LOS ANGELES — In Frozen Royalty’s previous story about how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected the Los Angeles Kings’ scouting/player evaluation work, Director of Amateur Scouting Mark Yanetti provided a tidbit of information about what they are looking at for the second overall pick in the 2020 National Hockey League Draft.
“Looking at the second overall pick, we have two guys really in mind for that pick,” he said.
Of course, Yanetti wasn’t going to reveal who those players are. But noting that NHL Central Scouting releases their prospect rankings to the public each year, he spoke with Frozen Royalty about a handful of their top-ranked prospects.
But before Yanetti provided his analysis of those players, he responded to widespread criticism of the NHL’s lottery procedures for the 2020 draft.
“A team shouldn’t be allowed to compete for a Stanley Cup and have a chance to win the lottery when there are teams that don’t have a chance to compete for the Cup,” he said, echoing much of the criticism. “If you play in the play-in round and don’t make it, you compete for the lottery. But that round should be open to all 31 teams.”
“It just seems patently illogical to me that teams are eligible for something that we’re eligible for, but we’re not eligible for the things they are,” he added. “They get all the perks and the perk of drafting number one overall, while we get the chance to draft number one, but none of the other perks. That said, someone is always going to be unhappy.”
As Yanetti alluded to, no matter the circumstances, there are going to be teams that are happy and those that are disappointed, or even upset, about the draft lottery.
“The problem with the lottery is that there’s no way to make it perfect,” he noted. “Last year, when we dropped to fifth, we were upset. The system didn’t work for us. This year, when we moved up to #2, we were really happy. The system worked for us. Every year, that’s going to happen.”
“I don’t know how you can build a perfectly fair lottery system,” he added. “I don’t know if it’s possible, and if you do away with the lottery, now you’ve got [teams that will try to lose games in order to be in last place and get the first overall pick].”
“It’s an imperfect system, and you can complain about it all you want. But the reality is that it’s the same system for everybody. We knew that going in. We could sit there and say ‘[expletive deleted]. We didn’t get number one. We got screwed.’ Or, we could say, ‘We just went up to number two. How lucky are we? How fortunate are we?’”
Sure, like anyone else, the Kings would’ve been overjoyed to win the draft lottery and get the chance to select consensus number one pick Alexis Lafrenière. But the second overall pick in what is shaping up to be a very deep draft is a good thing, too.
“We get to the make the second selection in a very good NHL draft, at a time when we’re trying to rebuild into a championship team,” Yanetti noted. “How fortunate is that? We should be nothing but happy. So my initial reaction was, ‘I wish we got number one.’ But then when I sat down and looked at it, I was pretty happy, and I think everyone in our organization was pretty happy.”
“I don’t understand why we would sit here and [expletive deleted] on the good fortune we had because it didn’t work out 100 percent perfectly,” Yanetti added. “Things worked out pretty damned good. It’s a chance to change the franchise, and to speed up the rebuild. It’s a chance to complete the process we’ve been working on over the past few years.”
“We’re getting to pick between two elite players. I don’t know how you can be upset with that. We’re going to be able to add a player who can, hopefully, help us win a Stanley Cup soon. You don’t get to do that too often. We’re really fortunate.”
For anyone hoping that whomever ends up with the top pick in the 2020 draft doesn’t think Lafrenière is the best player in this year’s draft class, Yanetti indicated that, although anything is possible, this would almost assuredly a be pipe dream.
“I would fall on the floor, shocked, if there was a team that didn’t have Lafrenière ranked number one,” he said. “His hockey sense, his skill set, his ability to manufacture, to produce, as good as the other guys are, he’s at another level.”
“The second thing is that he elevates his game based on the situation,” he added. “The things he did in the World Juniors when the games mattered—that’s important. It’s important to takeover a game, and it’s important to takeover an important game, and it’s important to takeover an important game and help your team win. He did that as, not only a draft-eligible player, albeit a late birthday [for this year’s draft class], but a draft-eligible player in a tournament where older guys do well and younger guys don’t.”
“That’s a small area [compared to everything they’re looking at], but he did it. When things matter, when things are important, he elevates his game and he elevates the team’s game. That’s the biggest area. I think he’s better than the other players. But for me, where he distances himself from the rest is in that respect.”
Although they have narrowed things down to two players for that #2 pick, this draft year isn’t much like it was back in 2008 when the Kings selected Drew Doughty with the second overall pick and everyone knew they would do that well in advance.
“Drew, for us—there was a very, very short period of time when there were three players who we were looking at,” Yanetti recalled. “Drew separated himself from that group very quickly. I can tell you that that is not the case here.”
“There is going to be a lot of work that has to be done to separate the player [that they end up ranking #2 on their list],” Yanetti added. “I would be surprised if there were more than five or six teams that didn’t have the same two guys ranked #2 and #3. There will be five, six or seven teams with different guys ranked #2 and #3. Maybe that’s the Kings, maybe it’s not. But the vast majority of teams will have a very similar #1, #2 and #3. When you get to #4, there could be no majority between #4 and #8. If an equal number of teams had Player A at #4 as that same player at #7, I wouldn’t be surprised. But in the top three? I’d be surprised.”
