LOS ANGELES — In the first story of this early Los Angeles Kings 2021 National Hockey League Draft Preview series, we looked at the formidable obstacles and challenges that faced amateur scouting staffs for all NHL teams in evaluating prospects around the world while we are all still fighting to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic. In this installment, Los Angeles Kings Director of Amateur Scouting Mark Yannetti shared his thoughts on some of the top prospects, as ranked by the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau (CSB), some of whom could be targeted by the Kings for their first round (eighth overall) pick (assuming that they don’t trade the pick).
But before we get to that, Yannetti indicated that the 2021 NHL Draft isn’t believed to be as deep as a lot of the recent drafts.
“I don’t think this is a particularly deep draft compared to previous years,” he said. “I would say that the perception of this draft is that it’s a lower quality one than most of the earlier drafts. I do think the top ten or 15, or maybe a top seven—each team will have their own thoughts about where the talent gap falls. Once you get past where that line is, I think the [talent level] drops.”
“That said, if you look at the worst perceived drafts over the last 15 years, go look in the second [and lower] rounds, unless you can find a draft where no one after the first 15 picks played, it doesn’t matter how bad that draft was thought to be,” he added. “The teams that find guys in those drafts are the ones who have success.”
“There’s going to be multiple players. ‘It’s a bad draft. O woe is us. There are no players,’ except that there are players everywhere. You’ve got to find the right ones, the key guys who are slightly better.”
Despite this year’s draft likely being of “lower quality,” as Yannetti indicated, what teams like the Kings have to do in the draft doesn’t change.
“It’s a different draft,” he noted. “The depth is different. The perceived high end talent is different. There is value in players to be had at each subsequent pick. For example, there are a couple of guys in the second round, and a couple of guys in the fifth round, who could provide value. You just have to make sure that you find them.”
Yannetti said that he is expecting the draft to be very unpredictable after the top ten.
“I think 32 teams will have draft lists that look very similar for the top ten, maybe top 15,” he noted. “But from twelve to 30, or 15 to 40? If everybody submitted their draft lists for public consumption after the draft is over, I bet people would be amazed at the differences in them. Most people should be able to guess the top five to seven. After that, you’re just rolling the dice.”
As you read Yannetti’s thoughts about some of the top North American and European prospects (again, as ranked by CSB), note that, for reasons that should be obvious, his comments do not reflect what the Kings think of any particular prospect. Rather, he shared general perceptions of what he, and many other amateur scouts across the NHL, have observed.
The following are Yannetti’s verbatim comments on some of those prospects:
Defenseman, University of Michigan. 18 years old (turns 19 in November). 6-6, 213 lbs. Left hand shot. Ranked #1 among North American skater prospects by CSB.
He has an ultra-rare blend of natural ability and size. He’s approaching 6-6, but he’s a borderline elite skater. He has hockey sense, he can move the puck, he has power play and penalty-killing abilities, and now, take a look at what he has done in the World Championships. He’s now playing as a number one defenseman or a number two for Canada some nights, playing 20 or 21 minutes a game. I think he’s an all-situation guy in the NHL.
Center, Peterborough Petes (OHL). 18 years old. 6-1, 207 lbs. Left hand shot. Ranked #2 among North American skater prospects by CSB.
He’s a guy who’s a perceived wing. He showed a little more depth to his game at the World Championships (Under-18), where he played some center. He’s a strong, wide-based kid who can play in traffic, and make plays in traffic. He’s got a very good release. If he’s not a natural goal scorer, it looks like that will be a primary part of his game. Skating is the least part of his game, bordering on average, in terms of what an NHL attribute would be. But he reads the play very well without the puck. He finds seams, and he puts himself in positions to use his shot.
Center, University of Michigan. 18 years old (turns 19 in October). 6-1, 167 lbs. Left-hand shot. Ranked #4 among North American prospects by CSB.
Higher end offensive talent. Very creative player. He’s got really natural skill and touch on the puck. Good vision. Makes a lot of plays. Creativity is the calling card of his game. Issues in his game: his skating is above average, but he doesn’t have an explosive gear. There have been some questions as to his willingness or ability to play in harder areas.
Defenseman, U.S. National Team Development Program. 6-2, 184 lbs. Left-hand shot. Ranked #4 among North American skater prospects by CSB.
He’s very similar to his brothers, [Jack, a center for the New Jersey Devils, and Quinn, a defenseman for the Vancouver Canucks]. They’re all quite similar in their own ways, but Luke is a bigger kid, at almost 6-1 1/2, where his brothers are undersized. His calling card is very similar to his brothers. He’s an elite skating defenseman, just like Quinn. He’s got an explosiveness to his stride. He’s got the ability to rush the puck up the ice in a primary way, in terms of transition, without losing any pace or speed. Very natural tools. Just a high level of God-given abilities. His perceived deficiencies are that he doesn’t defend overly well, and his compete comes and goes.
Right wing, Edmonton Oil Kings (WHL). 18 years old. 6-1 1/2, 175 lbs. Right hand shot. Ranked #5 among North American skater prospects by CSB.
