Loyal readers of MayorsManor are very familiar with Mark Yanetti. As Director of Amateur Scouting for the Los Angeles Kings, he has his finger on the pulse of the team’s prospects like few others. His job, in a nutshell, is to help the team find the prospects they draft (or sign via free agents if they aren’t drafted, a la Martin Jones) and then continue to scout those same players after they are part of the organization – thus, providing continuous feedback to GM Dean Lombardi and his key lieutenants regarding the current value of their future assets, if you will.
Therefore, it made perfect sense that he was in Ontario Wednesday night to check in on a handful of prospects from the Kings Top 10 list who have been assigned to the Reign this season; namely: Jonny Brodzinski, Derek Forbort, Kevin Gravel, Adrian Kempe, Michael Mersch, Nic Dowd, and Valentin Zykov.
As noted in previous articles, Mersch is not expected to be in Ontario for very long. In fact, from everything we’ve heard, the general plan is for him to be up with the Kings post-Trade Deadline. Of course, plans can change – they do all the time in the world of sports. Add to that the fact that Kempe has been spotted hanging out at Staples Center this week (watching the Kings game against Dallas on Tuesday), and it leads to the natural question of, ‘What about the other guys, when will they be ready?’ While no definitive timeline has been established, or at least not shared with us yet, the following conversation with Yannetti does shed some interesting light on the overall subject. He’s a fascinating person to interview and, as in our previous conversations, he did not disappoint. You’re about to get a hockey education. Enjoy…
Yannetti on Kempe’s overall play at the recent World Junior Championship:
“I thought he was good throughout. I thought he had a mediocre period against the U.S. but other than that I thought when you watched his team play, you couldn’t help but focus on him, and it wasn’t just because he made a dazzling offensive move. He played a full game. He played a complete game. He is the culmination of draft [and] development. He is the culmination of a near perfect curriculum, credited to the player who did all the work. I like everything about his game. He was hard to play against. In the hardest areas on the ice, he produced the most. He showed flashes where he came in on the rush and shot against the grain and beat goalies. Often times he looked like a pro playing in a junior tournament and that’s a big compliment. He was outstanding and he played in a manner that should be applauded and we’re proud of him. You could tell he wanted to win. What more can you say? The guy really wants to win. It was fun to watch.”
On if he thinks it’s tougher for pro players to succeed at the WJC than junior players:
“I think it’s very difficult for a myriad of reasons. You look at [Patrik] Laine and [Jesse] Puljujarvi [of Finland], you applaud them. It’s hard to go from a pro league, especially a North American pro league, to a junior hockey tournament. The level of play is outstanding at the WJC. It’s not only the style; it’s not only the level of play. The mindset, you’re going down, you’re stepping down in competition. That affects someone’s mindset. Whether they’re the most competitive guy in the world, you still cannot help, conscious or subconsciously, to know you’re playing lesser competition. You automatically expect to be good. I thought it hurt Austin Matthews [Team USA] in the early part of the tournament. It’s just that there’s a slight disconnect. I don’t want to say entitlement because if you watch the way he competes or Kempe or [William] Nylander [Maple Leafs prospect], they compete. They don’t just take it for granted, so entitlement isn’t the right word. But you can’t help but think you’re going down in competition and it affects the way you play and the way you approach. No matter how professional you are or how competitive you are, it’s the reality of the situation, you’re going down. It’s a little easier coming from Europe because it’s more of a model of play.
“You don’t often see AHL players going to that tournament. It’s a different style of play, a different level, you’re mindset is different. If you’re playing junior hockey, you’re gearing up for two things. You’re gearing up for the WJC, and that’s every Canadian kids’ dream. Then, you’re gearing up for the Memorial Cup. Those are the two things that drive you in junior hockey; it’s not what drives you in the AHL. There are so many differences between the physical, the competition, the mental, that I think it’s very hard, especially for the guys that come back from North American pro, to play there. I think sometimes it takes a while. I was very happy watching Nylander and Kempe, it didn’t take them a second. But it’s hard.”
