FROZEN ROYALTY EXCLUSIVE: This is rather late, but due to various circumstances, this story has been delayed. But now, here’s an in-depth look at most of the Los Angeles Kings late round picks in the 2018 NHL Draft featuring exclusive comments from Mark Yanetti, the Director of Amateur Scouting for the Kings.
LOS ANGELES — After selecting two players who can play center or wing with their first and second round picks in the 2018 National Hockey League Draft in Rasmus Kupari and Akil Thomas, the Los Angeles Kings looked to Russia for their third round selection (82nd overall), left wing Bulat Shafigullin.
The 18-year-old, 6-1, pound native of Nizhnekamsk, Russia okayed for Neftekhimik Nizhnekamsk in the KHL last season.
Kings Director of Amateur Scouting Mark Yanetti indicated that selecting Shafigullin was a bit risky.
“There’s always a fear when you deal with Russian players because they have options that no one else that you’re drafting has,” he said. “If he was a North American without those options, you’d be comfortable taking him much, much higher. With this kind of talent in round 3 comes risk. The risk is that he doesn’t need to play in the NHL.”
“[Ilya] Kovalchuk didn’t need the NHL,” he added. “[Jaromir] Jagr didn’t need the NHL. The KHL is a competitive, viable, outstanding league that pays just as much as the NHL and that’s home to them. It’s not a foreign country, so you have these players who have this opportunity. [As such], you bring a little bit of risk into the prospect to get a level of skill that you might not otherwise find in that spot.”
“This is where we plug in some of our numbers. We use some of our metrics. It’s also a place where you really look for some skill. He’s a higher-level talent. He brings the puck to hard areas with speed. He’s got primary offensive skill. I think he’s a little better individually, in terms of how he advances the puck and how he creates things. However, in saying that, there isn’t a primary playmaking element to his game. But there is a natural playmaking and passing element to his game. He reads off good players well without the puck.”
Shafigullin is likely to remain in Russia next season, at the very least.
“I totally expect him to be in Russia next year,” said Yanetti. “I don’t like to speculate about the distant future, so when I think about his development path, I think about how it’s going to present itself in the next year. I think he’s going to stay in Russia. I don’t know why he would leave. He plays in a very good league where he is allowed to play creatively. The other thing is that one of the things over there in Russia is that they play more open. They play a little more speed-based. More creatively. He’s comfortable there. I don’t know why you would take a guy out of that environment unless you had a concern.”
“You see it a lot,” added Yanetti. “Guys [who play in the KHL] develop very well. Guys want to leave areas of comfort at different times of their lives. Slava Voynov and Andrei Loktionov were personalities who wanted to push their boundaries. They wanted to come over and play the North American game. Then there are guys like [Vladimir] Tarsenko and [Evgeny] Kuznetsov who wanted to stay over there. They were more comfortable there. They preferred to wait, so I see equal opportunities for development in either situation, and we watched him play there. In one game, he played 30 minutes, so there’s certainly no concern about a lack of ice time and he seemed to thrive in that environment.”
In the fourth round (113th overall), the Kings selected center Aidan Dudas out of Owen Sound of the Ontario Hockey League.
The 18-year-old, 5-7, 164-pound native of Parry Sound, Ontario had a breakout season in 2017-18, scoring 31 goals and adding 34 assists for 65 points with a +1 plus/minus rating and 12 penalty minutes in 68 regular season games last season. He also played in 11 playoff games last season, scoring three goals and tallying four assists for seven points.
Yanetti indicated that the way Dudas plays the game belies his lack of size.
“I know what it looks like, in terms of how our team was built,” he observed. “There was a philosophy regarding what we needed to do to win and how we were going to win—a big, heavy team. That was so much of what the team was, I think many people didn’t see how fast our team actually was, in particular, how fast those teams advanced the puck. But we never were afraid of small players.”
“I think if you exclude a certain demographic of player, you’re excluding a certain demographic of ability,” he added. “If I say that I’m not going to take anyone who’s not a great skater, then you lose out on someone like Luc Robitaille. If you say I’m not going to take anyone who’s not over 6-0, then you miss out on Johnny Gaudreau. If you’re going to say that you’re not going to take anyone who’s not going to be a primary offensive player, you’ll miss out on a guy like Mike Ricci. How do you win without a player like him? So at 5-7, either he can play or he can’t. If he can play, he’ll do so in spite of the fact that he’s 5-7.”
“At 5-7, Dudas has had to develop different traits than a guy who’s 6-4. He’s had to develop a subtlety to his game, the ability to read plays and to make plays. He can move the puck in ways that a 5-7 guy needs to do to succeed. For a small player to succeed, he needs to be able to see the ice, he’s got to have skill, he’s has to be a playmaker, and he has to be a higher-level competitor. He has all of that. The one area he might not have is elite speed, but he certainly has better than average speed.”
