|Mark Yannetti |
On Saturday, May 17, Kings beatwriter Rich Hammond was granted access to the Kings' War Room and sat down with Michael Futa and Mark Yannetti, the Kings' co-directors of amateur scouting.
Question: By the time the draft begins, how many hours do you estimate you'll have spent evaluating players?
Yannetti: "I don't even know if you could estimate it."
Futa: "I don't think you can cap it, honestly."
Yannetti: "We do it, as a group, six times a year, maybe more. It's 8 in the morning until sometimes midnight."
Futa: "For example, Mark and I will finish up here, and we've been going since Friday. Mark and I will meet at the Memorial Cup and we'll spend probably five days together, just taking the list that we've put together as a group, and we'll look at some guys that we think we might have a little out of order. That might lead to more of guys squaring off against each other (in evaluations). Then Mark and I have a group of kids that we're going to individually spend time with, probably two-hour blocks. We'll be doing some house visits."
Yannetti: "Then we go back and do this again, after the house visits. There's so much information to be gained. Now that they've stopped playing, we're still going back and looking at things. We're looking at them as people. The interviews and the combines will have some impact, but the two-hour blocks are really about spending time with the kid in his environment. That goes a long way, when you're talking about slight differences in players."
Futa: "This is the time of year though, I think, when there's not really any surprises with what we see anymore. You're really counting on your area (scouts) to really show the intangibles, from the character standpoint, if there's anything that they learned that we haven't discussed, anything that might make a difference. We're really looking at character and work ethic and if there's anything away from the rink that we might need to know."
Yannetti: "You saw it there. There was almost no disagreement about what type of player 'Player B' was. Almost zero disagreement there, but there is some disagreement about where he fits. Everybody looks at the same stuff. This is after (evaluating) countless games."
Futa: "We've all got our own individual personalities and certain types of players that we push. If you're tied, you probably tend toward grit. You need all of it to win. It's not like it's one or the other."
Yannetti: "There's no right or wrong. When you put us together, a lot of my weaknesses are really, really balanced out by (Futa's) strengths. I didn't think I had this many weaknesses until he came on. (laughs) I think I was a whole lot more complete."
Futa: "I didn't know I had that many strengths. (laughs) It's funny how we can be totally different. We didn't even know each other (before last year) but we brought our lists together..."
Yannetti: "I was shocked."
Futa: "...and the similarities in the lists were unbelievable. Now you're not going to know, for a while, how it pans out. That's the difference between this and working in junior. There, you know right away, when they come into training camp. But at this level, it could be four or five years before you learn how you did."
Yannetti: "There are subtle differences, like he said. Brent (McEwen, amateur scout) likes the competitiveness and the heart. I might like the hockey sense. Tony (Gasparini, amateur scout) brings background information that I've never seen before. You don't see that from guys who have been in the game for 20-30 years. It's funny how it all filters in. The way I look at something is different from the way (Futa) looks at something. Then that triggers something in Brent and it's all a chain reaction sometimes."
Futa: "I think we're very fortunate, with the way the staff has been put together and the contacts that are there. My area is a little broader but I have Ontario as well, because of my involvement with the Ontario Hockey League. Brent has involvement as a general manager in the Western League and Tony's dialed into the colleges, it's almost like a reality show. You're walking into the dressing room after games, meeting coaches and GMs. It's not like there's this hands-off thing. That helps, because you need a lot of information to throw into the blender."
Yannetti: "You're constantly dealing with incomplete information. The more information you have, the better, because you're dealing with 17-and-18-year-old kids. You can never have complete information. There's a level of 'complete' that's unacceptable, but with all these strengths we have, you just get more and more information. It's at a different level here than I've seen in the past."
Question: When I've talked to Dean, he often mentions how much easier it is this year and how much more comfortable he feels. Can you put that in tangible terms, leading up to this year's draft?
Yannetti: "The difference from 12 months ago, as you might have noticed, is that we've had a little bit of turnover in the staff. And I'd been doing pro (scouting). I came over from the pro side, cold turkey. I saw my first amateur game in January. Luckily, Brent and Tony were kept over, and for good reason."
Futa: "Last year, this pretty much would have been the week I walked in the door."
