Hail to the President! (Part 1 of 2)
Had a chance to catch up to the President of Business Operations and Hall-of-Famer Luc Robitaille last week…we chatted about a few things but zeroed in on a recent trip Luc took back to the east coast to check out the Kings’ scouting operations and to be inducted into the Quebec Sports Hall-of-Fame…in Part 1 Luc talks about spending some time with the Manchester Monarchs!
Luc Robitaille: I think for me, that whole process over the last few years, I never seemed to have the. We’ve been on such a rebuild for a long time on everything else we’ve done and when I saw that we had a little bit of time, I talked to Dean and asked him when some of his next scouting trips would be and he was great enough to say, I’m doing this trip and can you make it? I would say, a lot of it had to do with knowing all the staff in Manchester, knowing the young players, getting to know them because I know they’re going to be here (with the Kings), those are the same guys that we’re going to do a lot of stuff with…knowing the organization as a whole, at the same time it was great to spend some time with Ron Hextall, with Dean and Mike O’Connell and see the process too and how they evaluate players, how they, because you know as a player and sometime I try to remember, I always remind myself I’m still a player, you think winning, winning is everything but when you start looking at your team in Manchester and so forth, the growth of those young players is really important. Winning is a part of because then they’ll become better players they win and so forth but, it was really interesting how I was part of a video session where we broke down a player we watched, a player, just a film of him, to really go through that and Mike O’Connell does a phenomenal job at that and just to sit down with those guys and be kind of like a fly on the wall and be part of it, I thought it was really interesting and I love the game so it’s fun. When those players come up here we all have better insight into everything that we’re doing with the organization.
JF: Just to clarify, it’s more an organizational thing than it is getting to know a “type” of defensemen and what he’s doing on the ice, or how good a shot a certain player has?
Luc Robitaille: It’s more of an organizational thing, it’s great for me to go there because I know who the players that the organization’s happy about, who they like, what’s going on, who has an opportunity to come back, to come up, to do what, like to see Dwight King play there I know he’s coming up this year, to saying hello to Jordan Nolan, obviously to see Quicker (Jonathan Quick) there was great and to talk a little bit with those guys, if this guy comes up, he’s going to have this role in the organization so for us, to position him with our fans, to understand that what he’s going to do, like an enforcer, our fans love enforcers…like a hero…like King in the playoffs, they (Kings fans) love that kind of player but what we forget about is he’s a big guy he can be a very physical presence and our fans love these kinds of players so it’s good for me to know them, to see where he’s going to be positioned when he is on the Kings’ roster.
JF: When you get into those types of scouting meetings, is there a lot of discussion where you present your case on a certain player…you saw a guy play three times…think he’s this, this, and this. Do you bounce that off the other guys and then they give their input too or is it just making a presentation?
Luc Robitaille: I was more there to be a fly on the wall. I think over time, if our organization does things really well, which we’re on our way to doing that, Dean has his entire scouting staff at the right place, it’s important for us re the vision of our organization…where we’re going, which is what we’ve worked on for five years…a guy like me that’s running the business, if I understand what’s coming up, who’s involved with the organization, I can position that player in the right place and we can keep growing our vision, I mean that’s really the way I look at it.
JF: Did anything surprise you or catch your attention in this process, something maybe caught you off guard?
Luc Robitaille: I think the arenas are beautiful in the minor leagues. They’ve got an unbelievable set up, I mean the whole set up of the minor league is a whole different thing than it was when I was young, I mean these guys are treated, they’re treated actually better than when you and I were players, I mean their treatment in the locker room and everything around is better than when you and I were playing or the earlier ‘80s when you were playing, that’s how much the game has changed, players at the AHL level are treated on an entirely different level…everything is personalized, it’s really close to what it is up here and I think they are treated really well but in a good way, they deserve it. I think it should be that way and in a lot of ways, better than when you and I were players, except that they take the bus! But we had middle seats and we had to take two, three flights just to go to Edmonton.
JF: Going to talk about scouting in a different way. Your numbers in junior were spectacular, yet you’re a ninth round pick, a low pick. Did the scouts miss something?
Luc Robitaille: I don’t think they missed anything because my first year in junior, I think I got like 85 points or something like that which is not bad, not great and our team was, we didn’t make the playoffs, we didn’t have a good team and I don’t think any scouts came to our games. The one scout that came to our games was Mr. Smart, Alex Smart, because he lived in Ottawa (just across the river from Hull, Quebec) and he just came to, I think he came to see the visiting team. Most scouts in those days used to go to Laval, Laval was the big team with Mario (Lemieux) and everybody wanted to see all the young guys play against him. Mario was one of my idols so I think I had good game but it’s not something I had planned, I think Mr. Smart saw my passion for the game, I remember I asked him, what did you see…he told me I just saw that you loved the game…that’s what he saw, he saw that in me, that I wasn’t going to give up over anything and he pushed to draft me, I don’t think anybody wanted to really draft me for the Kings, he was the only guy, so it’s like they gave him a pick to draft me.
JF: The big question mark was your skating, it seems obvious, but, did you improve your skating?
Luc Robitaille: Every day. Every day. I remember being a midget age player and a friend of mine gave me a pair of roller blades and I had a choice to get the hard wheels and go faster or softer wheels and I said give me the soft wheels, I want to work hard at it and that’s when I was, I was maybe 14 or 15 and every day I would go outside because I remember I used to go out and skate and try to extend the length of my stride because they said I had to improve that. I would ask my dad, we didn’t have a lot of money, can I do this power skating school, this other power skating school, I would take my rollerblades and go out there and practice my three step starts, all the time and I remember playing until there was snow, I would put on my rollerblades before the game, an hour or two before the game and skate because they were so heavy that I would get on the ice and my skates would feel so light. There’s one thing I know, people would say I wasn’t a great skater but I was quick enough to get to the loose pucks. That I know. I would always ask my dad, is it true I’m not fast and he said, I know one thing, when there’s a loose puck you’re going to be first on it all the time and I took a lot of pride in that, I don’t know if it was either my brain or the way I cut the ice or the way I read the game but I got to every loose puck.
JF: I don’t want to build expectations too high, that is always a concern when comparing a young player to a Hall-of-Fame, but from what I hear, Tyler Toffoli, I talked to Dwight King about him in an interview I did and Dwight says Tofolli knows where to go. Do you see any similarities, there’s also concern about Tyler’s skating, between the way he plays and the way you played?
Luc Robitaille: Well, no it’s not about that. I think he’s a really good player, he’s definitely got something you can’t teach, actually that’s not true, you can teach that but a lot of people are not willing to learn that. He finds a way to be at the right place at the right time at all times. When I was there, he didn’t score in the two games that I saw him play but he had 8 good scoring chances. I remember I was sitting with Mike O’Connell and I go, my God he is going to score because he’s the one guy on the Monarchs that stops in front of the net every single time, he’s the only guy. I don’t know why he’s the only guy. They can say whatever they want but I know that he stops, sooner or later, he’s going to hit it somewhere…it’s going to go in the net and it’s going to get by. He’s one of those players that has the knack to find a way to read the game and to get into the hole that’s kind of like the dead space…like Brett Hull, myself, we were able to do that and he’s one of those players, the game the way it’s played today, it’s so fast, it’s so powerful that when you watch him play he’s just got to keep working on his three steps just to get that NHL…bang bang bang. Kopi (Anze Kopitar) –it took him a couple years and now you can clearly tell he’s got separation—he’s not the fastest—he’s got separation and if Tyler get’s that separation, I think he’s going to be a very dangerous player in the NHL.