Frozen Royalty Exclusive: LA Kings Director of Amateur Scouting Mark Yannetti On the 2022 NHL Draft – Part 2

2022 NHL DRAFT COVERAGE: Los Angeles Kings Director of Amateur Scouting Mark Yannetti discussed the Kings picks in rounds 3-7, and offered some insight into their process. Part 2 of a series.

LOS ANGELES — The hockey layperson might think that the annual National Hockey League Draft would be easier for teams that do not have a first-round pick because there would be far less pressure to come up with the right player to select in the first round among all the top prospects in the world.

Guess again.

“The higher your pick is, the easier it is to prepare,” said Los Angeles Kings Director of Amateur Scouting Mark Yannetti, who spoke exclusively with Frozen Royalty after the 2022 National Hockey League Draft, July 7-8, 2022, in Montreal.

“If you’re picking at #1 overall, you know the exact subset of players that you’re looking at,” added Yannetti. “[For example], if you’re Montreal, you’re looking at Wright, Slafkovsky, Cooley, and Nemec. That’s it. So you can plan exactly who you’re going to take, and you only have to look at four players. The further back you go in the draft, the less exact your approach is.”

“[If the Kings were still] picking at #19 in the first round, we’d have to look at a much larger subset of players, because you know that, at #19, one or two players will fall [from their projected ranking], because it happens every year. You have to look at 7-12 players—it’s easier to micro-analyze four players than it is for twelve, and it gets exponentially harder, as well, because you have to bring a lot more stuff in—you can’t go into as much detail for twelve players as you can for four.”

Indeed, not having a first-round pick makes the job of a team’s amateur scouts extremely difficult.

“Not having a first-round pick really derails your focus because at #51, we had a group of 7-10 players who we thought would be available,” said Yannetti. “But you’re also [looking at the possibility of trading that pick, to move higher or lower]. Are we going to pick at #40? Maybe #65? Then you have to look at even more players. Sometimes it’s like herding cats, trying to [collect] all the different numbers, media, metrics, scouting reports, character assessments, opinions.”

“If you’re picking in the top five, you’ve got a 100 percent chance of success,” added Yannetti. “If you go back twelve, maybe twenty years of drafts, it’s a 100 percent chance. As you go further and further back, the lower the percentages go.”

“[For] a second-round pick, a team’s chance of success] is 41 percent,” Yannetti noted. “When you go to the third round, it drops to 19 percent, and so on. By the time you get to the seventh round, it’s two-to-three percent.”

“Now your challenge isn’t just finding a guy who can play 100-200 games in the NHL, or whatever your metric is. Each team measures things differently,” Yannetti added. “Now, if you want to find a half-a-point per game player, as a forward, or a quarter-point-per-game player, as a defenseman, your chances of finding one of those outside of the second round drops into the single digits. Once you get into the middle of the second round and into the third, it’s like a lottery pick.”

For those who may be discouraged by the fact that the Kings did not have a first-round pick in the 2022 draft, the Kings’ recent track record should be noted.

“We’ve had high success rates in the later rounds since 2007,” said Yannetti. “I don’t want to sound arrogant, but there’s reason why there are four-to-six teams that are consistently hitting at a higher percentage (in the later rounds).”

“By most metrics, we’re a top five drafting team,” added Yannetti. “By some metrics, we’re the top team, or among the top two. By our own metrics, we’ve been very successful, in terms of playoff games. We have the most players drafted [by the Kings] who have played in the most playoff games.”

But it’s not all about the amateur scouting staff. Like what they do on the ice, the process is a team effort.

“You need an unbelievably good development staff,” Yannetti emphasized. “You need good AHL coaches and a great scouting staff. These are things that some teams don’t realize. You need dedicated, exceptional people all along the path.:

“You need driven scouts who do their job at a high level, are diligent, detailed, intelligent, and open-minded,” Yannetti added. “Then you need development staff who are passionate, who care, and who are good at their jobs, and are able to address the weaknesses in a players’ game. Then you need the right structure and culture at the AHL level, and in the NHL level. There’s so much that goes into it, to think that it’s just the scouting staff that’s responsible for the success of a draft pick is the height of arrogance. It’s just not the case. Back in 2007, I said that we had the number one development staff in the league, and I’d say it again today. They wouldn’t be that if [the scouting staff] didn’t give them good draft picks, and our scouting staff has proven to be in that top echelon. But the scouting staff wouldn’t be there if the development staff didn’t do such a good job.”

