First, before we get to the nuts and bolts, it became clear based on information learned during the first round and over the past week that once Michael Rasmussen went to Detroit with the ninth pick that the Kings were either going to take Owen Tippett of OHL-Mississauga or Gabriel Vilardi of OHL-Windsor 11th overall. Florida made it an easy decision, choosing Tippett with the 10th overall pick. That allowed the Kings to claim Vilardi, who was ranked fourth among North American skaters on NHL Central Scouting’s final list, fifth on Bob McKenzie’s final list, and third on the list compiled by Corey Pronman, ESPN Insider’s NHL Draft guru.
Vilardi is a tremendous playmaker – his playmaking attributes place him in a very small group of comparables among formerly draft-eligible major junior skaters – who fell towards the Kings’ wheelhouse because of concerns over his skating style. Assitsant General Manager Michael Futa and Director of Amateur Scouting Mark Yannetti have spoken about this previously, and on Saturday’s conference call, Yannetti again spoke about the center’s skill set.
While the Kings were looking to trade up to nab Vilardi, teams with picks between three and 10 did not appear to have interest in moving down, as LA Kings Insider learned over the weekend.
Mark Yannetti, on Gabriel Vilardi’s attributes, and whether he could make the team out of camp:
Anything can happen. You should never limit ambition, you should never limit optimism. People love analytics in hockey. Just looking at analytics, most players don’t play when they’re 18. Basically, 95% of them don’t play when they’re 18. As much as I don’t like to put limitations on optimism and what they try, certainly the expectations are it’s going to take some time for him to develop. That being said, he’s big, he’s strong, he’s mature. In terms of the kid, he’s not mature physically, which is a good thing. I don’t want to create expectations. Ask me this after he’s spent a full summer with our development coaches, and I could give you a more pointed answer and a less evasive one. In terms of what I see in him as a player, I think people know at least the perception of why he dropped was because of his skating. Maybe I’m seeing something that people aren’t seeing. Does his skating need to improve? Yes. Is his skating a limitation? I don’t view it as a limitation. There’s a type of skating, a level of skating that would be worrisome to me – I’ve never seen it with him. Aesthetically, he’s not a pretty skater, and I think sometimes first reactions are pretty powerful and hard to overcome, and when you first see him skate, it’s not a graceful thing to look at, if I’m being politically correct. That being said, we’re not judging anyone on aesthetics here. His speed allows him to keep up with the faster players in that league. His skating, the two fastest junior hockey games I saw last year were the Memorial Cup games where Windsor played Erie. They were the two fastest games I saw in junior hockey, and he was the best player in each one of those games. Again, I view his skating as not an issue, and similar to the way we view Tyler Toffoli’s skating. They’re different players and they’re skating’s slightly different, but the reason Tyler Toffoli went so late was because of his skating. We knew it needed improving, but again, it was not a concern for us, and I don’t think his skating has the ceiling to improve as much as Tyler’s, but at the end of the day, I don’t see at the NHL where his skating is anything less than average. Now, the positives, he’s 6-foot-3, he can handle the puck at length and he can handle the puck in tight. He’s able to create depth and he’s able to keep players on the outside remarkably well. It’s an intangible trait as much as it is a teachable trait, and his skill level is that of what you’d consider a ‘small guy.’ So he now has this depth in range, but he’s also able to make plays from in tight or at range. His versatility in terms of his skill set is huge, and then his versatility in terms of his offense, his playmaking is as good if not better as his individual ability. From the center position, he can distribute the puck, and he can distribute the puck directly for offense as well as just to maintain possession as well as to maintain offensive flow up the ice, and his shot is really good. I think it’s secondary to his playmaking, but it’s by no means riding in the back seat. With him, again, I was fortunate he fell to us – I think so. We tried to move up to get to him, but that just doesn’t happen very often at that level of pick in the NHL. So we’ll be happy that he fell. Every year, every single draft, there’s a player who falls, whether it’s Cam Fowler going from a perceived two or three pick to 11, or Gabe falling from a perceived three or four pick to 11. You see it happen every draft someone falls in the first round. We were fortunate to be there to have him fall to us.
