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An Inside Look at the LA Kings Draft Process

Kings Director of Amateur Scouting Mark Yannetti details how his team zones in on top prospects through analytical data and in-person meetings

by Heather Engel @engelheather / LAKings.com

And then there were... two?

Finished are the months upon months travel between northern latitudinal outposts and sizing up the next batch of NHL hopefuls through data derived from in-person meetings and packets upon packets of analytical data. The final internal discussions lay just ahead.

In only two weeks, Director of Amateur Scouting Mark Yannetti will announce the first of the LA Kings' two first round draft picks when they congregate on the Rogers Arena stage in Vancouver. 

"We'll do more fine-tuning work now, but in terms of our pick at five, we have it narrowed down to two players, barring someone falling," he said after four days of interviews at the NHL Scouting Combine. "Some of the fine tuning work is this stuff here. Some of it will be with Rob Vollman when he and I start doing some of the analytics."

With seven of their 10 picks coming in the first four rounds, which includes three of the draft's first 33 selections, Yannetti and his staff will be very busy, even if the vast majority of their work has already been concluded.

He's excited not only for the number of picks they have but also for their versatility; they can stand pat or use their accumulation to move any which way. 

Yet even with so many goodies in their basket, it didn't change their approach to the NHL Draft Combine last weekend in Buffalo.

Tweet from @lakingsinsider: NHL Combine! Via NHLdotcom correspondent @engelheather, our eyes and ears on the ground in Buffalo last weekend, quotes and musings from Byram, Caufield, Cozens, Krebs (+ video): https://t.co/QYXdogGt3p

They began with a list of 93 players before cutting it down to somewhere between 75 and 80 names. Yannetti's ideal list would be somewhere around 40, but he admits it can be tough to narrow it down since the week provides teams the opportunity to have access to so many prospects at one time in the same place.

The meetings might lead to some minor tinkering but for the Kings, most of that portion of the Combine schedule is for general manager Rob Blake to get some face-to-face time with those they bring in.

"These final interviews won't have a macro effect where a guy moves up and down. In my opinion, if someone moves up or down a considerable amount, someone in the organization hasn't done their job throughout the year," Yannetti said.

"The exception being one of these kids coming here and stealing a car, they should be making micro moves. And there could be many micro moves happening based on this but any kind of full-scale macro-type move, I would think there's been a step in a procedure that's been missed or not given its due diligence."

Interview styles at the Combine vary from team to team. Some simply follow a straightforward line of questioning, others will mix in some lighthearted questions, like asking a prospect to tell a joke. And then there are the out-of-the-box questions that get people talking every year.

Yannetti has never been big on the latter but at the same time, his group isn't painting each meeting with the same brush.

"I don't think you can go one size fits all thing for it. We have a mission statement for each kid that we interviewed," he said.

"We drafted Kyle Clifford way back when. By the time we had brought him into the Combine, our interview was just us hanging out with him for 15 minutes. We had a really nice time and it would have been the same thing if I ran into him at Starbucks. And then you could go back to Akil Thomas from [last year], and I don't think he loved me (laughs) until we drafted him and he realized why Chris Byrne and I were hard on him. 

"It would have been more of the water dripping on the forehead, light bulb swinging interrogation because of the questions we needed answers to when we didn't necessarily like the answers we got early on in the year. And as a testament to him, I mean, obviously, we drafted him, so it tells you how well he did under those adversarial circumstances. He wowed us, and it wasn't easy."

Yannetti takes pride in having "a very small staff." It's a formula that's worked for the team for quite some time. He feels it allows everyone to actively participate without concern they'll have to fight to be heard. 

That comfort level among the group often leads to discussion or debate, and there's always a purpose to it.

"That happens with I would say over two-thirds of our draft list," Yannetti said. "Tony Gasparini and Ted Belisle are intimately involved in the U.S. team scouting, the evaluation, the character assessments, and then Chris Byrne or Christian Ruuttu or myself might come in and we just might play a contrarian view for no real reason other than just to see what Tony says. 

"We may agree with their assessment and take a contrarian view or there may be [an instance like we had] with this year's U.S. development team. There was a definitive split in terms of the assessment of one of the player's characters and throughout the year. 

"It turned out very positively for the prospect, which is always nice. We sat down and met with them and really spent a lot of time with a bunch of them but in this particular player's case, it really solidified that there was a much more positive view than may have originally been thought."

Yannetti has noticed that players have become "so well-conditioned and some of them border on polished." That's where the homework he and his scouts have done throughout the season comes into play; those travels and meetings allow them to get a better measure on who a player is.

Even if teams are coy on giving off an impression on who they like or don't like, many top prospects will often meet with the vast majority of the 31 teams - and some multiple times over the nearly week-long event.

And while both prospects and staff come prepared, there's always the chance for the unexpected.

"You always are surprised. It seems more positively than negatively. I can't think of the last instance where we were really surprised negatively," he said.

"You know they're good kids but all of a sudden you spend a little more time with them or maybe they've just matured and grown through the season, and they put on a little different face or something. Far more pleasant surprises than negative."
 

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