Yannetti: "We squeezed 16 months of work into five months. If you would have been here at this point last year, you would have seen NoDoz and coffee and Vivarin. Our days were doubled, and we didn't have the same comfort level as a staff. We're still growing as a staff. Realistically, it's our first year. Tony and Brent knew each other a little, but the comfort level of the staff is growing quite a bit."
Question: You talk about your strengths blending together, and as you talk about things you're not afraid to disagree.
Yannetti: "As you can see in (the meeting), right?"
Question: Yeah, there are a lot of opinions flying around. So how important is it to understand your own strengths and weaknesses and accept other people's opinions?
Futa: "The biggest thing for me is that we all, at some point, played (hockey). This, to me, is so close to a dressing-room atmosphere."
Yannetti: "That's a good point. That's a really good point."
Futa: "There's no ego in here. The amount of camaraderie, and the number of shots we take at each other... But the fun that's involved, and the professionalism that's involved is great. As co-directors, at the end of the day we'll have seen everybody. Brent is kind of the third, a guy who has seen a great deal of the list. He gives tremendous support in all areas, because he's been to all the tournaments. There's an understanding, with the area guys, that their job is to get their group in the correct order, then have the faith and trust that we -- having seen everybody -- will get the final grouping in order. The fact that there is no ego, it's so huge. Nobody's got an agenda, and I think Mark said it best when he said, at the beginning of the meeting, 'We don't ever want to hear the term, my guy."'
Yannetti: "We don't want people fighting for 'their guys."'
Futa: "We're all Kings. We're not players, but we consider ourselves Kings, and a big part of the organization too. That's our dressing room, where we're going to argue, and it's probably the same thing with you covering the Kings. There are going to be times when it's not going to be as fun, but there's a professional respect. Nobody has a hidden agenda and everybody wants to get the best players into Los Angeles for Dean and the Kings."
Yannetti: "The lack of ego, for me, is what separates things. Arguments are a problem for me. Debate isn't a problem for me. Once in a while, you'll get an argument, but in this room -- and I think it's due to the lack of ego -- I find that they are far outweighed by debate. The main concern is getting the list right. It's funny. This is the closest thing to playing on a team that I've seen since I stopped playing hockey. This is my eighth or ninth year...I can't even remember. I've spent a little while now, doing this. Not that anything else was deficient in my past, it's just that this is the exception to the rule. I'm not sure that I would see another atmosphere like this, going forth. I hope I would, but I'm not sure."
Futa: "When Dean hires you, there's no gray area for you, with regards to..."
Yannetti: "What, having a life? (laughs)"
Futa: "Seriously though, the amount of hours that goes in... There aren't too many bosses that I've known who are going to match you, hour for hour and shift for shift. I think that's huge for us too."
Yannetti: "It's kind of hard to leave at 11:30 p.m. when your boss is sitting there."
Futa: "He's there from the national anthem to the last shift of overtime, and that's huge for a staff. When you see the guy that you're working for -- and it's the same thing with (assistant GM Ron Hextall) -- it's like, 'I would never ask you to do something I wouldn't do myself."'
Yannetti: "Especially when you're talking about this type of hours. This is a different level of work than I've ever been involved with."
Futa: "If we got paid by the hour, we might be able to get a place down here. (laughs)"
Yannetti: "We could move in next to (Rob Blake). (laughs) We could at least pool our money and get a place. But it's also the right way. There's a way you can attack this and there's a way you can do it. It's not always easy, but everybody is here, grinding it out. (Futa) has three kids at home. Tony's got three kids at home. What did Dean say to you at the beginning of the season? 'Kiss your wife goodbye. Tell her you'll see her in June.'?"
Futa: "Say hello to them, and then you'll see them in about 12 months."
Yannetti: "That's obviously a caricature of the whole thing, but it's also based in some reality."
Futa: "One thing we don't get when we're on the road is, obviously when a team has the kind of year that the Kings had..."
Yannetti: "There's a little disconnect."
Futa: "Yeah, because you don't feel it. When I was a general manager and my team was struggling, your sleep patterns are all messed up. When you know what they're going through, having a tough year like this, it drives you even more, to not feel bad about your hours or your drives in the bad weather. Shortcuts aren't going to get us to where we want to be, where we will be."
