The LA Kings went into Vancouver last week without consensus of who they were taking with the fifth pick.
“There were two places in this draft where guys were in dead heats. Two places,” Director of Amateur Scouting Mark Yannetti said. “Five and 22. Dead heats.”
Alex Turcotte fell from a presupposed perch, making the decision easy for them – even as consensus was eventually found. “We were finalizing our pick up until today,” Yannetti said in a detailed reflection of the executive and amateur staffs’ pre-draft focuses.
“This one, we were really, really deadlocked between two players and almost split evenly down party lines,” he said Friday. “So, it took probably, from between the time the meetings ended until now, I’ll bet you we put in 100 hours’ worth of work, 150 hours’ worth of work on these guys, and a lot of it had to be done when we were together, so we spent two full days on finalizing [the fifth] pick and then solidified it today. So, it might seem last minute, but the work was left to be done here. But it was probably the latest that we’ve finalized something.”
The Kings, by many accounts, had a good draft. They landed Alex Turcotte, they nabbed 51-goal scorer Arthur Kaliyev on the second day, they impressively turned the 64th and 126th picks into the 50th pick and selected Swedish speedster Samuel Fagemo. (Vegas turned the 48th and 82nd into the 41st; San Jose turned the 82nd and 91st into the 55th and Minnesota turned the 73rd and 99th into the 59th, to provide some nearby context. Yannetti also acknowledged the team received a “laughable” offer to move down in the draft.)
But to weigh such options, and to complete a draft list that places estimated values on players within different tiers, there are a lot of inherent unknowns. How does a player’s value evolve when he ranks at a certain level within his tier and other players at his position start flying off the shelves faster than at another position? It’s all an interesting, live-action process that Yannetti, as he has with Los Angeles since 2006, engagingly jumps into.
“So, again, the draft’s kind of a fluid thing, and we always talk about the best player available, and I know I’ve lamented in the past when we haven’t done that,” he said. “So, in saying that though, just because a player is 1-2-3-4, the difference between one and two could be paper thin, or it could be castle. So in areas where you have guys that are in virtual dead heats and you’re trying to decide between two guys at five, one guy may check off that captain box, that leadership box, that compete box, and one guy might not – then it becomes easy. “[Rob Blake] has a certain way he wants to build the team, and obviously our culture needs a reboot. So, one of the ways we can affect this [is at] the ground floor up. So, if all things are equal, the player with the culture box gets checked.”
“Again, you don’t just look for culture and overlook talent. We got really fortunate with a kid like Turcotte. He checks every single box. You know five-tool baseball players? He’s one of those four-tool players, and one of those tools is the intangibles and character, so that’s easy. Then, when you look at a guy like Bjornfot, now you’re putting back line character in, he’s mobile, he plays on the power play, he’s a definite first PK guy, so now you put value on that position at D, you put character on that position at D, and he ticks off skating. He moves the puck up ultra-quick. So, we tried to put it in certain places, but we don’t just look at the character intangibles.”
Discussing such pushes for character, work ethic, compete level and other intangibles, Yannetti and the organization hope the players they’re drafting will “affect change” from the grassroots level. By banking on such neutrino-measured constitution with the Turcotte and Tobias Bjornfot selections, and by virtue of a restocked pipeline, the team chose to use the second pick of the second round on Arthur Kaliyev, a player with the type of game-changing skill the organization needs but who has had to answer questions about his work ethic and compete level. It’s an interesting subject detailing the way players are incubated and developed and touches on a number of broad themes related to amateur scouting and the means of unearthing a player’s potential.
Mark Yannetti, on when the decision to select Arthur Kaliyev was made:
I can tell you we had two guys – you’re going to need 20 minutes for me to talk. We were confident, and when I say ‘confident,’ I mean we’re not just flipping the coin and rolling the dice. Confident doesn’t mean ‘100%.’ It just means we thought there was a better-than-average chance that two guys would fall to 33, and he was a guy that we thought might fall, and like I said, if anyone wants to talk to me for a long time, it played into the Bjornfot thing. Both guys were there at 33, both guys we thought would fall there. [Reporter: Is there a five-minute version?] Yeah, I guess so. So, it’s draft strategy, right? The problem is I don’t think I can do it in five minutes because I’m one of the most verbose human beings on the planet. That’s Dean’s fault, by the way. Blame Dean for me being like this. So, what happens is you look at 22, and we had a dead heat at 22. So, you have a D and a forward that happen to be our dead heat. And then you look at the draft, and if you look at our list – not any independent list – between 22 and 32, we would’ve had two defensemen left on our list, and then between 22 and 33, we had two defensemen but we had four forwards. I know it doesn’t make sense – that’s why it’s the short version. So, the odds of there being a defenseman there at 33 were less than half of what it was with there being a forward. That’s just your numbers. Now, you look at all the independent lists, and we identified two of those forwards we thought would be the ones to fall, so now it checks another box in terms of what may be there. So, what we did is we took a slight calculation of risking maybe losing the forward because if we lose those guys, the difference in depth between the four guys that we lose and the ones that would be available at 33 was much less than what you’d lose between a defenseman. So, if the two defensemen are on a scale of 1-100, the difference is 70. If the forwards go, the next forward, it’s like 20. So we kind of took a calculated risk saying that we wouldn’t get defensive value at 33, but we could still get forward value if our list went wrong. … I can’t tell you how stressful it was watching 27, 28, 29, and then once it got to 31, then we knew we’d get one of the two, and we’re like, ‘oh yeah, we’re geniuses.’ And I’m sitting there the whole time, like, ‘don’t [go poorly].’ I’m telling Rob this is a probability, and if a probability doesn’t happen, then I’d look like an idiot.
