It seems that nearly every year there is a debate among two players either at or near the top of the NHL Draft board. This year was no exception, with Quinton Byfield vs. Tim Stuetzle being a common theme among prognosticators and fans alike.
Less than 18 hours after the Draft Lottery, where the Kings were awarded the second overall pick, we were on record as saying the Kings were leaning toward Byfield. At no point in the months that followed did we ever change our tune. Based upon our multiple sources connected to the Kings, we had them taking the big Canadian center over the electrifying German winger.
From what we’ve been able to gather, the official decision wasn’t made until September — after a drawn out process that included the team’s full complement of scouts.
In the end, just how close was it?
“It wasn’t a consensus among the staff,” Mark Yannetti revealed to MayorsManor following the Draft. “It was not like Drew Doughty in 2008. It wasn’t a consensus pick, but it was the right pick because Rob [Blake] wants to build the team a certain way.”
Before even starting down a path where they were looking to separate the two most talked about candidates, things initially began as a slightly larger task. If you go back to earlier in the season, Yannetti claimed he had more than just Byfield and Stuetzle ranked that high on his list.
“I had two other players in that group at various points this year,” admitted the team’s longtime Director of Amateur Scouting. “It was as much as a group of four for me. For some of the scouts it was a group of three. For [Christian] Ruutu it was always a group of one.”
The last comment was said a bit in jest, as the duo are extremely close friends — something Yannetti opened up about during his recent visit to Kings of the Podcast — and are known to rib each other repeatedly.
Yannetti quickly switched gears, though, and became instantly serious when pressed for who else might have been in his top tier at one point. He wouldn’t dare tell. We think forward Cole Perfetti was one of the players. Perhaps we’ll never really know for sure.
“We used live scouting,” he began, as he started to breakdown the process the Kings went through while deciding to select Byfield at No. 2 in the Draft. “Among our staff, nine of the scouts saw Byfield play in a live game that wasn’t a prospect game. Seven of our staff saw Stuetzle play in a live game. And at least five of our staff saw multiple live games of each player. The live views are the first component we used, where the results were split.”
With each variable being weighted equally, they are measured independently when evaluating a player.
“Everything is as equal as it can be,” he noted. “From the process, to the format, to what we’re looking for. It was like a NASCAR thing, everything was made to be equal.”
Next up were a pair of video review sessions.
“Stuetzle might have been a little ahead in the first round of video,” Yannetti explained. “Then, with the analytics, they pointed to Byfield. Then, in the second round of video, things pointed back toward Byfield.”
For clarification, they didn’t watch the same video set twice. Essentially, they watched the same amount of minutes on Byfield and Stuetzle in each session. However, round one and two featured a different set of videos. In round one, Stuetzle was a narrow winner. In the second round, Byfield was a narrow winner.
“Regarding the interview process, they’re in the same group. They’re different, but in terms of layering the interview, they’re in the exact same tier – no question.” he continued. “Neither will be a better or worse teammate than the other. One wouldn’t have more drive or desire than the other. They’d be dead even there.”
At least on the personality front, there is a more noticeable difference. “Byfield has a dynamic personality. Stuetzle makes everybody around him happier.”
So, if everything being evaluated was virtually identical, what ultimately ended up being the deciding factor?
“The General Manager,” Yannetti said with defined authority in his voice. “Rob Blake has a plan, I can tell you that. It’s a legit plan; I like it, I’m in. That plan means the team is going to be built a certain way. Dean [Lombardi] had a plan – the team was going to be built from the backend out; defenseman, center, winger. He defined for us, the team is going to win by doing this, they might not score as many goals, but we’re going to play a possession based style, etc. Dean had a plan. We drafted players — for the most part — to fit his philosophy, to fit Darryl Sutter’s philosophy, to fit Terry Murray’s philosophy. Now, Blakey has a plan. And if two guys are close, whoever fits into the mold of how he wants the team to play becomes the obvious choice. It can be razor thin and the choice can be obvious; or it can be razor thin and the choice can be hard. It’s just circumstance. In this case, while extremely razor thin close between two players, the choice for Byfield was easy because the team is being built a certain way. Todd [McLellan] is going to have the team playing a certain way and Blakey is going to help build the team to play that certain way. And these type of players are going to help Rob and Todd win.”
Unlike how things would play out in a movie, there isn’t a singular moment when the skies part and the decision is proclaimed as having been made. Instead, it more likely came into focus over the course of a few weeks.
“The scouting staff brings Rob Blake all the information,” Yannetti said. “They bring him the process, the information, and a recommendation. That being said, Rob is the boss and he makes the decision. If the staff presents something completely foreign to what Rob’s decision would want to be, there would be a lot more discussion before we got to the end.”
In this case, the staff didn’t recommend anybody different.
“We said it’s razor thin, but we like Byfield better than player B,” Yannetti emphatically stated. “Rob didn’t make a decision in that moment either. He took all the information in and then he had the ability to review it at his leisure. A couple weeks later, he told me the direction he wanted to go. Based on how he wants the team to play, it’s easy for me to understand why that was the pick.”
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