________________________________________________Jaret Anderson-Dolan, chosen 41st overall, is an interesting two-way center who was projected as an early second round pick. And, as shared in an early June LA Kings Insider notebook that relied on a terrific story by Josh Horton of the Spokane Spokesman-Review, you’re also aware of the two mothers that raised him, and that several WHL teams, according to Horton, “told him and his family they would not take him because of his two mothers.” It was a chilling indication of prejudice in scouting that represents an unwillingness to get to know a very good player and his family.
“If anybody had a problem with his family situation, they either should – I guess I can’t swear – they should go screw themselves and find another job,” Yannetti said.
Good on Yannetti for such a forceful putdown of anyone who would question the love or support that was so inherent in the way Anderson-Dolan was raised.
“They’ve done a lot for me over the years, and Fran was crying when I hugged her, so it was really cool to see. Both of them were crying, actually,” the soon-to-be-18-year-old forward said. “They put a lot of work into it. It’s not just me that puts in work. They drove me to practice when I was younger, everything like that, so it was really emotional, and I cant thank them enough for everything they’ve done for me.”
Anderson-Dolan also grew up in a household where healthy eating habits and organic food were staples of his diet, and while that may not necessarily sound like the typical background of an athlete with the potential for a high level of professional success, it’s about time that the preconceived norms of the appropriate path towards personal success in hockey was challenged. Given that the Kings hired Don Nachbaur, who coached Anderson-Dolan in WHL-Spokane, as an assistant coach, all possible outlets were clearly indicating that there was no question about the player’s wonderful galaxy of support.
“When you have the coach of his team on speed dial, and he’s telling you it’s an A-plus family, and the support system that he had growing up, I don’t care if it’s two moms, I don’t care that it’s two dads. What I know is the reason he’s the kid he is is because of his upbringing. It’s that whole nature-versus-nurture thing. We certainly weren’t scared off by it. I mean, you see where we took him. For me, it’s nothing. It’s a matter-of-fact thing. It’s just a detail. It was something never discussed. He has two loving, wonderful parents that raised him to be a certain way, which is why he’s the player he is today. As I said, he’s one of those guys whose work ethic, and when I said what the coaches said about him, you can’t really say anymore. I certainly hope no teams were scared off by that. I hope we’re at the point now where a non-traditional family is actually considered a traditional family. I would hope we’re there, but either way, we’ve got a kid we coveted, and I’m happy he was raised the way he was, and I’m happy he’s the player he is.”
Spokane doesn’t necessarily make for convenient and easily accessible scouting, though there was no real dearth of scouting on players who play for the Eastern Washignton club, which also boasted skilled ex-Junior King Kailer Yamamoto, drafted 22nd overall by Edmonton. In fact, as Yannetti pointed out, Los Angeles had one of many several scouting meetings in Spokane, allowing the entire staff to get a good view of Anderson-Dolan over the course of two games.
On the other hand, Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, isn’t among the CHL markets that gets over-saturated with scouting. Windsor, for example, affords all teams ample scouting opportunities.
“It’s just one of those central hubs,” Yannetti said of Windsor on Friday. “You’re seeing all of the OHL teams, plus when you’re in to watch the [United States] development team, you’re catching a Windsor game.”
The Soo, on the other hand, is not part of that Route 401 scouting highway for NHL teams. It’s much harder to catch the Greyhounds than it is to catch the London Knights, Kitchener Rangers, Guelph Storm, et cetera, et cetera. It’s why the Kings, when scouting Jake Muzzin in 2009 and 2010, didn’t want to overscout and tip their hand on a player who, as Mike Futa said in 2014, played for a team “a little off the beaten path.” Logistics can be a bit tricky when scouting a player who plays for a team that requires a bit more of an effort to travel to.It applies to third round draft pick Matt Villalta, a two-time CHL goaltender of the week who boasted a tremendous won-loss record in the Soo but clocked in as the 16th ranked North American goalie. I’ve never seen Villalta beyond the highlights, but his workload and potentially under-recognized potential (due, as noted, in part because of the unique challenges of scouting the Soo) is similar to what Martin Jones showed in his draft year, when he went unselected despite putting up strong numbers while platooning in WHL-Calgary. Jones was 18-8-1 with a 2.12 goals-against average, .911 save percentage and one shutout over 27 games in his 2007-08 draft year, while Villalta was 25-3-0 with a 2.41 goals-against average, .918 save percentage and one shutout over 33 games with OHL-Sault Ste. Marie in 2016-17. Jones was signed as an undrafted free agent, while Villalta, selected 72nd, helped continue to rebuild the goaltending pipeline that was expected to receive some reinforcement.
