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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Call me skeptical, however the “best player available” approach might be something the Kings toss out the window. Was Derek Forbort the best player available in the 1st round in 2010? There were a few players available that were chosen after Forbort who was a “project”. Choosing a “project” with a 1st round choice seems like a big mistake, even if it was a risk/reward Forbort can’t even play with the Kings after being raved about during the Monarchs Calder Cup season.
Regardless, the GM has made some pretty bad decisions with draft slots being given away for rentals who ended up going elsewhere while the Kings were left with nothing to show for those decisions.
Sekera cost a 1st, and a 2nd in Prospect Roland McKeown(50th). Sekera got injured, and then bolted to Edmonton which means the Kings got nothing.
Schenn and Lecavilier cost the Kings Weal and a 3rd round pick. Not knowing if Weal would have the same success as he did with Manchester, and a 3rd round pick turned out to be another trade which left the Kings with nothing. If Lecavilier stayed, then that might have been a good decision, but he didn’t so the Kings have nothing to show from that trade.
Versteeg was a good addition, however once again another injury bug hit and Versteeg missed a few games. Zykov a 2nd round pick the Kings moved up to get trading 3 picks to Edmonton to move up. Lombardi gave a 2nd, 3rd and 4th to select Zykov. I understand Zykov was not having the type of growth or success in his 1st season with Ontario, however it was his 1st season. The other piece of that trade a 5th round selection regardless would have at least been one more pick for the Kings to have,
instead of nothing for a rental in Versteeg.
If you add that trade up the Kings traded 4 picks, 2 second rounders, a 3rd and a 4th to rent Versteeg who is a UFA.
I guess I fail to see the necessity or compulsion to continue to give away picks or prospects and not have anything to show for it.
This has become a very regular theme these past few seasons with the GM. Maybe it’s time for a change with the scouts who seem to be stuck in that mindset of bigger and stronger and project rather than really focusing on what some other teams have had success with when scouting players in the KHL or the SEL.
Call it luck or call it just a better judge of talent, but along with the contracts that have been given, and little to no CAP remaining and now this Lucic situation where this could wind up being the loss of Colin Miller, a 1st round pick in the 2015 draft and Martin Jones who was going to become a RFA but was traded for Lucic, then Boston used Jones to acquire another 1st round pick from San Jose in this upcoming draft.
There are no sure things, but there have been a lot of trades of picks the past few years and not having anything to show for it. I just don’t really understand what the compulsion is to trade picks. It seems like this might be time for Lombardi to move up and then promote either Futa or Blake and overhaul the scouting system. The new trend seems to be quick and faster players, which aren’t 5ft 9in or 5ft 10in which seems like Lombardi has a set of requirements that a prospect needs to meet if they want a legitimate chance of earning a spot on the Kings NHL roster.
Those moves were made by a team that was in “win now” mode and rightly so. They figured they still had a chance to win the Cup, so they rolled the dice. That’s always a gamble and it doesn’t always work.
How many more seasons does the GM plan on being GM? Dean Lombardi doesn’t need to prove anything anymore, and maybe he should consider moving into a different role while the organization goes with someone a little younger and focused on just the Kings.
Do you think being in charge of Team USA in the upcoming World Cup this year might have been more of a distraction which Lombardi did not need to have?
Under our GM, the Kings managed to do what longtime Kings fans have waited a very long time to see and accomplish winning a Stanley Cup. In addition, he has also managed to orchestrate a 2nd cup.
The AHL teams have managed to win a Calder Cup and also go deep into the playoffs.
One of the biggest issues I see has been leaving the prospect pool very shallow, when it had been seen as one of the better collection of prospects in the league.
What I find a little concerning is giving away almost 10 picks or prospects and not really getting anything back in return.
Last season he gave Boston the Kings 1st round pick in this years draft, Colin Miller and Martin Jones. Jones would have been an RFA who the Kings might not have been able to sign for what his market value was. Miller might not have made the Kings line-up this season, but because of his production the previous year with Manchester he might have been a player who earned a call-up but was not defensively ready at least in the Kings system.
They made a deal with Carolina to acquire Kris Versteeg which send Valentin Zykov and a 5th round selection to Carolina in exchange. Zykov was just in his 1st season as a pro and didn’t exactly do much to wow anyone, but it was his 1st year as a pro. The problem there is once again the Kings gave away a prospect in Zykov who the Kings traded their 3rd/4th/5th round slots to move up and draft Zykov. A steep price to pay when the end result is 4 picks and a 2nd round prospect in Zykov.
The prior season the Kings again traded their 2015 1st round pick and Roland McKeown their 2014 2nd round pick. Sekera got injured and was not able to help the Kings make the playoffs, and to add insult to injury didn’t even bother signing with the Kings opting to sign with Edmonton so the Kings lose Sekera, McKeown and their 2015 1st round selection.
In summary with Lombardi in the past 2 year alone the Kings have traded away 2 1st round draft picks, and 6 additional draft picks which included 2 players taken in the 2nd round and have nothing to show for these decisions.
Now the Kings are in a bad position with CAP issues, and not enough money to pay some of the players they traded for or players that are very complimentary in their system like a Trevor Lewis.
Defense is an unknown since currently they really have not shown much confidence in Forbort a former 1st round selection who many claimed was a decent prospect, but a “project”. Kevin Gravel was a 4th round pick I think and was called up once or twice, but still did not play many minutes in games he was not scratched. You have Matt Greene who is coming off yet another year of having surgery after the 1st or 2nd game of the regular season, and then going out on LTIR. Did he really hurt his shoulder in camp or did they once again try to avoid surgery in the off season in trying to go the non surgical route before having to operate on him. This is the 2nd time that Greene has come into a camp either injured or having gone the non surgical route and then having to have whatever upper body area surgically repaired resulting in missing a lot of games to begin the season, not coming back until December of 2014 wasn’t it?
Rob Scuderi is still part of the roster, but is this the Rob Scuderi who was sent to the AHL in Pittsburgh, traded to Chicago and sent to the AHL there, then acquired by the Kings to help where it was obvious Sutter was not going to use Shultz or Gravel or Forbort.
The bottom 6 forwards is an area the Kings won’t have too much trouble filling. They have plenty of players who are ready to play coming from the AHL and compete with some of the current players for whatever spots might be available.
Defense is the area that the Kings have questions about, and who is going to be playing with the 23 man roster to begin the season with.
This Lucic negotiation is really hand-cuffing the roster. I know free agency does not start until 12:01 AM July 1st, but if he signs then at least that is one less player to worry about, but at the same time, if he signs for the reported amount he is asking, then it might force the Kings to use the players who Sutter has been reluctant to use when they were called up, or they might have to move some roster players to be able to go out and get a player who can fill that area of need right now, and not someone who is still going to be considered too inexperienced therefore becoming a healthy scratch which doesn’t help.
I just feel it’s time for Dean to pass the torch to someone new, he has nothing more to prove. The wasting of draft picks, and prospects over the past few seasons, along with some indecision with handling certain players, along with contracts for terms which prevent them from having CAP room to address areas of need or not easy to move IMO is enough to allow a new face to bring in his own staff and start to get the pieces within or outside to get the Kings back to represent the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup finals.
See my previous comment for my response. Thanks.