Yannetti Talks LA Kings Outlook Heading Into 2018 NHL Draft

As astute readers of this website know, there are few people in the world of hockey we find more fascinating than Mark Yannetti. He has been an integral part of the LA Kings success at the NHL Draft for nearly a decade now and he’s one of the sport’s true deep thinkers. As he will openly tell you, he was using analytics long before it became the must-use buzzword. For those unfamiliar, we highly recommend this interview we did with him a few years back, where he breaks down the strategy of selecting players on a level you won’t find very many other places, regardless of which NHL club you’re reading up on.

In advance of this weekend’s Draft in Dallas, we asked him for some thoughts on the Kings selecting No. 20 overall and how things may unfold…

“This draft is really scary for me. We’ve pored over it. Again, when you’re drafting [at No. 2], or when you’re drafting four or five, you’re looking at really two or three players. It’s very easy to be focused, so it’s a little harder there. I would say we’re looking at five players at No. 20 and I’m not certain that any of them will be there; which becomes scary because I don’t like feeling powerless. Obviously we have discussed moving forward or back. It has becoming harder to do either in the drafts. I’m not sure why. Actually, I have ideas as to why, but I don’t want to alienate peers, but it’s become very hard to move in the draft. If those players aren’t there, I think there’s going to be a good player available at 20. I think there is going to be a very good player available at 20. Even if the guys we’ve targeted there aren’t there, I think we’re going to be able to put a player in who addresses – whether it’s speed, whether it’s skill, that’s for Rob [Blake] and I and the staff to determine what that philosophy is. We’ll be able to do it at 20. But my biggest worry is, again, when we talk about those tiers [of players available in the first round, and where the first drop off occurs] – when I say there’s a tier that stops at 12, that doesn’t mean it stops at 12 in a macro way. It means it stops at 12 on our list. You have 31 teams; I would think that there’s probably 15-to-19, maybe even 15-to-20 different guys. If every team gave their top 12 or their tiers, some teams might have 10, some teams might have 12, some might have eight, but a lot of them are going to be different players. You have the same five or six, and then you have a very different seven-through-12 on a lot of lists. I’m hoping that the teams picking in front of obviously have a different tier of players on their lists. But, again, I would like us to be proactive in moving if we need to. If we see one of the guys we covet, similar to what we did with [Tyler] Toffoli a couple years ago, where we moved up two spots to get him, I bet you’ll see us be proactive in that. We’ve obviously had those kind of discussions already, but I’d also like to see us be proactive to move back. For a team that hasn’t had a lot of high picks lately, it might be scary to do. Yet, I think if that tier of player isn’t there, I would really like to see us explore moving back. Whether or not we’re able to do it, again, that’s a very different case.”

More from Yannetti, regarding what might be available with the 20th overall pick:

“It’s a defense-heavy draft in the early stages of the [first round]. Then, you get players that are a lot closer together after that artificial tier that we have. There are fewer defensemen in that tier. I won’t say how many; however, in that group, there are probably about five defensemen who we would value in that spot and really rank highly. While the thought might be – ‘Forward, forward, forward. Skill, skill, skill.’ – I think you can still apply that to a defenseman, as well. Somebody who can get the puck up the ice quickly. You saw how important transition is when you watched the Stanley Cup Final. The whole game is transition-based now. I wouldn’t be adverse to selecting a defenseman, if it were the right one. [ed. note: the audio on the call became a bit murky at this point, the next few sentences might not be completely verbatim, yet they do capture the spirit of the remaining portion of his answer] Even if the thought was to select a forward, or taking the best available player, I have to be very frank on this – one of the biggest mistakes an organization has made is when they draft for immediate need, rather than drafting… ‘Best player available’ is a cliche, and I hate it. However, you can draft for NHL needs. Meaning, the league has certain attributes that teams will always need. When you draft for immediate team need, I think you make mistakes. When you draft for an overall NHL need you’re better off. The game is not going to get any slower, you can never have a guy who is going to be too smart to play on your team. So there are things that we need and the NHL values. We’ve drafted for immediate need before and we need to stat away from that. When we’ve done that in the past, we’ve had pretty tragic consequences, in my opinion. Forward or defenseman, we will take the best player available. We won’t look at position.”

For more from today’s conference call, including how Yannetti and GM Rob Blake view their evolving relationship, click here.

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