Yannetti: "It's funny. You go from September until the end of March, worrying about the placement of the team. Then all of a sudden, in March and April, everyone is coming up to you saying, 'Hey, you got the first pick!' You get two months out of the whole year when the team's standing doesn't bother you. And you only have two years where you can think that way. If you're thinking that way in the fourth or fifth year, then it becomes a problem."
Question: When you walk into the arena on draft day, what will you be working with? How extensive will your player lists be? How much of it is based on preparation and how much of it is adjusting on the fly to things that might happen that day?
Yannetti: "Without giving anything away, you'd be surprised at the level of detail, if you saw the whole list."
Futa: "It's almost like playing cards. We'll have the list done, and the boss will challenge us. I've heard his speech on (the Kings' website) where he talks about what our goals are: to get character down, to get the list right. The last one is our scenarios. Even with no names involved, he will say, 'Would you trade two 'C's for an 'A'?' When you have 15 picks and you have a general manager who, one of his strongest traits is his ability to move up and down to get what he wants, those are the kind of scenarios that are going to come up. If there's a guy we believe in, and we're sitting there at the end of the second round or the start of the third round and he's the guy we want, who we think is the right fit, because of all the picks that Dean has accumulated, he's got the ability to move. It's not just that we're going there to make 15 picks. He's got the ability to go up and down the ladder."
Yannetti: "We've got the ammunition. And to put it in perspective, the last 30 names on our list... We've spent two solid days, from 8 in the morning until late at night, that have been devoted to them. So if you want to think about what goes into the last people on the list, you can start to get a sense of what goes into the middle and then the top. It's pretty involved. If we all agree on where a guy should go (on the list), there's no question. But if there's a question, we break it down and do it again."
Futa: "There won't ever be a scenario posed to us at the draft that hasn't been discussed. We'll have all the dress rehearsals. All those equations, these card games, that's all stuff that will be done ahead of time. We've already started. It's not like we're going to get to Ottawa and then figure it out."
Yannetti: "There's no winging it in Ottawa. Everything that will be done with these 15 picks will have been well thought out and planned for ahead of time. Nothing goes according to plan, but having all the information and all the scenarios, you're not caught by any unforeseen circumstances. Hopefully everything goes according to plan, but if it doesn't, we're ready."
Futa: "It was the weirdest thing for me last year, with my first NHL draft, on the board. It was almost like, put that suit in the closet and it's there waiting for that day. It's almost like putting on your game jersey. That's your Super Bowl, and you have to be ready. You have all your ducks in a row."
Yannetti: "It's different for me too. Most of the time when I was at the table, it was, 'Is a trade going to happen?' Because I was (scouting) pros when I was in Toronto, for the most part."
Question: I know you guys are deep into the lower-round guys right now, but how about the No. 2 pick? Has there been a lot of debate about what to do with it?
Yannetti: "I think there's been healthy debate that has led to a real, consistent agreement."
Futa: "As much as people call it the 'Stamkos sweepstakes'... It's easy to say that, but it's a deep draft. The depth of the high-end players, that core group is exceptional. The thing about defensemen, in particular, is that it's almost like going into a Baskin-Robbins. They're all different. They're all unique."
Yannetti: "They're all good."
Futa: "Yeah, and it's a matter of finding the one that fits and the one that has the most potential. They're just so different, in terms of what they bring to the table. It's quite a process, and the level of what we're doing here (with lower-round players) is certainly going on at that level too."
Yannetti: "Obviously, you want the first pick, so you can dictate who you get. At the same time, having the second pick of this draft is a pretty enviable position."
Futa: "I mean, watching that draft lottery... I know Steve Stamkos, and I've had him in programs, but it wasn't a matter of being upset about losing Stamkos. When you struggle during a season, you want to have the full deck of cards in front of you. You want to have that choice."
Yannetti: "Whether or not you decide to take him, you want to be able to make that decision."
Futa: "When you struggle for a year like that, you should have all the cards in front of you. That being said, that was the only kind of disappointment. Because we realized that after him -- if that's who Tampa decides to take -- there's a tremendous core of players right there for us to make our decision on."
Question: As we sit here now, do you guys have a pretty firm idea of what you want to do with that second pick?
Futa: "Yeah. What would you say, there's a core of two or three, two in particular."
Yannetti: "Yeah. We talked about 'complete information.' Barring complete information changing, we have a very good idea."
