.”
“We’re not talking about passing on a guy who’s the best player so we can take a goalie instead of a defenseman, or a forward instead of a goalie, or a defenseman to take a forward,” Yanetti elaborated. “It’s not that. It’s when there’s a group of two or three guys who are very close, [then they can look at position]. But having said that, it’s very rare.”
“After all that, though, the black and white answer is we’re taking the best player available.”
Despite that, the fact that forwards Nic Dowd, Michael Mersch and Adrian Kempe (likely a mid-season call-up) are likely to play with the Kings at some point next season, perhaps even on opening night, means that the there will be a need to replenish their stock of skilled forwards in their system.
Here’s where thinking about potential trades comes into play, in terms of moving up or down in the draft.
“We’ve got five guys [playing for the American Hockey League’s Ontario Reign] who can play for [the Kings] next year,” said Yanetti. “But if they’re not going to play for us, we’ve got to maximize those assets. We could start re-stocking our draft picks by trading those assets for prospects, or to fill organizational needs.”
“Here’s where you need to do your forward thinking,” added Yanetti. “‘This asset is going to play for the Kings, but this asset might not. How are do we maximize that asset? Are we going to get our goaltender this way? A young defenseman?’”
“For those assets, whether it’s bad timing, whether it’s depth, position or situation, those assets have to be maximized. That’s where Dean is exceedingly effective.”
Although the Kings’ focus will be on the best player available, what might give one player the nod over the other, in terms of which one is actually the best one available, isn’t always a slam dunk.
“We drafted [right wing Justin] Auger in the fourth round (103rd overall, 2013 draft),” Yanetti explained. “If you’ve seen what our development staff has done with Auger—he’s a legitimate NHL prospect today. He’s still not ready today, but he’s turning the corner from a development pick. Fans would’ve called him a project pick. I think ‘project’ is a bad and dangerous word. But we saw some attributes in him, and deficiencies we saw in him we thought were correctable. Our development guys really excel at that. We thought they could enhance his strengths and if not fix, they could improve [on] his weaknesses.”
“Here’s where you see some of that out of the box, synergistic thinking,” Yanetti elaborated. “Now you see what they’ve done with Auger—you see the improvements they made, you see where their teachings have impacted him the most, and now you see Matt Schmalz, [a very similar prospect, who has] some of the same things, good and bad, that you saw in Auger. Now you see how that pick [Auger] has affected your thinking in the draft. Auger being a prospect directly impacted our thinking in taking Matt Schmalz in the draft.”
Schmalz was selected by the Kings in the fifth round, 134th overall, in the 2015 draft.
“That is one area where it makes a difference, where it impacted our decision,” Yanetti said. “I know that I said it doesn’t matter, but I guess, in some ways, it does matter, just not in the way you would traditionally think.”
Given that the Kings missed the playoffs in 2015 and made a quick exit this season, is this year’s draft of greater importance for them?
Depends on how you look at it.
“The cliché is—the obvious answer is that they’re all important, but some are more important than others,” Yanetti observed. “Obviously, our drafting of Drew Doughty [in 2008] was the most important draft [during Yanetti’s tenure with the Kings]. In terms of building our franchise, those first few drafts were the most important. There’s nothing that even comes close. The approach to the draft has the same level of importance, but you’re either a liar or you’re naive if you say [otherwise].”
“Those first few drafts impacted whether the team could ever win, right? Nothing can be as important as that,” Yanetti added. “That said, you’re starting to see a transition, in terms of that second wave or that third wave of prospects who are now starting to graduate from Ontario.”
The 2016 draft must do its part to keep the pipeline flowing.
“If you look at last year’s draft and this year’s draft, they’re the ones that are going to stock—if we’re going to continue to be successful, we have to have these guys,” said Yanetti. “There are five guys who we think might make the [Kings]. Three years from now, we need to have that happen again. I would say that this year and next year are critically important. Next year, we have all of our picks, so we’ll have more opportunity to draft perceived impact players.”
“This draft is really important,” added Yanetti. “We have to re-stock our defensive depth, our goaltending depth and our forward depth. We could graduate three forwards to L.A. this year.”
“If you look on the horizon, these are the next two or three years [in the draft] where we re-stock our prospect pool, so this year and next year are critically important. If we don’t, the age distribution hole will be a gaping one, and we’d have to fill that hole via free agency. But if we can, the age distribution and prospect depth will be seamless.”
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