On Kempe being injured early in the tournament:
“You get worried. Regardless of how high level the prospect they are, you get worried. Dean has gone a long way to make these guys feel like more than players. Sometimes he’s gone far above the limits of loyalty and things. I think Dean has created an atmosphere between employee and employer that is much more blurred and fluid in terms of, you know, we call them family. You could see a lot of instances where you could argue Dean has done that, in terms of family. So when a guy gets hurt, yeah, you get nervous, you get very nervous. But you also watch the hit over and over and it didn’t look like a terrible hit, it looked like he got hurt. I wasn’t sure he got injured. With Adrian, he’s going to play. He’s that type of player. He’s more of a throwback guy if that’s the way you want to talk. If there’s a way for him to play, he’ll play. We get the updates from the agent and things like that and it became pretty obvious he might be uncomfortable but he would be okay to play.”
On if he immediately had flashbacks to former Kings prospect Oscar Moller being injured at the WJC:
“I don’t know that it ever got to that stage. Oscar’s injury was handled wrong. He didn’t want to tell the Swedish people he was hurt, he didn’t want to tell us he was hurt. It was such a different situation. I thought of them as completely different situations, it ran through my mind maybe for a second. But it never got to the point where it became a scenario; it just didn’t get to that point. Never had a chance to.”
On if the injuries, or injury potential, worry him when sending a prospect to the WJC:
“It’s the highest level tournament a guy can play in at 20 years or younger. You expect it to be physical, I thought both of those hits [in Sweden’s first game] were dirty and, obviously, the IIHF did too. I’m against those guys going over, not because I’m worried about them getting injured, though. It’s not my call, but once you’re a pro, you’re a pro. Now, if you’re playing in Europe or you’re playing in junior hockey, the scenarios are different. But if you’re in the NHL, you don’t have to go. Yet, if you’re in the NHL or the AHL, you have graduated from junior hockey, hence the World Junior Championships. I just believe that that stage of your life is over and when you focus on becoming a pro and when you are a pro, you’re a pro. It’s not how the rules are written, but [in my mind] if you’re in the AHL, you focus on AHL hockey. You focus on winning a Calder Cup championship, you focus on developing, and you focus on getting yourself [promoted out of] the AHL. You don’t focus on taking a step back into junior hockey. The rules are clear, they are concise and so that’s how you go. You go there and you go there to win, to help Sweden win or help Russia win. Once the framework is put in front of you, this is how it is. Now you have to transition back to being pro. It’s not because the potential for injury. He could get hurt just as easily playing [against AHL] Stockton as he could playing Switzerland. It’s not something that’s a concern that way.”
On what, if anything – relative to Kempe – he takes away from Sweden losing in the bronze medal game:
“It’s important to win, no question about it. You can’t learn how to win without eventually winning. Kempe has a Calder Cup ring. He wasn’t just a cog in that, he was an integral piece. So, you do have that to fall back on. I look at it this way; Sweden gave Finland all they could handle in [the semifinal] game. I want Sweden to win [for Kempe]. I thought Finland was the better team, but I thought Sweden had the game taken away from them. I look at Sweden and Kempe’s performance in that game and it was up to par. Now you talk about the U.S. game [for the bronze]. That’s a problem on the surface because they go there for the bronze and they get blown out of the building. If you looked at Sweden before the game, they were devastated. The thought of not winning gold was the only thing on their mind. I could see it happening, you could envision that happening. I don’t think they gave up and I don’t think Kempe gave up. But they weren’t playing for bronze. I’m not sure how devastated the U.S. was; it’s a hard thing to say. Sweden not winning the gold and not beating Finland was devastating to them. It didn’t have the same affect on the U.S. that it had on Sweden. I can live with that. There’s a reason you don’t see [NHL teams] playing a series to see who the third-best team in the NHL is, while two other teams are playing for the Stanley Cup. I want him to win, because winning should be the only thing that’s acceptable; but, the way they lost, I can live with it.”