A similar player to MacTavish, in terms of what they do, but a different player in how they do it. He is a very good, straight line skater. Very good jump on the play. He’s able to use his instincts and his skating to jump by defenders, and he’s got an excellent release. He’s a natural goal scorer. He’s got speed down the wing. His agility probably lags behind his straight-line skating, but it’s not below average. He’s a shooter first, a wing-based shooting forward. Perceived deficiencies would be playmaking versus scoring, and one-dimensionality in a role. There’s not a lot of depth when he gets outside of his role. The only thing is that his role is going up and down, scoring a lot of goals, so that’s kind of a hollow complaint. He doesn’t make a lot of plays or passes for goals. He’s putting them in the net himself, which is the hardest thing to do in the NHL.
Center, University of Michigan. 18 years old (turns 19 in November). 6-1 1/2, 175 lbs. Left hand shot. Ranked #6 among North American skater prospects by CSB.
Complete player. In the vein of an Alex Turcotte. Good skater. Everything about him is balanced. His offense is balanced. He can be a playmaker on a line, in a secondary way, and he can fill in with scoring, again, in a secondary way. He can play with any offensive or defensive player and complement them. There isn’t a weak spot in his game. He’s got top-six offensive potential, and higher-level defensive potential. He’s an all-situations player. That’s one of those “catch-all’s” that sometime indicate that a guy isn’t good anywhere. But this guy is an all-situation guy because he’s good everywhere—you want him out there, taking the face-off in your defensive zone at the end of a game. You want him out there, at the end of a game, taking an offensive zone face-off. You want him out there, protecting a lead. You want him out there when you’re trying to catch up. High level compete. Intangibles: I think he’s. got some leadership qualities. I think he’s a winner, too.
Left wing, Djurgarden (SHL; Sweden). 18 years old. 5-9, 176 lbs. Left hand shot. Ranked #1 among European skater prospects by CSB.
A very complete player. A high level of competitive play, effort, and energy. He can play a lot of roles, offensively and defensively. Very balanced offensive game. Very good skater and he’s quick. His scoring is secondary—he’s got an above average scoring touch and an above average playmaking streak. His biggest issue is that he’s small at 5-10. While he’s very quick, he’s not one of those blazing, flat-out speed guys at 5-10.
Defenseman, Frolunda HC J20. 18 years old. 6-4, 198 lbs. Left hand shot. Ranked #2 among European skater prospects by CSB.
Similar to Hughes and Power. He’s got a lot of tools. He’s 6-4-plus. He borders on an elite skater. Very powerful, long stride. He’s just one of those guys who can generate power and speed, and he’s not even close in his physical development curve. He’s a little like [Quinton] Byfield. You look at him and think, ‘wow, he’s a big, strong, power guy.’ But they’re not that strong, relative to their size, so in terms of his strength, that hasn’t caught up to his size or his body yet. But he defends long, he has secondary options, and he’s physical. The perceived deficiencies in his game would be the offensive production thus far, and growing into his body so that he can be as physical as you’d want a player his size to be.
Center, Karpat, (Liiga; Finland). 18 years old. (Turns 19 in November). 6-2, 185 lbs. Left hand shot. Ranked #3 among European skater prospects by CSB.
Solid, very versatile, all-around player who can play center or wing equally. He had a little bit of a down year, compared to expectations, and compared to last year. But he played the majority of the year in the Liiga as a third-line center. That’s a pretty high level for a draft year guy, playing legitimate third-line center minutes. He’s strong on the puck, and very purposeful. He skates in straight lines. He makes the game easy. He’s a balanced player with a little less on the offensive side, but he doesn’t have many weaknesses. He’s a low-risk player. You hope he hits the top six. But he’s an absolute lock as a third-liner who can make a difference, one of those middle six guys who could make a difference. When you look at that as being a downside, that’s a pretty good downside because if he misses, he’s going to be a difference maker.
Right wing, SKA St. Petersburg (KHL; Russia). 18 years old. 5-10, 170 lbs. Left hand shot. Ranked #4 among European skater prospects by CSB.
Really good player, in terms of his ability to create offense. Really balanced and smart. He makes a lot of little plays that start plays. Very aware. It doesn’t take him long to locate his options. He’s a guy who goal scorers like to play with. Quick, good skater. Good jump in small areas. More of a passer than a scorer. The [downside] to him is that he’s small, and he played in the KHL, where he had to fight just to survive, playing in one of the best leagues in the world.
CSKA (MHL; Russia). 18 years old (turns 19 in October). 6-2 3/4, 187 lbs. Left hand shot. Ranked #5 among European skater prospects by CSB.
He’s a big kid who played in both in the OHL and the KHL. He’s always been a higher-rated prospect. He had a bit of a coming out party this year. He was outstanding early on in the Karjala Cup, where he played top four defenseman minutes on a borderline Olympic team. Giant guy. Really good size and reach. Strong skating that’s only going to get better as he gets stronger. Really good stride. A rocket of a shot from the point. He’s got to get a lot stronger, and he’s got to find a little bit more balance to his game, with the puck. He’s got a lot of tools. His skills are good, but he doesn’t always push them together, but that’s because he’s young. There’s a little immaturity, in terms of his game with the puck.