Futa: "A very good idea. And that's why we talk about knowing these kids. When we head to Toronto (for the draft combine), we're obviously going to be spending lots of time with different scenarios."
Yannetti: "With different scenarios and different people."
Futa: "As Mark just said, it would take something coming out of a closet, that we never saw coming, to change things."
Question: During this evaluation time, if we're talking about "Prospect X," how many times will you guys watch him play, as a staff?
Yannetti: "You would think the area (scout) would see him maybe 10 times?"
Futa: "Yeah, that's safe to say."
Yannetti: "Then the secondary, crossover guy might see him four or five times?"
Futa: "Maybe a little less in the West, because it's a broader base. A minimum of five to seven for the area guys, and then we probably see them two times each."
Yannetti: "First- or second-round guys, we might see them eight or 10 times each. When it's all said and done, you might be talking about 40-plus viewings (as a staff). As he said, it's a little harder to see some of the guys in the West, so you allow a little more on your area guy to tell you who you need to focus on. Same with Quebec, because that's kind of getting spread out. Then you have Tony in the U.S., who actually has to do a lot of weeding out in terms of who not to see."
Futa: "As the funnel starts to spit out the guys that are being considered for the higher spots, the viewings are ridiculous. And when you get to that stage, with the top guys, Dean has probably seen the top guys four times each, five maybe. Especially with the World Juniors. Probably twice in their home venues and then the World Juniors, in particular this year, allowed him to see guys."
Yannetti: "Then don't forget, we spent 13 days in Prague and then another 15 in Russia (for the under-18 World Championships). That's not normal. That's good. It's beneficial. That's a lot of coverage."
Question: Do you know when it's time to step back, before it becomes paralysis by analysis and you've actually seen too much of the kid?
Futa: "(laughs) When is that? When the gun goes off in Ottawa? The thing is, with these top guys, you don't find any (negative) spots on them until you get really close to the day. Then you start eyeing them too close. (laughs) You're talking about guys you've seen, and it's like you're comparing lobster and prime rib. You're comparing some really prime dishes to each other, and it becomes, 'Oh, my lobster was a little off today.' (laughs) You're finding things wrong with them as you get closer to the date. You have to realize that everybody has a wart. Nobody is the perfect player. Then you start to compare. Whereas when you read the first few reports, you think, 'Holy smokes, this guy is ready to step in right away."'
Yannetti: "He's ready for canonization."
Futa: "Yeah. Then as you get closer, you start to look more for warts. It's just a part of the thorough process."
Yannetti: "Would you say the area guys fit that mold, because they're seeing far more? The area guys, sometimes, may have to step away. When you see a guy 15 or 18 times, you have to step back."
Futa: "It's a good question, because there's a certain time -- and I couldn't give you the exact date -- when you're writing a report and you're like, 'I can't write any more about this guy.' You end up writing the same thing, game after game. That's when it's time to sit back. You're supposed to use your time properly, and if you're writing the same thing, five games in a row, and it's all good or all bad..."
Yannetti: "If it's consistent..."
Futa: "If it's consistent, that's the time to take a step back, and we'll back it up with what we see here. That's when you probably lean more on your character checks. That would probably be when the bell goes off."
Yannetti: "That's when you know. He's right. And it's different, probably for every player and different for each scout. There comes a time where it's like, 'What am I doing?' It's like reading the same sentence two or three times in a book. It's time to go to bed." -----
Question: We're looking at seven rounds, 200-some players in this draft. How many guys, draft-eligible players, will you end up looking at?
Yannetti: "Even the ones that don't make our list?"
Yannetti: "Oh my God. I shudder to think. I can't even give you an estimate. We will have seen every single player that Central Scouting lists, as well as those the other publications list, as well as other guys that aren't listed. Especially in regards to Europeans. Wow. What do you think? What you even be able to guess?"
Futa: "I can't even fathom right now."
Yannetti: "I can't even imagine a guess. That's how many it would be."
Futa: "Because you go to some games, and watch the whole game and nobody gets rated. That's a hard number to figure."
Yannetti: "I'll go to high school tournaments for New England prep schools. Tony and I and our area guy, Bob Crocker, went to that. We saw eight games a day for five days. We saw 30 to 40 games. A lot of those times, you might see eight draft-eligible guys who you don't even rate. So those are the guys you can't even count. Then you have the guys you do rate. It would be a mind-boggling number, I think."