On if Kempe will remain in the AHL for a year or two, as was originally planned:
“This is where it gets tricky. You can draw some parallels between Slava [Voynov] and Kempe. Kempe is good enough to play in the NHL right now. I don’t think I’m saying anything that anyone in our organization doesn’t know or that Kempe doesn’t know. Voynov was good enough to play in the NHL as an 18-year-old, that doesn’t mean you play in the NHL. You look at Voynov’s career path, playing two-plus years in the AHL, and I don’t think anyone in the world is complaining. But there’s no question that he was good enough to play, that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing. I personally think we have four or five guys in Ontario who are good enough to play right now. But good enough doesn’t mean you deserve to be on the team. It doesn’t mean you’re the next call up. If Kempe is good enough and Mersch is good enough, only one of them is getting called up, and Mersch is more ready.
“I don’t think it’s just related to fans, its related to executives. ‘Well damn, if he’s good enough, why the heck is he down there? What do you mean he’s good enough? If he’s good enough he should be up.’ That’s not the case at all. And last year, was Weal good enough to play in the NHL? Yeah. He was the Calder Cup MVP; he was good enough last year. That doesn’t me he should play, that doesn’t mean he will play or that there aren’t guys ahead of him. I think Kempe is exactly where he needs to be in his development path. I think he has addressed the majority of his deficiencies, if not corrected them. His strengths have only gotten better. His puck protection game; he’s heavy, he’s doing everything he needs to do. That doesn’t mean we need to rush him into a spot to be in the NHL. Whether he is in the NHL tomorrow or next year or two years from now, you want him to be successful. Just like Voynov, [Tyler] Toffoli and [Dwight] King. That’s why a lot of guys get that brief taste, go down, and next time they come up, they ain’t going back down. There’s a difference between good enough and ready in being an NHLer.”
On how to balance the player being ready versus continuing on the desired path of the organization:
“There are a couple of ways. The easiest way is, who’s spot does he take in L.A.? You’re not taking Kopi’s spot, you’re not taking Toffoli’s spot. Are you going to take Lucic’s spot? You’re not going to play Clifford’s role, you’re not taking his spot. Once again, it doesn’t come to this with our guys. Our guys get it. Our prospects understand the process. They understand that if you do the work we will find a spot for you. When Voynov was ready beyond the shadow of a doubt, and there were no spots for Slava Voynov to play on our team, he played on our team. Jack Johnson was moved and Voynov was brought up. When there is no spot for a guy, and he absolutely has to be on the roster, he’s on the roster. We returned the Stanley Cup winning team intact, yet Toffoli and Pearson found a way on to that team the next year. Well there’s no room for them, so they can’t possibly make the team; yet, they make the team. And it’s not because they’re good enough. It’s because this is the reality – there is no other scenario, other than Toffoli has to be on the team. That’s how you do it.
“Being good enough doesn’t mean good enough, and our guys get that. Our guys understand that you have to force us to put you in the lineup, and our guys do that. They have a history of doing that. And our development staff has a history of putting guys in position to do that. Our coaching staff has a history of making guys ready to do that. Not just get there, but to force themselves there. That’s one of the strengths of our organization, from the player to the scout to the development staff to the coach. Every single person is doing what they need to do to put themselves in position to have no other choice but to play. Look at Forbort. He had to play at the beginning of this year; he had to stay up. We could have sent him down, we didn’t have to worry about waivers.”
On the likelihood Kempe makes his NHL debut this season:
“It’s impossible to say. I can tell you he’s not getting called up tonight or tomorrow. With no injury, he could elevate his game to a level where it’s not out of the realm of possibility a guy does that. Mersch was coming up sooner or later this year, injury or no injury he was coming up. It’s hard to say that. What I tell the guys is, ‘You have to understand, you’re one phone call away from being in the NHL. You have to make sure that every single day you put yourself in position to be that next guy.” That’s the problem. If you look at Jordan Weal, he was the guy last year. Jordan Weal was clearly the call up. He was clearly the lady in waiting, clearly that guy. Two weeks later, Nick Shore is that guy. [Weal] put himself in position to be called up, but he didn’t keep himself in position to be the guy that was called up. You have to be careful that you keep yourself as the guy at all times. This is why you can’t make these prognostications. Because today Kempe could be first in line, but a week from now Dowd could be next in line. You’d better make sure.”
MORE WITH YANNETTI:
At the Draft Table w/ Mark Yannetti, Kings Dir. of Scouting – what really happens
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