“I don’t believe in drafting for need because need changes,” Yannetti said. “By the time these kids are ready to play, sometimes those needs have changed and are different. But when you’re looking at the need for goaltenders, you always need goaltenders. Instead of looking at it as an organizational depth need, goaltending is probably the most important position in the NHL. We had targeted three goalies, one of which we really didn’t have a chance to get because he was going to go too early in between our picks, and then two others, and Matt was one of those two. In the third round it was the right spot for him, and he was the next guy on our list, so it worked out perfectly. We were fortunate in that respect, so we were able to fill some of that depth, but also the kid at one point this year I think was 22-1 in a league that’s shone that players who come out of that league do well. Then we got a little bit more depth as it went on.”
Mark Yannetti, on the draft process:
You’re going to hear the same things pretty much the same soundbites every year. ‘It was a very successful draft.’ No one will know from anywhere from 3-to-5 years, but in terms of what we added, Anderson-Dolan, he brings higher end of seed as well as a real versatile two-way game he and Kailer Yamamoto at Spokane, they formed a pretty potent two-way offensive punch, and he played for Canada at the World Championships for the Under-18s. He’s a guy who can be a defined player and a difference maker in a third line role, and then ultimately if he could reach his top potential, he could do the same thing bringing a little bit of a speed-based two-way game that trends slightly more towards offense on the second line once he truly develops. … We filled some skating and transitional areas in the back end with a couple of defensemen, and then one of the later picks, Rymsha, he’s a kid who burns to play hockey and has that higher end speed. Those higher end picks, you need a special intangible to play in the NHL, and his compete is probably only second to his speed, and then you throw in the fact that at one point this year when he was traded to Sarnia he had [20 goals in 28 games], and while you don’t expect that, it’s certainly not a bad attribute to have. Again, if you see something in these later round picks that stands out, that stands out. His worst-case scenario is if the offensive doesn’t materialize if it did in a short period of time, he’s a wide-bodied, heavy kid with complete skating. That’s one of those later round picks where I think he’s safe. In the late rounds, I think you can look for safe, but there’s that glimpse that maybe that offense that showed up in a small time frame becomes a more consistent part of his game.
Yannetti, on whether Don Nachbaur shared additional insight on Jaret Anderson-Dolan:
I can tell you, you can’t get him to shut up about Anderson-Dolan. And I can tell you – there was no additional information to glean from him because he had already told us it all. Brent had numerous talks with him, I’ve had numerous talks with him. Again, I don’t want to speak for other people, but there is a body language chance and a voice inflection change whenever he’s talking about Anderson-Dolan. He believes in the kid as well as the player on a level that becomes sickening maybe if you spend too much time talking to him. Again, it certainly doesn’t hurt when he’s now on our staff and we continue those discussions into deeper levels, but most of that was done. Brent obviously did the early heavy lifting, but Anderson-Dolan was not a secret – I think he’s been as high as 21 on some lists, and as low as 31 on some lists, so we’re not talking about a guy who was unknown to the staff. The funny thing is, I think I had told someone the other day about Windsor where everyone on the staff had seen him, everyone on the staff saw Anderson-Dolan because we held our meeting in Spokane this year. One of our meetings – when Dean was there, we had many meetings. One of our many meetings was in Spokane, and everyone in our staff saw him play a minimum of two times. So the process is fairly comprehensive, but again, all the staff had seen him. That’s just a matter of circumstance rather than planning, and it certainly helps when every single scout on the staff – from the European scouts to the North American scouts to Brent McEwen – pretty much had the same view of him, same layer, same everything, same position. He was comprehensively scouted, and as I said, we had inside information, obviously – the relationship we had with the coach, which never hurts, and that’s kind of how the pick came to fruition.
Yannetti on whether the Kings had Gabriel Vilardi ranked third on their draft list:
It’s fair to say whatever you want. I will certainly not tell you ever where one of our guys is. I can tell you this – again, when there’s a consensus on a player, whatever lists you choose to put your faith in, whether it’s Central Scouting, or Bob McKenzie’s list, or something like that, he was in the same position on every single list. I won’t tell you where he is on our list, but if a guy is in the same position on every single list, you can probably be sure he’s within a small margin of error on other lists. So while he may not three [on ours], he may not be far from it.