Who Could Be The One?
Yanetti provided his analysis of some of players ranked high in the first round by NHL Central Scouting.
Quinton Byfield (Sudbury, Ontario Hockey League) – Center. 6-4, 215 pounds. Left-hand shot. Turns 18 years old on August 19. Hometown: Newmarket, Ontario. Ranked #2 among North American skaters.
“He’s a wonderful option at #2,” said Yanetti. “Find the flaw in his game. He’s 6-4. People don’t realize—they think he’s a big, 6-4 guy who’s feasting on smaller competition. But he’s nowhere near his potential for growth yet. I didn’t find him to be a particularly strong player for his size. That doesn’t mean that he wasn’t strong. But at 6-4, and at his size, there are players who are a lot stronger.”
“When he’s all said and done, he’s going to be a force,” added Yanetti. “He’s going to have two power forward elements. If you’re talking straight-on speed, he’s as good a skater as anyone in the draft. He can score, put points on the board, play defense. There isn’t a real flaw in his game.”
Tim Stuetzle (Mannheim, Germany) – Left Wing. 6-1, 187 pounds. Left-hand shot. 18 years old. Hometown: Viersen, Germany. Ranked #1 among European skaters.
“He’s dynamic,” Yanetti noted. “When I talk about Byfield, in terms of speed, being as good as anyone in the draft, if not better, Stuetzle’s cut-backs, his ability to change speeds, his explosion, his agility, his edge work, are the elite of the elite. His playmaking ability and hockey sense are elite, as well. He just makes plays.”
“You’re seeing some of the more dynamic players in the NHL now, with it being more open and speed-based,” Yanetti added. “Now you’re seeing those more dynamic players like [Mitch] Marner, [Johnny] Gaudreau—smaller guys who are having a lot of success. Stuetzle has those elements in his game. The only thing he’s not is 6-4. That said, his playmaking ability would be in the top tier of the draft. There isn’t really a weakness in his game.”
Some might be wary of the fact that Stuetzle played in Germany, which hasn’t been known for being a hockey hotbed. That would be a mistake.
“If you’re wondering about a player coming out of Germany, you’d have to be looking to find a fault,” said Yanetti. “You’re nitpicking. You’re looking for a reason to move him down if [that’s a big concern].”
“Leon Draisaitl was able to come from the same junior league that Stuetzle played in and jump into the [Western Hockey League] and be a force,” added Yanetti.
Jamie Drysdale (Erie, OHL) – Defenseman. 5-11, 175 pounds. Right-hand shot. 18 years old. Hometown: Toronto, Ontario. Ranked #3 among North American prospects.
“He’s got higher level hockey sense,” said Yanetti. “His skating and mobility are elite. It might not be at Cale Makar’s level, but it’s the next level below that. Drysdale can separate from people while skating backwards. You just don’t see that very often. I’ve seen him pick up a puck in the neutral zone, skating backwards to bide time, and the F1 [the first forward to enter the offensive zone] loses ground on him. His transitional game is outstanding and it’s balanced. If you shut down the passing lanes, he’ll skate by you. If you clog up the skating lanes, he’ll pass the puck by you.”
“For an offensive defenseman, he defends really well, very effectively,” added Yanetti. “There isn’t a weakness in his game, other than the fact that he’s a little undersized right now. But he’s at the very beginning of his physical development period. You could look at that as a negative. But I would look at that as a positive. I love the fact that there’s room to grow there.”
Drysdale’s play during the 2020 World Junior Championships also caught the attention of NHL scouts.
“If you want to know how good Drysdale is, go look at how many draft-eligible defensemen have played for Canada in a World Junior tournament,” Yanetti noted. “Then, go and look and see how many draft-eligible defensemen have played a top-four role. Drysdale started out as the seventh defenseman for Canada, and by the time the semi-finals started, he played a top-four role with Bowen Byram out sick.”
“He could’ve played a top three role,” Yanetti added. “Not only did he survive. He thrived. He was able to play and contribute, playing second defenseman minutes in a tournament where that just doesn’t happen.”
“He can quarterback a power play and at the World Juniors, he played on the penalty-kill. That’s probably a statement for being as complete a defenseman as you can get.”
Cole Perfetti (Saginaw, OHL) – Center. 5-10, 177 pounds. Left-hand shot. 18 years old. Hometown: Whitby, Ontario. Ranked #5 among North American prospects.
“Perfetti, in a similar way to [Marco] Rossi and [Lucas] Raymond, is an elite playmaker,” said Yanetti. “There are layers to his game that guys don’t see. He’s able to make passes, find lanes and exploit seams that other guys don’t even know are there. He could run a power play in the NHL from the half-wall.”
