Coming out of last weekend’s NHL Draft and heading into next week’s Development Camp, we’re turning up the focus on our prospect coverage. For the Kings’ 2015 Draft class, the work is just about to begin, as they will get their first taste of what will be needed to hopefully reach the NHL someday. Behind-the-scenes, their being selected by Los Angeles was the culmination of more than a year’s worth of work by the team’s scouts and other members of management. How did it all happen? Why these players? And what about all the extraneous factors that go into selecting a player, things other than simply the stats they produced on scoresheets?
Through an interview with the Kings Director of Amateur Scouting, Mark Yannetti, we’re going to take you inside their world. We’ll look at what goes into scouting the player, meeting with them at the NHL Combine, and how it all impacts the decisions made at the actual Draft table.
This will be a four-part series. In the final three, we’ll delve into specific players selected by the Kings at this year’s Draft. We’ll also look back at situations involving Slava Voynov, Nicolai Prokhorkin, Maxim Kitsyn, and how the ‘Russian Factor’ comes into play. To begin, we’ll stay fairly high-level, attempting to get general information about philosophies and approaches.
“I read all the scouting reports ahead of time just like everybody else,” Yannetti began. “I look at Red Line Report, Central Scouting, ISS, Bob McKenzie and Craig Button. Whether or not I agree with them, whether or not I think they have merit, any time you read something, it can help you. It’s sort of like conversations with Dean [Lombardi] sometimes. Even when we don’t see eye to eye on something, I still come away and adapt my way of thinking. I have weighed a different way of thinking.”
And thinking is something the Massachusetts native rarely seems to stop doing. When you’re speaking with Yannetti, his brain is usually five steps ahead of you. The former defenseman can be in the middle of an ultra-detailed and specific explanation, and then instantly switch gears like a fine sports car speeding through a European road course.
“When it comes to moving up, we’re usually just trying to make sure we get our guy, like we did with Toffoli,” he continued, referring back to a trade made at the 2010 NHL Draft, where L.A. flipped their second and fourth-round picks (49th and 109th overall) to Colorado for pick No. 47.
“We’re trying to make sure we get the player we want at the right spot. You look at Slava Voynov in 2008, we thought Voynov would be there at No. 45, yet we take him at 32. If we thought he was going to be there at No. 35, we would have tried to take him at 28, we wouldn’t have gotten out of that pick [ed. note: L.A. swapped the No. 17 and No. 28 picks for the 12th pick that year, which they later traded down to No. 13 and picked up an extra third-rounder the following year]. You don’t take a chance. If you think it’s pick 30, you have to pick at 25. If you think it’s pick 50, you go to 35. The later you get, the more uncertainty comes into it, and so the more you have to move up. I really thought [Paul] Bittner would be there [for us this year]. Bittner was a serious, serious consideration for us moving up on from No. 43. However, there were two other players that were still there for us. There were three guys that were there; obviously Erik Cernak was one of them. In terms of moving up, the value didn’t jive. You have three guys there and if you do the averages, we felt exceedingly confident. Now we’re not talking about, ‘We think he’s going to go in this area.’ We’re saying, ‘We know Cernak is going to be there,’ and we took him.”
With a scouting staff now spread all over the world, does location or league help shape the pre-Draft plan? Meaning, is there ever a focus to bring in more players from a particular region? Or does the final draft class a team ends up with just happen more by coincidence?
“I actually think that is a really good question. That is something I’ve been talking about with Gaspo [Tony Gasparini, U.S. Amateur Scout] and some of the guys. I forget which sports guy wrote it, but he said, ‘It seems like L.A. has changed philosophies in drafting a lot more Europeans in the last few years.’ The funny thing is, it’s so far from the truth, it’s frightening. Like [Brayden] Schenn’s year. Schenn and Oliver Ekman-Larsson were right next to each other. If Schenn gets picked, we’re drafting a Euro. We’ve never gone into a Draft saying ‘We have to get OHL guys,’ or ‘ We have to get WHL guys.’ Or even, ‘You know what; we have a lot of junior guys we have to get.’ The only time it ever comes into play – and this is rare, but it has happened – in terms of contracts and age distribution. You look at your roster down the road and you have three junior guys that have to be qualified after two years. Then the next Draft, you have three more junior guys that have to be qualified. So if you have a college guy and a junior guy that are identical in value, we have gone to the college guy over the junior guy, in terms of spreading our age distribution out. You could have guys that are virtually the same player; maybe you like this guy just a little better. We have done that and put the contract three or four years out. There is another example, maybe, I’m not sure if we’ve ever done this, I’d have to go back and look because it is blurry to me, but I can tell you I would do it. If we had three Europeans in the same scenario, it’s dangerous. So many things can happen.”
This was an important point, or at the very least seemed rather interesting, so we delved further.
“Like, if you went Russian, European, Russian, and European. With the uncertainty of a Russian contract or a transfer agreement – or the fact you don’t have complete control – you might not go four Europeans in a row,” he explained. “Just like, you probably wouldn’t go four or five college guys in a row because you would run into the same situation of age distribution. I’m not saying it would, but it would be something that would at least come into mind where I would be thinking three or four years down the line – or thinking with the team’s development group in mind. The second thing that would play into it would be the round. In the third round and fourth round – and especially the fifth, sixth and seventh rounds – I would probably think ‘project.’ When you’re talking fourth to seventh round, you’re thinking about guys that need to be developed.”
A relevant point here would be Chaz Reddekopp, a 6-foot-4 defenseman the Kings selected in the seventh round this year.
“Traditionally, you’re thinking, ‘For Reddekopp to go in the seventh round, there has to be a reason. He can move the puck, he’s big, he’s strong, he’s tough, and he plays hard. He is a prototypical guy for that spot, so what’s the reason? How can a guy like that go in the seventh?’ Well, his skating needs to improve. It’s simple. There is a deficiency. Right now, you look at Reddekopp, and without improving his skating, he won’t be able to play in the NHL,” explained Yannetti. “So there’s the development pick. And developmentally, it is easier to have a guy picked in the fourth to the seventh round in North America where you can have your hands on him all the time. So I wouldn’t want to go Euro, Euro, Euro later in the draft because you now have three guys that are development picks that you probably don’t have development access to. I wouldn’t make a blanket statement saying ‘I wouldn’t do it.’ That would get into bias and one-dimensional thinking, but it would seriously weigh on my mind. That might skew my thinking into taking geographical area over player.”
That covers the question about region. What about position? We always hear about teams taking the best available player. Yet, you can look through a team’s organizational depth and assume they sometimes need to stock up on defenseman, or specifically on left wings, for example. How does positional distribution work throughout the NHL Draft?
“I have experience and learning in this situation,” said Yannetti, as he shed light on some of the battle scars that come from his line of work. “You take the best player available at that pick, or you move. If you’re not willing to take whom you think is the best player on your list with that pick, you get out of that spot. If you don’t take the best player available, it hauntingly comes back to bite you in the ass. Haunting to the point where, to this day, I can think of the times where we went against what we know. Philosophically, you take the best player on your list. If you take seven goalies, screw it, you take seven goalies. It wouldn’t happen because I don’t think I’ve ever had seven goalies on a draft board. But it’s like one of those tests in school where the answers are all false and you go back and change a few because you know they can’t all be false. Then, you come back and your buddy sitting next to you got 100% and you got 80% because you knew they were all false, but you changed it. I can tell you from experience, the core L.A. Kings guys now will always take the best player available. That tells you how much we’ve learned from it and how big the mistakes we made were when we didn’t do it.”
UPDATE: Part II in the series is available here.
For even more with Yannetti, also be sure to check out the links below.
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