Center, SKA St. Petersburg (KHL; Russia); Lada Togliatti (VHL and MHL, Russia). 18 years old. 6-0, 187 lbs. Left hand shot. Ranked #6 among European skater prospects by CSB.
A really good center. Smart. Really balanced playmaking. Not the high level, creative playmaking, like a Mitch Marner, or a guy like that. But he’s a really strong playmaker where he makes the right play very quickly and very definitively. He’s one of those guys who can create pace by the way he passes. He creates speed up the ice with his passing game. Good tools. A little bit of a secondary offensive element rather than primary. But the framework of how he does things—he’s one of those guys where the sum is greater than the parts. A deficiency is that he doesn’t have a top gear, in terms of skating.
Left wing, Moscow Dynamo 2 (MHL; Russia). 18 years old (turns 19 in November). 5-10, 150 lbs. Left hand shot. Ranked #7 among European skaters by CSB.
High-end offensive talent. He produced monster numbers in the Russian junior league, the MHL. It’s a little concerning that he didn’t get any time with the KHL, like guys who tear up [the MHL] like he did usually do. But [for that team], they’re so loaded that it’s hard for young guys to break into the lineup. He’s really quick, really agile, shifty, and elusive. Good playmaker and scorer. He’s got a really good, balanced, versatile game with some high-end tools. Negatives are that he’s only small and he’s really slight. His frame looks slight, too.
Defenseman, Barrie Colts (OHL). 18 years old. 6-2, 185 lbs. Left hand shot Ranked #7 among North American skater prospects by CSB.
He played in Slovakia, at their top level. He’s a very balanced defenseman. He leads with hockey IQ. His calling card is his hockey sense. Very smart. He recognizes situations and what his options are. He has some secondary offensive elements. Very good in all areas. He’s another one of those all-situation defensemen. His deficiencies would be his agility, and he’s got a lot of catch-up work to do, strength-wise. He’s still not up to where he should be, physically.
Left wing, Flint Firebirds (OHL). 18 years old. 6-0, 175 lbs. Left hand shot. Ranked #7 among North American skater prospects by CSB. Ranked #8 among North American skater prospects by CSB.
He’s another guy who played in Sweden last year. Strong compete. He’s a guy who does all the little things. Good skater. Balanced. He’s doesn’t excel in any one area. He’s kind of a complementary player. He can fit in on a wing in a middle six role, and can provide offense, if that’s what’s called for. He can also provide more of a defensive element, if that’s what’s called for—that’s what he did for Canada in the World Championships. His biggest weaknesses would be that he’s got to get bigger and stronger, and he’s got to carve out more of an identity for himself.
Right wing, Chicago Steel (USHL). 18 years old (turns 19 in November). 5-10, 183 lbs. Right hand shot. Ranked #8 among North American skater prospects by CSB.
He just tore up the USHL, where his production level in the USHL was at a level rarely seen for a draft year player. There’s not a lot of bad you can say about him. He’s a very good skater. Really strong edges. He cuts really well. Good bite in his edges. Solid agility with some speed. Very good shot, very quick shot. He can shoot the puck in stride, and he had a lot of success doing that, catching goalies off guard. He inserts himself into the play. He wants the puck. He’s a difference maker. The only knock on him is that he’s a slightly undersized. That said, he’s not small, and he doesn’t play small. Looking at this season, there’s not a lot of negatives that you can find for him.
Center, Sioux Falls Stampede (USHL). 18 years old. 6-0, 197 lbs. Left hand shot. Ranked #10 among North American skater prospects by CSB.
Really strong base. Very competitive. Plays in traffic and does a very good job of possessing the puck under contact, under pressure. Good shot, good release. He showed a primary scoring touch this year in the USHL. He gets to the [hard] areas. You can score from different places in lower leagues than you can in the NHL. You can score from a little further out. But once you get to the NHL, the majority of goals come from the tougher areas, and that’s where he excels. His biggest knock would be his skating.
Right wing, Leksand IF (SHL; Sweden). 18 years old. 5-11, 156 lbs. Left hand shot. Ranked #8 among European skaters by CSB.
A really talented offensive player. He played a lot of games in the SHL, where he was forced to play a different style because he was behind the curve, physically, so he was forced to survive in those games. The difference between him and Chibrikov, he got to play in lower leagues, so he got the benefit of playing in the elite league, as well as the equal benefit of playing in lower leagues against his peers. Strong, complete skater. He has speed and agility. He makes space for himself in any situation and he moves the puck really well. His biggest deficiency is strength and sometimes compete. But his complete is directly linked to his lack of strength. He knows that he’s going to get killed sometimes. Are you not competitive because you know you’re going to get killed and you don’t go there? I could argue that that’s smart. Other scouts might say that he’s soft and not competitive. If you like the kid, he’s physically weak and can’t win battles. If you don’t like him, he’s soft. You’re saying something similar and putting a spin on it to create your narrative.
LEAD IMAGE courtesy of the National Hockey League. Used with permission.
- 2021 LA Kings Draft Preview: LA Kings Mark Yannetti on Bigger Obstacles to Amateur Scouting for 2020-21 NHL Draft
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