LA Kings Draft Hits, Misses and Comic “Relief”

2016 NHL DRAFT: Frozen Royalty’s coverage of the Los Angeles Kings and the 2016 National Hockey League Draft continues with a look at some of the Kings’ hits and misses in recent drafts, and one hilarious draft story.

LOS ANGELES — One look at the Los Angeles Kings’ record of drafting and developing their young prospects will show that they’ve been very, very good at it since Dean Lombardi took over as President/General Manager in April 2006.

Indeed, 18 players selected in the draft by Lombardi and his staff between 2006 and 2012 have made an impact in the National Hockey League, with ten contributing to the Kings winning the Stanley Cup in 2012 and/or 2014, and more are likely coming from subsequent drafts. Given Lombardi’s stated goal of selecting at least two players who would be able to play in the NHL in each draft, his amateur scouts and development staff have achieved a remarkable record of success.

One such success has been widely criticized for years as a blunder of epic proportions—using their first round pick, fourth overall, to select defenseman Thomas Hickey in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft. But it turned out to be a success…just not one the Kings benefitted from.

Hickey was a mobile, puck-moving defenseman with good offensive skills and leadership qualities. But the selection was widely panned by pundits and fans alike who believed that there were much better options available.

“I look at [graduating players to the NHL] as a wonderful problem to have,” said Kings Director of Amateur Scouting Mark Yanetti. “The thing, though, is that you have to maximize your assets, and that’s something we weren’t great at in the infancy of our tenure in L.A. Thomas Hickey—if we had him last year and this year—last year it was the difference between us making the playoffs and not making the playoffs. That’s how much of a difference he would’ve made. We wouldn’t have had to make the [Andrej] Sekera trade [last season]. This year, if we had Thomas Hickey, the [Alec] Martinez injury doesn’t hurt as much.”

Hickey fell victim to a numbers game—the Kings had no room for him on their opening night roster for the lockout-abbreviated 2012-13 season. They were required to place him on waivers before assigning him to their American Hockey League affiliate at the time, the Manchester Monarchs.

The New York Islanders then claimed Hickey off of waivers—the Kings lost him without any compensation whatsoever.

“That’s an asset we minimized, organizationally,” Yanetti lamented. “We got nothing for him. We lost him on waivers. Our scouting staff identified him, our development staff developed him. Just the way it played out—it was just bad timing for him.”

“I’m not saying there was a mistake that was made,” Yanetti added. “But think about Thomas Hickey today. You’d get a first round pick for him. You might get more. You’re talking about an asset that you cultivated and developed that you got nothing for.”

As reported earlier, the Kings have done extraordinarily well in drafting and developing players who have made an impact at the NHL level. But drafting is not an exact science.

“In my first year, Joshua Turnbull (a center, who was selected in the fifth round, 137th overall, in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft)—he was a forward who was kind of under the radar,” Yanetti recalled. “He had that same sense, that same subtle way of making things happen [that defenseman prospect Kevin Gravel has]. Then he went to his first development camp and we thought we had a diamond in the rough.”

“But here’s the difference,” Yanetti continued. “They had similar college careers where they didn’t take advantage of our development staff, so that higher level development—he didn’t take full advantage of it. Where you saw the light bulb turn on for Kevin, it never did for Turnbull.”

“He was very content, and he left all this potential on the table. He had the same level of potential as Gravel, the same pitfalls and deficiencies early in his college career. He didn’t do what it took to evolve as a player. He didn’t show that desire and will to take ownership.”

Another draft pick who the Kings amateur scouting staff came up empty on was forward Bryan Cameron, who was selected in the third round, 82nd overall, of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.

“Bryan Cameron had all the tools in the world,” said Yanetti. “He had 50 goals in the [Ontario Hockey League] in the year we drafted him. Good kid. But again, in terms of that burn to play, we just read him wrong.”

“We haven’t read a lot of people wrong,” added Yanetti. “But we read his character wrong. Initially, that might sound like it’s an indictment of the player or the person. It’s not. Bryan Cameron was not a bad kid. Go ask his teammates. He had success. Guys liked him. But in terms of reading his character and reaching his potential, we were completely wrong on that.”

“In nine years of draft picks, if we’ve read a guy’s character wrong five times, I would be shocked. It might be two or three.”

Aside from draft successes and failures, Yanetti also shared a hilarious story from a past draft.

“A funny story was the year somebody thought to mic us up,” he recalled. “Epically bad. It was in one of our first three or four years. They thought it would be a good idea for us to be mic’d up from the time we left the hotel, before we even got to the draft.”

“This was Hindenburg bad,” he added. “This was Titanic bad because you’re getting candid things. Three minutes after being mic’d up we had to make a note to have it all erased. We forgot that we were mic’d up, so we said off-color things and you’re in a team atmosphere—you know how things are in a locker room. It was exactly the same because we’re eminently comfortable with each other. We make fools of ourselves all the time in front of each other. We say dumb things in front of each other.”

The scene was right out of a movie, almost literally.

“We hadn’t gotten off the bus,” said Yanetti. “It was [then-assistant general manager Ron Hextall], Dean, Mike [Futa, who was then Co-Director of Amateur Scouting] and myself. The things we were saying, and we weren’t even off the bus yet. But the pièce de résistance was…what’s the first thing you do when you go to the draft? You know you’re going to be at the table for three hours, so you go right to the bathroom.”

“It was Frank Drebin [played by the late actor, Leslie Nielsen], except that you’ve got three guys at urinals, talking to each other, making stupid jokes, and being recorded the whole time,” added Yanetti. “It was an unscripted version of The Naked Gun.”

“All of a sudden, we realized what was going on, and the mics came off. That was it. That experiment made it to the men’s bathroom and ended in a urinal. But the fact that it even lasted that long is amazing. We didn’t even get out of the hotel before we realized that we had to stop that ship from sailing!”

Hockey front office types are people, too, apparently.

“I think they overestimated our intelligence,” Yanetti said, chuckling. “I think they forgot that at the heart of us, there are still some twelve-year-old boys. When we don’t have our game face on—when you mic up a player, you can’t use half of the stuff you get. It’s the same thing for us. It was hysterical.”

Relevant Scene From The Naked Gun: From The Files of Police Squad (Rated PG-13)

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