That said, it won’t be an easy path to the NHL for Dudas.
“Are there odds against a 5-7 player [making it in the NHL]? Of course there are,” Yanetti acknowledged. “But take a look throughout the NHL. There are plenty of guys helping their teams who are under 5-10 and we think he has the attributes that it takes to succeed there.”
“If he was 6-2, he wouldn’t have been available in the fourth round,” added Yanetti. “Again, you talk about risk. You bring risk into play when you draft a player under 5-10. But you also bring attributes into play that wouldn’t otherwise be there and that’s fine.”
As Yanetti noted, the Kings were willing to accept the risk in the case of Dudas.
“Baseball is a really good analogy,” Yanetti observed. “You want a five-tool player, right? That’s what everybody wants. I want 23, five-tool players. If you get 23, five-tool players, you win for years. But you know what? There might be three, five-tool players in the draft. There might be just one. So now you’re looking for four tools. Now you’re looking for three tools.”
“One of the tools in hockey is size,” Yanetti continued. “A player selected in the fourth round is not going to have five tools. He’s not going to have four tools. He might not even have three tools, so which tool are you willing to give up? The tool you’re giving up here is size, so now what they are tools that allow you to give up size? We think he has those.”
“Has he succeeded everywhere he’s played? Yes. Is he a high-level competitor? Yes. Does he do things that allow him to overcome his size in competition? Yes. Who is successful in the NHL at his size? Brendan Gallagher is. Why? Because he’s an elite competitor. He does things that [allow him to overcome] his size.”
Yanetti stressed that taking risks in the draft isn’t a bad thing.
“There’s a myriad of ways you can do it,” he said. “You could take a big, 6-3, stay-at-home, non-offensive defenseman who looks really safe and there’s merit in doing that, in taking a safer guy who doesn’t have the upside but comes with less risk. There’s also equal merit in taking a guy with a little more risk, but more upside. We think Aidan has the elements that will make him successful [in the NHL] and in the fourth round, we think he provides value.”
Bucking their recent trend, the Kings selected two goalies in the 2018 draft, with David Hrenak being their fifth round (144th overall) selection.
The 20-year-old, 6-2, 192-pound native of Povazska Bystrica, Slovakia played in 25 games as a freshman at St. Cloud State University last season, earning a 14-7-2 record with a 2.11 goals against average and a .919 save percentage.
Yanetti noted that the Kings have depth in goal throughout their system once again after not having it for years.
“We used to skip over goalies,” Yanetti explained. “We had the best goaltending depth in the NHL for years. Our philosophy was, ‘why would we pick a goalie?’ He’s not going to play ahead of Jonathan Quick, Jonathan Bernier or Martin Jones. We had trouble getting Jones in the net. So when we had a chance to get a [skater] or a goalie, why the hell would you get a goalie? So you could trade him in three years? Unfortunately, in the span of ten months, we went from having the best goaltending depth in the league to potentially the worst and we had to scramble. We had to work to rectify the situation.”
The selection of Hrenak and Jacob Ingram in the sixth round (175th overall) is a big step forward for the Kings in goal.
“Our age distribution, in terms of goaltending, is really good right now,” said Yanetti. “[Hrenak has] three years left in college. In terms of age distribution, that spreads things out on our timeline in a really good manner. As a freshman, he won the starting goalie job on a top-flight team in the NCAA. That’s not something that happens often. His numbers were excellent. That pick hit so many of the boxes for us.”
Also in the sixth round (165th overall), the Kings selected 18-year-old, 6-3, 205-pound right wing Johan Sodergran, a native of Stockholm, Sweden.
“He bounced around a little bit [between various leagues in Sweden],” Yanetti noted. “He’s a 6-2 guy with lots and lots of room to grow.”
“He’s an excellent skater,” Yanetti added. “His size to speed ratio is very good. He has some offensive elements to his game, although they’re certainly not primary. There’s some versatility to his game. He’s very young, in terms of his development and his physical state. Fundamentals, too. Like I said, there’s a lot of room for growth, even though his ceiling is lower, in terms of the role we anticipate—he has the tools to fill that secondary, third line role. In terms of age distribution, whether we leave him over there or bring him over, there’s a lot of flexibility with him, development-wise.”
LEAD PHOTO: Right wing Johan Sodergran, selected in the sixth round of the 2018 NHL Draft, is shown here during the Los Angeles Kings 2018 Development Camp for heir young prospects. Photo: Gann Matsuda/FrozenRpyaty.net.
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