“Super smart, slick,” added Yanetti. “Very good skill. Highly underrated as a goal scorer—you hear so much about his playmaking. But he put up more than 30 goals. People talk about the balance in Rossi’s game. Perfetti’s numbers weren’t much different between goals and assists.”
“The one knock on Perfetti, and it’s a similar knock on Rossi, is that they don’t have elite speed. Rossi is a little bit more of a dynamic skater. But they’re both very agile and use their skating well in small areas. You don’t see Perfetti or Rossi take a lot of big hits because of their skating, agility and quickness.”
Marco Rossi (Ottawa, OHL) – Center. 5-9, 183 pounds. Left-hand shot. 18 years old. Hometown: Feldkirch, Austria. Ranked #6 among North American prospects.
“Rossi is built like a fire hydrant,” Yanetti observed. “You can call Gaudreau a small player, and you’d be right. But it doesn’t matter because he’s so good. When you call Rossi small, you’re not doing the process justice because he has a low center of gravity, he’s very strong on his skates, and he’s very wide-bodied, with big legs and strength in his base.”
“I saw him play once where he got under Serron Noel [of the Kitchener Rangers in the OHL], a big, strong forward,” Yanetti added. “They went into a corner together and he got underneath him. So if you’re calling Rossi small, you’re shortchanging the process.”
“He might lack a top gear, like some of other elite, small skaters. But his agility, his edge work, his first three steps, and the power to his skating are excellent. In terms of a blend of playmaking and scoring, he probably outdistances all the other guys not named Lafrenière, when you look at the balance and versatility in which he can produce offense, and he put up generational numbers. He does everything really well.”
Yanetti indicated that Rossi might have an edge on some of his peers on the defensive side of the puck.
“There is an accountability to him,” he said. “There is a good compete and pride to him. He isn’t just a one-way guy.”
Preparing For the Rest of the Draft
Although the Kings are down to two players for the second overall pick, their work isn’t done, not with picks in subsequent rounds and more time to do their homework on the draft-eligible prospects.
“Our list is a little more than half done,” said Yanetti. “But that doesn’t mean that all areas of the list are half done. The top end of our list, with the exception of picks two and three, is 95 percent done. Maybe even more.”
“The draft would’ve [been held on June 26 and 27],” added Yanetti. “We’ve got two more months to work. You have a finite number of hours to rate and evaluate players. You can’t allocate equal resources to a sixth round pick that you would a second round pick, at least I wouldn’t. But now you can. We’ve been given two-and-half-months more time. We can now allocate more time to [players in later rounds that they normally wouldn’t be able to].”
Indeed, things are certainly not normal.
“If this were a normal draft year, now would be vacation time for [the amateur scouts],” said Yanetti. “But I don’t see the benefit of stopping our work. You have all this time, why not do the same amount of work [for players in the later rounds]?”
“Our list is going to be in flux for at least two more months,” added Yanetti. “The changes will be small, and when I say that the list isn’t done, we’re not talking about a guy moving from #60 on our list to #21. If that happens, somebody hasn’t done their job, and that starts with me. But someone could move from #51 to #58. Someone could move from #120 to #100 because he was a guy you didn’t see as much because he was later on your list and now, you’ve had time to scout him in a way that [you couldn’t do earlier]. You’re going to see smaller movements in later portions of our list.”
“You’re always lamenting the fact that you don’t have enough time to put everything order [in an ideal fashion]. I wish I could’ve done this.’ ‘I wish we could’ve focused in this area.’ I wish I could’ve seen this player more.’ I wish I had time to study this tendency, or to rank this.’ We’re saying that every year. Now we have nothing but time to do all that. When this draft finally happens, no one on our staff should be saying, ‘I wish I had time to do this.’ We haven’t done it the right way if someone is saying that.”
Of course, there is one thing about having the extra time.
“I wish we had this much time every year, minus the global pandemic,” Yanetti lamented.
In one way or another, that’s probably something we all can agree with.
Frozen Royalty’s Prediction
There are several prospects who would fit the bill nicely for the Kings at the #2 spot in the first round. To be sure, Byfield, Stuetzle and Drysdale would all be tremendous assets as part of the Kings’ system. Perhaps to a lesser degree, so would Perfetti, Rossi, and maybe a couple of others, including some of the top-ranked European prospects. Each would provide a significant boost to the Kings’ rebuilding efforts. But given the circumstances, I believe that they will select Byfield. His size, speed, skill, and potential for adding muscle, not to mention that he has the tools and physical attributes to become the next Anze Kopitar—maybe even a faster version—make him especially attractive and would seem to put him ahead of the pack for the second overall pick.
LEAD PHOTO: Los Angeles Kings Director of Amateur Scouting Mark Yanetti (right) shown here during the first round of the 2019 NHL Draft with Vice President and General Manager Rob Blake (left) and their first round pick, Alex Turcotte (center). Photo courtesy Los Angeles Kings.
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