Question: The consensus seems to be that the organization is stronger, in terms of prospects, than it's been recently, if not ever. This isn't an attempt to knock the previous regimes, but do you sense that as well?
Futa: "Honestly, I can't... Mark might be able to answer, because he was here a little bit. But for me, coming in, it's just been about this group. So it would be unfair for me to compare anything against the past. All I know is that it feels very comfortable when you go to the World Juniors and we have five guys playing. There's a good feeling going into those tournaments with that kind of youth base in place."
Yannetti: "That being said, previous people from this organization deserve Jon Bernier credit there too."
Yannetti: "Al (Murray, former scouting director) won the gold medal this year. He put that team together."
Futa: "If anybody in this business gets into critiquing the past, it's an absolute no-win situation. You look at Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown, who are two of the major building blocks of this organization, they were put in place by other people."
Yannetti: "It's real easy to criticize. I watched (the Kings) from the outside as a scout, and it's real easy to come in and say, 'This is deficient and this is deficient.' But you're also talking about a landscape that completely changed after the lockout. You're talking about philosophies that are now completely different. It's kind of hard to go back and criticize pre- vs. post-lockout too. Some teams were positioned better. Some teams needed to work harder. It's just different."
Question: When picks are made, like Hickey or Moller or Simmonds last year, and people initially think, "Well, that's interesting," and then people start to get real excited about those guys, does that give you some satisfaction?
Futa: "That part, absolutely. If you're not always making the 'sexy' pick, it's about having the confidence in your group, and knowing that so much work has gone into this. You have to really believe in where you've got guys on your list and know that you've put all your homework in, so that you're not guessing. You're removing as much gray area as possible when you're making your selections. Nobody ever comes away from the draft thinking, 'Wow, we just had a (bad) draft.' (laughs) Everybody feels good. But it's just part of the steps. If you look at our first pick (Hickey). That was a pefect example of the amount of work that goes into a player. Obviously there are other players (first-round picks) who have stepped right in. It wasn't that we didn't feel they could step right in and help. With this player, it was going to take a little longer to show the fruits."
Yannetti: "You heard collective groans when he was picked. Plain and simple. You heard collective groans. Then all of a sudden he's got a gold medal (in the World Juniors) and before he got hurt in the playoffs he was the leading-scoring defenseman and one of the two leading scorers in the playoffs. Now, great, Mike and I and Tony and the rest of the team, we can all pat each other on the back, but the thing is, they still haven't played. You're a villain, and then all of a sudden people give you credit, but there's still two more years to go."
Futa: "We feel good that their path to becoming Kings is looking good, but they still have to get there."
Yannetti: "You take all the information you have, and you make the right pick for the right reasons. Then you develop and in four years, three years, you know where you are. But you can't get too high or too low."
Question: How do you react when people, either rightfully or not, get impatient and either want these prospects in the NHL right away or want them traded? Do you have to fight against that at all?
Futa: "Totally immune to it. It's not in our job descriptions. Our jobs are to continue to do what we do and spend time with our guys. When we go in to watch kids we've already drafted... Dean always wants us to go down and talk to these kids and see how they're doing, but other than that, that's not our thing."
Yannetti: "The other thing is the crossover with development. You have the pro guys asking the amateur guys' advice and the amateur guys asking the pros' advice. Hey, we could have left Jonathan Bernier up last year. It would have made a whole lot of fans happy, for sure. But we have 10 to 12 people choosing a development path that they think maximizes the player's potential. So that could mean a lean year here or there. You want to set yourself up to be great, rather than just consistently capable."
Futa: "If anything, on a decision like that, the easy decision is to say, 'Stay here.' Especially when you know that fans want results under their noses. The thought process that is right for the Kings is not always the easiest one."
Yannetti: "If you really want to look deep at the models of some of the successful teams, there were some lean years for those successful teams. Look at Ottawa, look at Pittsburgh, look at Anaheim. There were some lean, lean years. Look at Tampa Bay before they won. Obviously you want to win today, but you also have to come up with a model that you believe in and stick to it."
Futa: "When you talk about changing the environment and creating a winning environment, when you go to a tournament like the World Juniors and see a slew of your prospects winning together..."
Yannetti: "Five kids, three golds and two silvers."