Moving to Day 2 of the 2022 NHL Draft, the Kings tried to trade pick #86, trying to move up. But they were unable to find a willing partner.

“I thought we’d be able to move up from 86,” said Yannetti. “That one really surprised me. There were two players who went [off the board] fairly close to 80. I thought for sure we’d get to [trade up to] 75. 78 or 79, for sure. But we just couldn’t.”

“We went deeper into our [player rankings] list than we’ve ever been in my time in L.A,” added Yannetti. “That’s what happens when you have a draft that’s got good depth, but not a lot of higher-end talent—stand outs. Between 51 and 86, we had more players from our list [get selected by other teams] than I’ve ever seen. But we had a deal on the table with Tampa Bay in case the players we wanted were gone, and they were, so we made the deal.”

Kings scouts saw a lot of the same level of player still on the board at 86, so they knew they could get the same level of player later on.

“I think that this draft was a slightly weaker draft than the average draft than we’ve had lately, and when you have a weaker draft, the depth becomes more homogenized,” Yannetti noted. “You get [more players in different tiers], which is nice. But you’re not seeing many on the higher-end.”

“At pick 86, we thought there was a lot of same [quality players that we could get at 103, so we could get the same level of player as we could at 86,” added Yannetti. “Had we been able to move up to 75, it would’ve been a different story.”

Los Angeles Kings 2022 NHL Draft Picks

Round 3 – No Pick

As noted earlier, the Kings traded pick #86 to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Round 4

Kenny Connors (103rd overall)

Center, Dubuque Fighting Saints of the United States Hockey League. 19 years old. 6-1, 190 pounds. Left-hand shot. Hometown: Glen Mills, Pennsylvania.

Not ranked by NHL Central Scouting Bureau (CSB)

Connors is committed to skate with the University of Massachusetts for the 2022-23 season.

Yannetti on Connors
“He certainly would fit the mold of a bottom six [forward]. He’s a big, heavy player who’s very good with possession with a strong skill set. Very average, in terms of creativity and playmaking, but he plays a very direct game. He puts the puck to the net, and he brings the puck to the net. He’s excellent defensively, and he’s got a competitive edge.”

“This year, he saw a gigantic increase in production on the offensive side of the puck, so we think he’s growing into his potential now.”

Angus Booth (116th overall)

Defenseman, Shawinigan Cataractes of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. 18 years old. 6-1, 175 pounds. Left-hand shot. Homrtown: Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

Ranked 92 among North American skaters by CSB.

Yannetti on Booth
“He had an excellent first half of [last season]. He moved the puck really well. He’s a strong puck mover. Good skating. Secondary power play guy on a team that was loaded and won the Memorial Cup.”

“It’s hard for a young kid to get into these situations, and the ice time he got at his age. He also had some bad luck, which may have been good for us, because it pushed him down [in the draft rankings] to us. He would’ve been a guy who was heavily scouted because of his team playing for as long as it did last season. But he missed the majority of the second half with a high ankle sprain. Then when he came back, he sprained the other ankle, and it took him a little while to get going after he came back from that. He missed half the year, and wasn’t able to hit the heights that he hit earlier in the season, so the second half was a bit of a mixed bag for him. But on the positive side, he put himself back into the lineup after missing around 23 games. He played in every game of the Memorial Cup [playoffs] and was a contributor, helping the team win the championship.”

“We like the structure of his game, and the transitional element. But he lacks some power. He gets overmatched, a little. Defensively, he needs to do a little bit better job of keeping guys on the outside. I’m not sure how much of that was impacted by his ankle injuries. But he can address that. But there’s not a tremendous amount of weaknesses to his game. It’s just about him learning some structure, and learning how to defend a little more consistently.”

Round 5

Otto Salin (148th overall)

Defenseman, HIFK of the U20 SM-sarja league in Finland. 18 years old. 5-11, 205 pounds. Right-hand shot. Hometown: Helsinki, Finland. Also played in six games with HIFK in the Liiga (Finnish Elite League). He also played for Funland in the IIHF Under-18 Men’s World Championship.

Ranked 23rd among European skaters by CSB.

Yannetti on Salin
“This is where this draft got really interesting for us. This is a really high-value pick, in terms of potential. He had it really tough last season, missing a lot of it with Long COVID, and an injury after he came back. He really had trouble getting back on track and getting up to speed because he was never fully healthy the whole year. He even had trouble in the [World Junior] Under-18 tournament—he was never fully healthy. That tells you how good he is, being selected for that team without playing a full season, and not being at pea physical condition.”

