EL SEGUNDO, CA — Since 2006 in particular, the Los Angeles Kings have been rather successful in having late-round draft picks, not only make it to the National Hockey League, but become legitimate players who contribute in various ways, both on and off the ice.
Indeed, since 2007, the Kings have had eleven of their late-round draft picks make it to the NHL. Five have stayed in the NHL, with three of those players becoming two-time Stanley Cup Champions with the Kings.
As the Detroit Red Wings have done for much of the last thirty or so years, the Kings have built a reputation over the last ten years for being able to find value in the late rounds of the NHL Draft. To be sure, they seem to be able to find those “sleeper” picks more readily than most other teams, and in the 2017 NHL Draft, their fifth round (138th overall) pick, center Drake Rymsha, could very well be another sleeper pick.
“For me, this guy fills all the boxes of a later round pick,” said Kings Director of Amateur Scouting Mark Yanetti in an exclusive interview with Frozen Royalty. “He’s got speed, a competitive element, and he’s dealt with adversity. As for secondary assets, 20 goals in 28 games—he was on pace for [considerably more]—and a high compete level. He’s got the combination of primary and secondary assets of later round draft picks who tend to make it.”
More on all that in a bit…
The 6-0, 187-pound native of Huntington Wood, Michigan bounced between three Ontario Hockey League teams over the last three years, playing for the London Knights and the Ottawa 67’s before ending up with the Sarnia Sting this year, after a mid-season trade.
In 28 games with the Sting, Rymsha scored 20 goals and added 13 assists for 33 points, with a -2 plus/minus rating and 39 penalty minutes. In 65 games last season with Ottawa and Sarnia, the 18-year-old, right shot center scored 35 goals and tallied 27 assists for 62 points, with a -4 plus/minus rating and 80 penalty minutes.
In four playoff games with Sarnia, Rymsha scored a goal and added two assists for three points.
Evidence certainly suggests that the change of scenery this season was exactly what the doctor ordered.
“In London, it was such a stacked team that I wasn’t going to get much ice time there,” Rymsha explained. “Then, I went to Ottawa, and things really didn’t work out there. I just needed a bit of a fresh start, and I ended up with Sarnia. Everything’s great there. Coaching, amazing billet [families], my teammates are amazing. I finally found a home that I’m comfortable in. I’m excited about the future there.”
“The coaches gave me confidence when I got there,” Rymsha elaborated. “The coaches told me to just go out and play my game. That’s what I did. I was also on a line with some good players. I just stopped thinking and went out and played. I took advantage of the opportunity.”
“Being a re-entry, I really needed to stand out, somehow. To score that many goals in that amount of games was fun to do. It was a good couple of months, for sure.”
As he alluded to, Rymsha was eligible for the 2016 NHL Draft, but was not selected after being unable to make much of an impression with London or Ottawa. As such, he knew that if he wanted to be selected this year, he had to step up his game, and the move to Sarnia gave him the opportunity to shine.
“The obvious thing [about Rymsha] is how he finished the season—20 goals in 28 games, and I’m not comparing him to these players, but [Owen] Tippett had 44 goals in 50 games,” said Yanetti. “[Nick] Suzuki had 42 goals. These are high-level, first-round talents. This kid had 20 in 28 games.”
“It’s a small sample size at the end of the year, but it’s hard to ignore what he did, and it wasn’t a complete anomaly,” added Yanetti. “He was on pace for more than a very respectable number of goals, and even the year before, he showed secondary scoring ability. That’s the first thing that draws your attention.”
That Rymsha dealt with adversity head on was also a factor in the Kings’ decision to draft him.
“If you’re looking at a fifth-to-seventh round pick, you’re not supposed to make it to the NHL,” Yanetti noted. “If you look at the metrics, not only are you not supposed to make it, your chances increasingly border on the infinitesimal the later you go in the draft, so you become an anomaly and an outlier, in terms of making it. What’s the biggest factor in overcoming odds? I think it’s dealing with adversity.”
“When you do your research and you have to figure out why he [wasn’t selected in] the draft last year, you realize that he went through some adversity with the teams he was on, and some of the situations he encountered with those teams,” Yanetti added. “But then you look at the fact that while he had to deal with adversity, he never tried to get out of whatever his situation was. He never looked for an exit strategy. He didn’t ask for a trade. He wanted to stick it out. He wanted to play through it.”
“A lot of guys would’ve just said, ‘[expletive deleted] this, I’m outta here.’ There’s a strength of character here. He wanted to fight through it all rather than look for an easier path.”
Yanetti indicated that Rymsha has the potential to become a legitimate NHL power forward.
“You have to see the kid,” he noted. “He’s really, really thick. He’s got a powerful stride, and he’s a good skater. While he may not have the speed of a Jaret Anderson-Dolan [Kings 2017 second round pick, 41st overall], there’s a power to his skating and he’s got speed, just not elite-level speed. This guy has better than average NHL speed and the ability to go to the net.”
“He goes to harder areas that translate directly to the NHL,” he added. “If you’re scoring your goals from eight-to-ten feet, but if you can’t skate, you can’t get there. In junior hockey, you can get away with that. But if you’re scoring your goals from eight-to-ten feet, and you’re a good skater with a power-based body, that translates to the NHL, so the way he scores translates to the NHL because of the attributes he has.”
Barring unforeseen circumstances, Rymsha will return to Sarnia next season, his final season in the OHL, unless he plays an over-age year in 2018-19, and although he’ll focus on improving offensively, he prides himself on his defensive play, too.
“I’m a 200-foot center,” he emphasized. “I play with an edge, and I pride myself in playing in all three zones of the ice, and with a high compete level.”
“When I was 16, playing in London, I had [former Quebec Nordiques and Washington Capitals center] Dale Hunter as a coach,” he added. “I played on the fourth line and paid my dues there. He taught me everything I know about defense. When that year started, it seemed like a tough year. But looking back at it now, I learned so much that year. I really learned how to play the defensive side of the game, and I can’t thank Dale enough for that.”
During the Kings annual development camp for their young prospects last week, Rymsha talked about the strengths and weaknesses in his game.
“I think the strongest part of my game is my compete level,” he said. “I’m always working hard on every shift, every game. I’ll give it all for my teammates. [On the other side], every hockey player has to work on their skating. Then there’s getting bigger and stronger. At the next level, there’s a higher pace, and everybody is bigger and stronger. You’ve got to get bigger, stronger and faster.”
Towards that end, Rymsha indicated that he learned some things during development camp that will make him a considerably better player.
“Just little things you can do that you don’t think about, like poking the puck away, having a good stick,” he said. “Using your body to protect the puck—little things you never really thought that mattered that really mean a lot in the big picture.”
For the summer, like virtually every NHL prospect, Rymsha will be spending a lot of time in the gym and on the ice.
“Just being in the gym as much as I can, and getting on the ice, working to get faster,” he said. “You can always get faster. You can never be too fast. Even the fastest guys in the NHL work to get faster, so I’ll be skating and working out.”
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings 2017 fifth Round draft pick, center Drake Rymsha, shown here during the Kings 2017 Development Camp. Photo: David Sheehan/CaliShooterone Photography.
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