Rob Blake, Mark Yanetti Talk LA Kings 2017 NHL Draft Outlook

2017 NHL DRAFT COVERAGE: Frozen Royalty begins its coverage of the Los Angeles Kings and the 2017 National Hockey League draft with a draft preview story featuring comments by Kings Vice President and General Manager Rob Blake and exclusive comments from Director of Amateur Scouting Mark Yanetti.

LOS ANGELES — On the eve of the first round of the 2017 National Hockey League draft, the Los Angeles Kings organizational needs are quite obvious.

“I don’t think it’s any secret that we’re looking for offense,” said Vice President and General Manager Rob Blake. “Especially with the 11th pick, you’re getting a quality player. I think that factors in. Also, our goaltender depth throughout the organization—we need to adjust to that, so I would imagine there will be someone, somewhere in the draft.”

The word about this year’s draft is that it is not as strong as some in recent years.

“I don’t see that there’s an Auston Matthews or a Patrick Laine in this draft,” said Kings Director of Amateur Scouting Mark Yanetti. “I don’t think there’s a Connor McDavid or a Jake Eichel in this draft. I don’t see a Drew Doughty or an Alex Pietrangelo. In terms of transcendent talent or the highest end talent, I don’t think that’s there.”

“The one thing about this draft is that you’re looking at a margin of difference in these players from [pick] 23 to 24, all the way to 40,” he added. “You’re now looking at more minute differences, a much more closely grouped [crop] of players than in years past, where picks 50 and 25 are probably very close. But if you look hard enough, I think you can find areas of strength.”

“There’s a couple of tiers between [the first pick overall pick] and [the 11th]. I think 11th presents you with an opportunity to get a really good player, and not just a consolation prize.”

Despite the fact that offense is their priority, don’t be fooled into thinking that will necessarily dictate who they select in the first round…or any round, for that matter.

“It depends on what happens with the ten picks before,” said Blake. “Mark Yanetti has been terrific with our amateur staff over the years, putting a game plan in place and adjusting to how it falls in that. But I think that when you’re in that high of a position you take the best player available when it comes to you.”

“There will be some options there that we’ll look at,” added Blake. “But again, [the Kings amateur staff has] done this routine for many years here, as a group, and they’ve been very successful at it. We’re going to rely on them again.”

That success has kept the amateur staff intact, even with Blake taking over as general manager.

“When we looked at things a month ago, there wasn’t much of an adjustment that had to be done on the amateur side,” Blake noted. “They’ve been able to accomplish a lot of things. They incorporate analytics. They research, they do their homework. I’ve been able to sit through the meetings. In the past, I wasn’t involved as much on that side. It was a good time to observe everything, but Mark Yanetti has it running very well. They’ve had a history of producing in the draft. We haven’t had the higher picks the last few years, but we’re fortunate to have one now.”

Indeed, the Kings have a first round pick—they have had just three first round picks since 2010.

“It’s certainly good because we have a first round pick,” said Yanetti. “I’d like the pick to be in the top five. I’d like the pick to be in the top two. We have access to a level of player that we, technically, haven’t had access to in the majority of our last seven years.”

Not only that, but the Kings have eight picks in this year’s draft, which gives them a wide range of options, which might be just as important, if not more so, than the first round pick by itself.

“As for the eight picks, the amount is far less important than it is in terms of versatility,” Yanetti explained. “That was especially critical last year. This is in areas where it doesn’t show up on the draft board, and it’s areas where casual observers and hockey insiders alike can’t see. The biggest area for our staff is that you want high picks, but versatility really, really affects you.”

“We had the right number of picks and we had the versatility to trade up two picks to get Tyler Toffoli [in the 2010 draft],” Yanetti elaborated. “People thought that was crazy, at the time. We moved from 49 to 47, and we gave up a fairly good asset to do it [second and fourth round picks in the 2010 draft]. If we knew that a Tyler Toffoli was available last year, we wouldn’t have been able to move up to get him [with only four picks in that draft]. We wouldn’t have been able to move back to get a Kevin Gravel. We can’t move a pick into next year which turns into Austin Wagner. You lose the versatility to move up or back. If you don’t have picks, you can’t move. If you don’t have a lot of picks in this year’s draft, it makes it hard to move picks into next year’s draft.”

“The eight picks is great because we have a first round pick and it’s a high pick. We also have a second round pick. But the versatility allows you not to be a prisoner of the moment in the draft.”

Having eight picks might seem like it’ll make things easier for the Kings. Guess again.

“This year, we have the benefit of both high picks and we have a number of picks,” said Yanetti. “But now you really have to do your job. You don’t just have to make the right picks in the right order. Now you have to figure out where the value is in the draft.”

That value analysis could result in the Kings moving their first round pick. Indeed, don’t be surprised if the Kings do just that on Friday.

“Is there value in moving up? Is 11th the right place to be? Can you move up to seventh? Maybe you can’t. In the last few years, we haven’t had that choice. Can you move back from 11th to 20th and get the guy you want? Does having a first and a second round pick allow us to move up in the draft? I’m not going to say what we think, but it allows us to be more fluid in the draft.”

At press time, the Kings do not have a trade in the works to move their first round pick.

“[A deal] hasn’t presented itself yet,” said Blake. “But like most teams, you’ll look at all options, weigh them, and if it [improves] your team, then you would do that.”

One area of need for the Kings in recent years has been goaltending, as Blake noted earlier—the Kings have been unable to draft a goaltender in recent years.

But that wasn’t for a lack of trying.

“This is not a trade secret,” Yanetti emphasized. “There were three goaltenders that we coveted in last year’s draft. The Kings did nothing to address their goaltending depth last year. But we couldn’t. I’ll tell you this: after [2017 second round pick Kale Clague], out of the next two players on our list, one was a goalie.”

“If it makes sense for us to take a goalie, we’re taking a goalie,” Yanetti added. “We’re not going to draft a goalie at 11 unless he’s the guy on our list. We’re not going to a draft a goalie at 41 unless he’s the next guy on our list. If a goalie is there at the right spot, we’re taking him. If it’s not the right spot, we won’t take him.”

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