EL SEGUNDO, CA AND LAS VEGAS, NV — Those who follow the National Hockey League Draft know that beyond the top ten picks—in leaner years, maybe beyond the top five—the draft is one big crapshoot.
To be sure, NHL scouts have their lists, ranking available prospects and sometimes, they find those later-round gems who, sooner or later, turn into bona fide NHL players, if not stars.
In the 2017 NHL Draft, the Los Angeles Kings selected highly-touted center Gabe Vilardi with their first round pick. Ranked fourth overall, selecting Vilardi was quite the coup for the Kings, who picked 11th.
Since that time, in terms of Kings prospects, Vilardi has gotten virtually all the attention from media, pundits and fans alike. But another player from the 2017 draft class just might be rising faster on the Kings depth chart.
“I don’t know how much higher his stock can rise in our eyes,” said assistant general manager Michael Futa.
That “kid” is forward Jaret Anderson-Dolan, who was selected by the Kings in the second round (41st overall) in the 2017 draft and, by all accounts, is exceeding expectations. Indeed, he looks like he could be one of those draft gems selected after the first round.
Last season, the 19-year-old, 5-11, 190-pound native of Calgary, Alberta had his best season with the Spokane Chiefs of the Western Hockey League, scoring 40 goals and adding 51 assists for 91 points with a +9 plus/minus rating and 27 penalty minutes in 70 regular season games.
In seven playoff games last season, Anderson-Dolan scored two goals and tallied seven assists for nine points.
“[Last season] was great,” he said. “We were a lot better than the year before when we were just a young team. Everybody was able to get another year under their belts.”
“I was able to contribute a little bit more,” he added. “I was playing with some good players and I was put into [situations] where I could succeed. We didn’t go as far as we wanted. I thought we had the potential to go all the way, but it came down to a couple of bounces in the playoffs. That was disappointing, but personally, it was good because I was able to go up to the [Ontario] Reign [after the WHL playoffs ended] and get that experience.”
Anderson-Dolan possesses the elite speed that the Kings currently lack. He is also highly-skilled and to top it all off, he doesn’t play like a smaller player—much of that has to do with intensity.
“That kid is driven,” said Reign head coach Mike Stothers. “His intensity level is off the charts. A lot of kids are a little more carefree and laid back. Everything he does, there’s a serious purpose to it and I think, because of that, comes determination. I think that’s made him the player that he is now, and you know what? I think he’s going to be a King before long.”
“The biggest thing is that he has no fear,” Futa noted. “If you go in with zero fear and you’re demanding that you’re not going to lose the puck, you’re surprised. It’s like a goal scorer when he doesn’t score, he’s surprised when he loses a battle and then, he just dials it up another level and when he comes out with it, he’s looking to make a play, which is that next progression that our [development] guys talk about.”
“I watched Mike Richards play for the Kitchener Rangers, bringing his game face every night and the intensity he brought,” Futa added. “They’re different players, but there’s something to be said for the burn [Richards and Anderson-Dolan] have in their eyes when games are on the line and how business-like they are in their jobs.”
Futa indicated that sometimes, Anderson-Dolan might be a little too intense.
“In a case like Jaret, you sometimes have to dial it down a bit,” he noted. “Enjoy how well you’re doing, but don’t lose that competitive nature, that burn. He’s just so intense, like Kurtis MacDermid, they’re intense when they’re eating salad.”
“You just want them to enjoy the moment, enjoy the process,” he added. “That said, he loves everything about what he’s going through. You can’t say enough about his preparation. When you see him off the ice, he’s bigger and stronger. He’s got that lower body of a hockey player—the strength in the legs and [hips] that is going to allow him, as a smaller player—he’s never off his feet. You see a lot of guys, they go into battles and whether it’s intentional or not, they leave their feet because they’re off-balance. He’s never off-balance. He’s born in athletic position. That’s going to bode well when [his work with Jarret Stoll] is done on face-offs, winning puck battles—his stick strength is already off the charts.
As one might expect, adding strength without affecting his elite-level speed has also played a role here.
