FROZEN ROYALTY EXCLUSIVE: Frozen Royalty begins its coverage of the Los Angeles Kings and the 2018 National Hockey League Draft with exclusive comments from the Kings Director of Amateur Scouting Mark Yanetti, who took time out from his post-draft travel to do an in-depth, one-on-one interview with Frozen Royalty, as he has done for the past few seasons after the conclusion of the draft. First story in a series.
LOS ANGELES — On June 22-23, the National Hockey League and its 31 member clubs looked to the future, adding new, young prospects to their organizations during the 2018 National Hockey League Draft, held in Dallas.
The Los Angeles Kings added seven players with a selection in each of the first five rounds and two selections in the sixth round.
Frozen Royalty will take an in-depth look at the players selected by the Kings in rounds 2-6 the second story in this series coming soon.
As team representatives usually say when their time on the clock comes up during the first round of the draft, with the 20th selection of the 2018 NHL Draft, the Los Angeles Kings selected forward Rasmus Kupari from Karpat in the Finnish Professional League (Liiga).
The 18-year-old, 6-2, 188-pound native of Kotka, Finland, played in 39 regular seasons games with Karpat last season, scoring six goals and adding eight assists for 14 points with a +4 plus/minus rating and twelve penalty minutes.
Kupari, who can play center or wing, was ranked 11th among European skaters by the NHL Central Scouting Bureau, dropping from his midterm rank of sixth.
“I’m excited and it’s great to join [the Kings] organization,” he said during a media conference call. “I’ve watched many NHL games and I know that the Los Angeles Kings are a very good team over the last ten years, having won the Stanley Cup twice. I also know [about] Anze Kopitar and a lot of the other good players, so I’m excited.”
“I’m an offensive player and I like to play with the puck,” he added. “I’m also very fast. That’s my biggest strength and the game is going that way.”
Something that had to be attractive to Kings scouts was that Kupari was playing against older players in the Finnish Professional League this past season.
“You have to be much smarter and [you’re playing against] bigger guys,” Kupari noted. “You have to be tough in [physical battles, even if I’m] smaller. I have to find a way to survive in there and [still be effective].”
Kings Director of Amateur Scouting Mark Yanetti told Frozen Royalty in an exclusive interview that Kupari has the speed and skill to fit into today’s NHL.
“Calling him an elite skater might be an understatement,” he said. “He’s a top 5 skater in this draft, in terms of forwards.”
“We got a really good player,” he added. “Kupari brings all of these elements that we need, but more importantly, elements that are succeeding in the NHL right now. You see the tools he has, which translate well to successful players, difference makers, in the NHL. Then you see the way he uses those tools and he uses the way players in the NHL who are finding success use them. You get excited about a player like that.”
Even though he looks like he is much, much younger, Yanetti insists that Kupari really is 18 years old and he added that Kupari could add some physicality to his game to go along with his speed.
“I don’t know if you saw him on TV,” said Yanetti. “My brother texted me at the draft table, ‘How old is the guy you drafted? Twelve?’ But that’s a really good thing. If you look at the kid, he’s already thick. He’s baby-faced. He’s 6-1, 6-1 1/2. It’s not a stretch to think that this kid is going to be a wide-bodied 6-2, so there’s going to be a power and strength element to him and he’s already as elite a skater as you’ll find in the draft.”
Yanetti indicated that it’s not just Kupari’s speed that was attractive to the Kings.
“He’s got an excellent release,” he noted. “He’s got the ability to shoot in stride, to shoot at pace. A lot of players have to slow down to do a lot of things. One of the biggest problems with fast players is that they’re faster without the puck than they are with the puck. But Kupari’s speed does not change. His ability to execute does not change based on pace. His best asset is not limited by other elements of his game.”
“Then you look at how he creates offense,” he added. “He’s an attack-oriented player. He attacks the grid where the majority of the goals in the NHL—60 percent—are scored from, a very defined and finite area. He has the speed to get there. He has the will to get there and he has the framework of a game to get there, yet he’s still at the very infancy of his game.”
Yanetti indicated that Kupari has been a bit inconsistent, in terms of goal scoring, but that they think that will change as he grows and gains experience.
“The scoring part has come inconsistently, but if you look at his numbers, he actually has really good numbers. I don’t think people read the numbers well. His numbers, at the same age and in the same league, were better than [Colorado Avalanche forward Mikko] Rantanen’s. I’m not saying that he’s a better player than Rantanen. I’m just saying that his numbers match those of an elite player and when you’re looking for something that’ll tell you if he can score, will he become more consistent, will he become a more consistent offensive threat, and then you see things like that and there are other numbers, too, in terms of where the goals come from, how they come, against whom do they come, that lead us to believe that his inconsistency in his scoring touch is going to become a primary scoring touch.”
For now, Kupari is projected to be a second-line forward.
“We’re drafting a guy at 20th overall,” said Yanetti. “We’re not expecting him to be a third-line player. We’re expecting him to be a second-line player. If he jumps more than that, we’ll be very happy. If he becomes less than that, we’ll be a little disappointed, but with his backup game, the way he’s built and with his speed—the way you see the NHL going now, they’re really isn’t a third line now. You’re almost going first line and then, line 2A and 2B. Even your fourth line isn’t your fourth line anymore. It’s more like what the third line used to be. The very successful teams I’ve seen have kind of an interchangeable or, at least, a comparable second and third line and the line between them has blurred.”
“When we signed [left wing Alex] Iafallo, I viewed him as a Stanley Cup-winning third line player,” added Yanetti. “He’d be the benchmark player on the third line for a team that would compete for the Stanley Cup. But he played on the first line and he played effectively there. So those lines and the roles are becoming less defined.”
Yanetti also shared his thoughts about the rest of the Kings selections in rounds 2-6 of the 2018 NHL Draft. Stay tuned for those comments which you will only be able to read here on Frozen Royalty.
LEAD PHOTO: Forward Rasmus Kupari (center), shown here immediately following being selected by the Los Angeles Kings in the first round of the 2018 NHL Draft on June 22, 2018 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. Kings Director of Amateur Scouting Mark Yanetti is to Kupari’s immediate right. Photo courtesy Los Angeles Kings.
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