“He played for IFK. I think he got into eleven games in the Liiga. He’s an excellent skating defenseman who moves up the ice well with or without the puck. He’s got good vision. He sorts it out well, and finds options quickly. If those options aren’t open immediately, he skates so well that he can elude the forecheck, or bide time until the passing lanes open up.”

“He’s a little bit on the smaller size, in terms of height, but he’s a pretty solidly built kid. There is skating, puck movement.”

“He’s such a good skater, he sometimes puts himself in poor position, because he can skate his way out of it. But that can be addressed, and as he plays more Liiga games—higher competition, I think he’ll do that a lot less. Rather than using his feet to bail him out of trouble, he’ll be able to use them to create. His skating will become a much more complementary and primary strength element to his game, rather than one that compensates for other, weaker areas.”

“He could play full-time in the Liiga this year. He could become one of those guys who shoots up far past where he was drafted. He’s got all the tools to do it.”

Round 6

Jared Wright (169th overall; from Detroit via Tampa Bay for the Kings’ third-round pick (see above).

Right wing, Omaha Lancers of the USHL. 19 years old. 6-1, 180 pounds. Hometown: Burnsville, Minnesota.

Yannetti on Wright
“He’s a kid who came on really strong in the second half of the year. He’s a big, strong kid. Really good skater with a strong rush-based game. In the second half of the year, he was able to get outside on guys, drive the wide lane, and then, cut to the middle, drive to the slot or to the net. He just had a knack for getting behind defenders and scoring goals on scoring chances that he mostly created for himself.”

“He has a good shot, above average hands. He’s an older kid, a really late bloomer who grew into his body. He has power forward tendencies. If he can continue what he did in the second half, there’s some real upside. This guy’s got some potential. We think that he might be able to transition into an even more offensive player.”

“He’s much better with the puck, individually, and as a pass receiver. Playmaking would be something that he has to work on. His sense might be a little bit better without the puck, in terms of creating offensive opportunities.”

Jack Sparkes (180th overall)

Defenseman, St. Michael’s Buzzers of the Ontario Junior Hockey League. 18 years old. 6-8, 235 pounds. Right-hand shot. Hometown: Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

Sparkes is committed to Michigan State University for the 2023-24 season.

Yannetti on Sparkes
“This is a guy who is 6-8 and 18 years old, and he’s a very good skater. What make his stand out among his peers is his skating, which is rare, and the fact that he can already skate so well at this high a level is an asset you don’t find in players of his size.”

“He’s athletic, he’s 235 pounds, and he still has room to put on weight, so this kid could be a physically imposing, skating defenseman.”

“He needs to make better plays with the puck. His hockey sense is average. Maybe slightly below average. But he skates so well, and he competes hard, and he seems like a kid who wants to get better, so there’s a lot of ingredients there that we hope that our development staff can tie together, and our staff thinks his skill will improve as he grows into his body.”

“You’re in the sixth round now, so you’re into the single digits [odds] of whether a kid makes it or not, so taking on a 6-8 guy who you don’t have to build from the ground floor up seems like a good risk.”

“His touch, his skill has to improve. In terms of hockey sense, he’s going to have to start making simpler, smarter, sensical, more linear plays. But we hope that, as he matures, he will improve in that area, as well.”

Round 7

Kaleb Lawrence (215th overall; from Boston in exchange for the Kings’ seventh-round pick in the 2023 NHL Draft)</p>

Right wing, Owen Sound Attack of the Ontario Hockey League. 19 years old. 6-7, 230 pounds. Left-hand shot. Hometown: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.

Yannetti on Lawrence
“He missed the majority of hockey two years ago because the Ontario Hockey League was shut down due to COVID-19. Ontario kids missed the year unless they went over to Europe, so he missed that year. Then at training camp last season, right off the bat, he was injured, so he missed the majority of the last two seasons.”

“He’s a guy who Brian Denny had seen a couple of years prior. Brian worked in Owen Sound, and saw him as at 17 years old, before he got hurt, and thought he was an intriguing, young prospect. He was big, imposing, and had really good hockey sense, which you don’t often find in bigger guys.”

“He’s a guy with some good tools, but suffered some misfortune. In the seventh round, if you’re going to take a chance on a guy, this is the kind of guy to take one on—a 6-6 guy who has some offensive ability and some hockey sense.”

2022 NHL Draft logo courtesy of the National Hockey League. Used with permission.

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