“I’m a smaller guy, so when I went back to Spokane from [Kings training camp last season], I needed to get a little bit bigger and I was able to get stronger throughout the year,” he explained. I also had a good summer [working out].”
“I’m at the weight I want to be at right now,” he elaborated. “I’m 190 and I’ve been talking to the strength coaches here. That’s where they want me to be. I want to be able to move. I’m a fast player. My game is—I push the pace. That’s when I’m at my best, so I want to be around that weight so I’m able to move and push the pace.”
“My main focus is not my weight. It’s building strength in my lower body and my core so I can win those battles against bigger guys.”
As he mentioned, after a quick exit from the WHL playoffs, Anderson-Dolan played a brief stint with the Reign at the end of their season, giving him some valuable experience at the professional level.
“I’ve gotten a little bit stronger and I learned from my experience at Ontario, and I’ve [been able to add] that to my game,” he said. “I also realized that you have to show up at the rink in a positive way, every day, try to make a difference and get better every day. I also think that I’m a little more mature. I’m a lot more comfortable now—not just with the Kings, but I’m feeling better in my body and I’m feeling the puck better.”
“You have to show up every day,” he added. “You can’t take days off. You’re fighting for jobs. You want to get into a [better] role as soon as you can. They also have some great older guys who you can watch and learn from. I was quiet and just watched guys like [Brent] Sutter and [T.J.} Hensick. You learn how to be a professional from guys like that and that it’s a job.”
If that doesn’t sound like a young player with leadership potential, it should, and the Kings have taken notice.
“You sit there and talk about the facets of what a leader is and he’s just a kid who’s bred to lead.” Futa noted.
“He’s the strong, silent type that you’re looking for and he’s got some leadership capabilities, not just because he’s a vocal guy,” said Stothers. But also because of the way he conducts himself in approaching practices and games.”
Anderson-Dolan has also made a positive impression with his defensive play, something that doesn’t always happen with young forwards.
“Every kid that age can improve [defensively], but he’s in the right spot,” said Futa. “He’s thinking about it. He’s been well-coached in the past and it’s something he’s conscious of. He knows that he’s not going to play in the National Hockey League if that’s a part of his game that he’s going to overlook. But he doesn’t cheat anything. He’s not going to cheat in the defensive zone.”
In short, Anderson-Dolan has taken greater strides forward than expected and has already turned heads among Kings coaches.
“Part of it, too, is earning trust, and you can already see the trust in him from our NHL coaches when they watch him,” Futa observed. “Mike Stothers was doing a video session [recently], pointing out all the positives. I felt like I was watching one of Jaret’s home movies. It’s good for a kid to learn that he’s earning people’s trust.”
Going forward, Anderson-Dolan is expected to return to Spokane this season, although anything is possible, in terms of making the Kings roster.
“[Anderson-Dolan has to] continue to grow and develop,” said Futa. “I think he’ll come in and open eyes at [training] camp. He’ll give [general manager] Rob and the coaching staff something to look at.”
“Generally speaking, and I’m not going to discount what he’s going to do at main camp, whether he comes in and makes the team or not,” added Futa. “But a normal progression would be to go back and be the captain of your junior team, He’s also the kind of kid who lives and breathes for the World Junior Championship. That should be the next step, but I’m not going to count out what he’s going to do [this] week. You never know.”
For his part, Anderson-Dolan has high, but tempered, hopes.
“I think I’m really close [to making it to the NHL], he said. “I had a great summer, I had a good year, last year. I’m getting stronger every day. My goal is to make the Kings this year. That’s what I’m looking at. If not, everybody has their own path and you’re not trying to rush things. But everybody wants to play in the NHL as soon as possible. Hopefully, [that happens soon. Otherwise], you trust the process and keep getting better every day.”
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings forward prospect Jaret-Anderson Dolan, shown here in a game against Vegas Golden Knights prospects during the 2018 Rookie Tournament at City National Arena in Summerlin, Nevada, September 11, 2018. Photo: Gann Matsuda/FrozenRoyalty.net.
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