How to properly select players at the NHL Draft can easily become an endless debate. Should a team draft by position? Draft the best available player? Is size important? Dozens of other questions can enter the discussion, many without clear answers. At least one thing is clear though, evaluating a team’s success or failure at a particular Draft usually can’t properly take place for several years.
Along those lines, John Hoven, founder and editor of MayorsManor, has long argued that despite some Kings fans being upset the team beat San Jose in a late season game in 2008 – with the assumption it cost the Kings a shot at the No. 1 overall pick at that year’s Draft – he believes it didn’t really change history. Hoven has remained steadfastly confident LA’s General Manager would have still selected Drew Doughty with the first overall pick, not Steven Stamkos.
It’s more than just the legendary whisper Lombardi gave Doughty on the stage that day at the Draft, telling the then-teenager, “You’re going to win me a Stanley Cup someday, kid.” A student of Lombardi’s game plan since the GM was hired in Los Angeles, Hoven maintains his belief that Lombardi was determined to take a franchise defenseman at that point in the building process, not a goal-scoring sniper.
Recently, I had a chance to discuss the NHL Draft with Mark Yannetti, the Kings Co-Director of Amateur Scouting and one of the key people inside Lombardi’s inner circle for the last eight years. He helped shed some light on a plethora of topics, including the Doughty vs. Stamkos debate. Here’s what he shared…
On drafting trends the Kings have had in past years:
“Honestly, it’s coincidence. I know the perceived success we’ve had with the OHL, for example. Plain and simple, Drew Doughty was the best player in the world, in my opinion, so he was the guy we were going to draft. Just like Slava Voynov – I didn’t want to wait until 32. It just so happened he was Russian. Now, when you say that, you have to do a little more work with a Russian than you do a Canadian or American, because there are different rules. Slava had different options than Alec Martinez had when we drafted him. So there is a lot more work [there]. You really have to learn how to read a person. Slava said he was going to do a certain thing. By the time we were going to draft him, I believed him. He said he’d stay in Manchester for three years. How many Russian born players with an opportunity to make $2M in the KHL would stay in Manchester for three years? But, we built a relationship, he looked me in the eye, he said he was going to do it, and I believed him. So, for me, he’s now treated just as I would treat any other player. I know there are trends. I do think the last few years, the Ontario league has been the best of the junior leagues, in terms of talent. That doesn’t mean it will be three or four years from now. It’s cyclical. We don’t target Ontario league players. We just happened to get some really good Ontario league players.”
On if they would have picked Doughty first overall in 2008:
“Drew Doughty was the best player in the world that year. There’s no question in my mind who I would have picked. Now, Steven Stamkos is an equal player to Doughty, so the difference to me comes from where you want to build from. And we built from the back. If you watch our first two years, we built from the back. It’s not a slight against Steve. He’s a generational player, but it just happens that there were two generation players in that draft. For me, you take the generational defenseman over the forward.”
On drafting to fill organizational holes:
“The only time I feel that we’ve made a procedural mistake is a mistake there is no excuse to make. Obviously, your draft picks aren’t all going to work out, but that doesn’t mean they’re a mistake. There are draft picks that you make that don’t work out [and] that’s how it is, and there are draft picks that don’t work out that are mistakes. The only time I’ve felt we’ve made tangible mistakes that were entirely avoidable were when we drafted for need. Our first couple of years, we were developing our identity – as a team [and] as a staff. We drafted for need on a couple of occasions those first two years, and it was the wrong thing to do. We learned from it. You take the best player available, and sometimes that will mean you have four left wings, because they’re the best player available. I can tell you – we have not drafted for need for quite a long time. And we will not be drafting for need in any draft Mike [Futa] or I run.”
On the idea of draft classes being stronger or weaker than other years:
“There are stronger drafts than other drafts. It’s not a popular thing to say. I believe, when you say it is a weak draft, you are creating a defense mechanism – it is teams protecting themselves, saying, ‘Oh, it’s a weak draft.’ That way, when guys don’t play, [they have an excuse]. But plain and simple, there are teams that do really well, work really hard, and find guys. In a weak draft, when Detroit finds guys in the 6th round, or the way New Jersey, or San Jose, or Chicago drafts, you have to find players. You have to make sure that whether it’s a perceived weak draft or perceived strong draft…unless nobody plays from the 3rd round on in this [year's] draft, it’s not that weak. I guarantee there is going to be a guy in the 5th round that helps a team win. I guarantee that. So, the draft wasn’t weak in the 5th round if you get that player, is it? You have to find the guy. You have to do the extra work. You have to make sure that, in a perceived weak draft, if you don’t find the guy, you better hope no one is playing after your pick. I don’t like when I hear [a draft being called weak]. Our guys aren’t allowed to say that. Now, there are better draft than others. Is this draft as good as the previous one? But, you can’t say it is weak.”
For more with Yannetti – where he opened up about sharing the top scouting role with Futa, the Kings recent addition of a new scout (Chris Byrne, formerly with the Ottawa 67′s), having a much smaller scouting staff than other teams, and much more – click here.
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