Futa: "When you start to see them winning together and succeeding together, you do start to picture... Wow, would that look nice. Because that's the winning environment you want to create."
Yannetti: "They're learning to win as well. That's a pretty valuable experience there. For every kid, not just our prospects."
Question: What's it like to work for Dean, who thinks very out of the box on a lot of things and isn't just going to go by convention? Challenging? Exciting? Some combination of both?
Yannetti: "Exciting, for sure. Challenging, for sure."
Futa: "All of the above. You can tell when someone trusts you, and there's a certain process that goes with that. But I know that he has a tremendous amount of trust in us and the staff. That part is huge. He always says, 'Think out of the box but don't reinvent the wheel.' That's one of his things. The amount that you learn is unbelievable. The camaraderie, again, is out of this world. I don't know how he presents himself to (the media) or whatever, but the camaraderie he has amongst his staff, is phenomenal."
Yannetti: "I don't know if it's like this for everyone, but I feel guilty sometimes... If it's 7 o'clock at night and I don't have a game on but I'm watching TV, I feel guilty. (both laugh) I'm telling you, more often than not I stop and think, 'Oh, I better go work on my list,' or, 'I better go watch a game."'
Futa: "You get a call and your kids are crying in the background. 'What's that?' 'Oh, that would be my three daughters. (laughs) Let me put them outside while we watch a game."'
Yannetti: "Seriously though, it's funny. I mean, thank God I love doing this."
Futa: "(Lombardi) is a big proponent of family, but don't misunderstand, (the Kings are) our family. (laughs)"
Yannetti: "We have two families. One family takes precedent at certain times of the year and the other takes precedent at other times of the year. The thing is, you're challenged so often, and by a guy who is intelligent and works hard. There's such a constant -- and I don't want to use the term 'anxiety level' -- but there have been times that I've gotten a phone call at 1 o'clock in the morning. 'Hey, I just watched this on this guy and I saw these three things.' My first day here, he asked me, 'Briere or Gomez?' He calls me up, and I think it was midnight. I got home and he calls me with, 'Briere or Gomez?' And I won't tell you who I said, but I said, 'Player A,' and he said, 'What the hell am I paying you for? Tell me why. I could get that answer from anybody.' So he calls me two days later and says, 'This or this?' And it's now a two-hour discussion."
Futa: "That's a perfect example. Sometimes, when you run a junior scouts meeting or something, you'll talk to guy and say, 'Player X, what do you think?' And he will say, 'Oh yeah, he can play.' And, God forbid, if you ever throw that out around here, it's like, 'I don't have time for this guy.' (laughs)"
Yannetti: "There's such a level of accountability and detail, and you're exposed to so many things."
Futa: "There's a level of attention that you better have, because if you sit in there and, God forbid, you nod off on a question and you get called to the plate, you had better be ready and attentive. You've got to be ready to answer questions with knowledge, and not fluff, or the fluff will be exposed. Then there will be posters of the fluff up, all around the office. (laughs) Just so nobody forgets it."
Yannetti: "You're exposed to things here that you don't get exposed to in other organizations. It's just philosophy, and I tend to like the philosophy. I've sat in on contract meetings. I've obviously done the pro and the amateur here, but I've sat in on development meetings. I've sat in on..."
Futa: "Last year, I was here for a week and he was having me sit in on meetings."
Yannetti: "We're in with the coaching staff."
Futa: "He wants you to see things. He just feels that you've got to know. There's obviously a trust, that the information isn't going back so you can share it with your buddies. There's such a trust, and he wants you to see how this is being run. If you're going to be a part of what this product is going to be five years from now, he wants you to see all the steps that are involved in it."
Yannetti: "There's no right or wrong way. Certain teams have certain philosophies."
Futa: "You've got to admit though, you feel a lot more a part of it here."
Yannetti: "And you learn. The more people you're exposed to, the more you can learn. (Director of hockey operations) Jeff Solomon looks at things differently than (assistant GM) Ron Hextall looks at things. Dean looks at things differently than I look at things. Now you're interacting daily with people who are at the top of their fields, and you start to think differently."
Futa: "You're like a kid in a candy store."
Yannetti: "It affects the way you now look at things. And I think it helps them too. Jeff gets a look at the ground roots of how guys are rated. Otherwise, he only sees the finished product."