Yannetti, on changing culture within an organization:
What happens is if you want to change culture, you have to change cultures from both ends. So, if you’re going to change culture, you start in the draft. It’s unlikely you can go from a bottom team to a top team in a year. It’s unlikely. You affect culture from the bottom. So, you do it through the draft. I think we made a big step in affecting our culture in this draft. We got three whales in terms of culture, in our opinion, in this draft. If we’d come out with one, we would’ve been happy. [Reporter: That was the first two picks, and then-] Fagemo is more ‘compete’ than ‘culture,’ but those two boxes are really linked to us. While he’s ‘culture’ in a secondary way, he’s ‘compete’ and he’s pace-based and speed-based, which for me is the better compete. You get the puck back quick. I’m starting to go into the ‘compete’ side where ‘pursuit, pressure’ rather than ‘hard-nosed,’ ‘physical.’ When Mike [Futa] and I did [the draft], Mike’s more ‘physical-compete’ and I’m more ‘speed-compete’ when we were together and we’d balance each other out. Now, there’s no one to keep me in check, so we can do it our way. I’m just kidding. So, he would be a secondary way, so what happens is you affect the culture coming through the foundation. That’s what we did with Clifford way back when. People try to minimalize that – they weren’t there. You do it that way, and then once the team is ready, then you bring in Jarret Stoll, Matt Greene, Mike Richards, you bring in Justin Williams. So, what happens is you get the culture coming in from the bottom, and depending on the rebuild three years in, maybe four, now you come and bring the culture in at the top, if it’s not there already. Obviously, you hope that Drew and Kopi develop into Greene and Stoll in terms of culture. They’re dynamic individuals, so that’s the hope, and now you have culture coming in from the top, the bottom and the middle, and that’s probably how you contend for a Cup. So, yeah, the short answer, you can’t really affect it one year.
Yannetti, on whether a restocked pipeline makes it easier to draft inconsistent players like Kaliyev:
Certainly. If this were year three when we were here, Kaliyev would’ve been an absolute no-brainer. Again, there’s a reason he fell. A guy gets 102 points, I think he was the youngest or second-youngest ever in that league to do it, and that’s a league that puts guys in the NHL. So, he doesn’t fall by accident. It’s not like 31 teams just forgot about him. And he knows it. These are 17-year-old kids, and at a certain point in the draft, the risk and the reward balance, and then at a certain point in the draft the reward trumps the risk. We thought obviously at 33, that’s where the reward trumps the risk. Again, I see things in there sometimes that say character concerns. There are zero character concerns. There are consistency and compete concerns, but that’s completely different from character concerns. Sometimes people lump character and compete into the same grouping and use them interchangeably – it’s not. With him, our view is he’s a 17-year-old kid that sometimes acts like a 14-year-old kid. He’s not going to be the first one who does that and he’s not going to be the last. So, our view is, when he matures, those perceived things that pushed him down get fixed – and then, look at our development staff. Our development staff has taken everyone they’ve gotten and matured them. I can think of two kids we couldn’t get to in the time I’ve been here. Guys can make it or don’t make it, but our development staff, literally, there were only two kids they couldn’t convert in character, so you give ‘em a guy like Kaliyev, I’m not sure we’ve ever put a guy with that kind of talent [with the development staff] since I’ve been here. So, for me, that reward I think and hope will pay off.
Yannetti, on Jordan Spence’s background:
He didn’t get drafted – I think he went though the draft in the Quebec league. He actually got whiffed through one time. … Again, anytime a kid deals with adversity – and not only deals with it, but just smashes through it – it’s a huge plus for us. Most of these kids, these kids aren’t handed anything because they’ve worked their asses off for it, but these kids don’t deal with adversity. They’re the best players who are put on the best team and get to play with the best people and get to have the best facilities – that’s their station in life. Most of their kids don’t deal with adversity until they get to the pros, so anytime a kid is showing at 13, 14 that he can deal with adversity, that’s a pretty promising trait in my opinion. … We have all kinds of different interviews with the kid – we just kind of sat down and talked to him, it was really unique, and he was kind of cool. It was much less of an interview in the times we talked to him, and much more of having a chat. … Very personable, very easy to talk to. It was fun. It was good, it was nice to have him there at that spot.
–Lead photo via Bruce Bennett/Getty Images