The 2008 draft was billed as the "Stamkos Sweepstakes," named after Sarnia Sting center Steven Stamkos, who scored 58 goals in his final season of junior and was at the top of most draft rankings that year. But for the Kings, it might as well have been the "Doughty Derby."
They knew that no matter what pick they had, they would take defenseman Drew Doughty if given the opportunity.
"We would've ended up taking him first overall," Mark Yannetti, the Kings' long-time Director of Amateur Scouting, proclaimed.
Kings Assistant General Manager Mike Futa, who was Co-Director with Yannetti for seven years, agreed with his colleague and friend.
"We actually valued Drew first overall because of the defense position. If we had won the lottery we would've taken Doughty first overall," Futa divluged.
But it went beyond simply embracing GM Dean Lombardi's philosophy of building from the back out. Doughty's skill level on the blue line was something the Kings' Co-Directors had never seen before.
Video: LAK@EDM: Kopitar sets up Doughty for power-play goal
"His hockey sense was really as good as we had ever seen. He was able to log huge minutes. I mean huge minutes and still mentally be so aware and so good," Yannetti described.
"Even though he was pacing himself physically for those kinds of minutes, he was still making creative plays. He was still advancing the puck up the ice. He was still making split-second decisions. For me, that's what set him apart pretty much from everybody else. And not that there weren't other guys with elite hockey sense, but Drew's, for me, was on another level," he added.
The only real question mark for the Kings was Doughty's fitness level. "He was out of shape," Yannetti bluntly stated. For Yannetti, the biggest consideration in taking him at two, was determining whether Doughty's condition coming out of junior was something that could be improved.
"If he has the type of character and the right type of drive and intangibles, the fact that he was out of shape means there's a whole other level he could get his game to physically. You start to see a guy who has all these advanced elements and he hasn't even reached his full physical potential," Yannetti assessed.
Futa felt that, in addition to getting Doughty to challenge himself physically, they needed to know if he understood the gravity of the situation for the Kings. That pick would be a franchise-defining moment.
"We needed to know that he would be ready to take on the responsibility that goes with getting picked that high," Futa said.
Prior to the NHL combine, Yannetti and Futa travelled to meet with Doughty and his family. According to Yannetti, he believes the trio spent upwards of five hours with the Doughty family that day. While there were some fun moments, such as seeing all of Kings memorabilia in Doughty's room, the visit was all business.
"What we had there was more of an interrogation," Yannetti explained. "You want to have a frank discussion because you're talking about a second overall pick. You might be talking about a $100-million decision if you do it right or wrong," he continued.
While Yannetti admitted the conversation was uncomfortable at times, particularly as the Kings poked and prodded their way through the issue of Doughty's fitness, he believes that the back-and-forth they had with Doughty and his family really firmed up the team's decision.
"He didn't say quick fix things. He didn't make excuses. He didn't get overly defensive," Yannetti recalled. "He already had a plan and he recognized his deficiencies. Name a 17-year-old kid who has it all figured out? The fact he didn't have it all figured out is good because we knew we would get more from him," he added.
By the time the NHL Combine came around, Doughty had undergone a physical transformation. Futa figures that, by that point, Doughty had lost around 25 pounds.
"I still remember it was like watching the WWE. [Zach] Bogosian came out before him and was throwing weights around and ripping through his spandex, and then Drew comes out with this big smile on his face like 'hey, look at me, I lost all the weight,'" Futa chuckled.
Yannetti immediately recognized the amount of work that Doughty put in.
"That tight-fitting gear doesn't hide many flaws and Drew had his chest puffed out walking around there. You could tell he was proud of the work he did. He had an air of confidence and you could see he had a sense of accomplishment, too," he remembered.
When Futa and Yannetti left the combine, they knew with 100 percent certainty that Doughty would be the pick.
The next time the duo saw Doughty, he was pulling a Kings sweater over his head after the team summoned him to the stage, second overall, at the Scotiabank Place (now the Canadian Tire Centre).
Doughty, who had been a Kings fan growing up, had realized his childhood goal, while Futa and Yannetti's scouting had just culminated in what would become one of the best decisions the organization would ever make.
Doughty made an immediate impact on the Kings' blue line. In 2009-10, his second season with the club, Doughty had racked up 59 points and was a finalist for the Norris Trophy that year. Two years after that, he was celebrating the franchise's first Stanley Cup on the ice with both Futa and Yannetti.
"You can't even put it into words," Futa said proudly. "I know that sounds like a cliché but until you're standing on the ice and you're hugging a kid you've known since he was 17 years old and now he's hoisting the Stanley Cup. It's the ultimate feeling of full encompassment of your job when they come up and you've won the cup together. It's beyond words," he continued.
Of course, Doughty wasn't the only player among that championship team that Futa and Yannetti had a hand in scouting, but there was special significance for the pair because of his impact on the organization and that he was the first player they had drafted as Co-Directors of Amateur Scouting.
"You see this player go from an out-of-shape elite prospect as a 17-year-old to a Stanley Cup winner. Watching a guy figure it out is really cool," Yannetti said.
It's been eleven years since the Kings drafted Doughty, but the selection has had a lasting impact on Futa and Yannetti.
"No matter what happens in our scouting careers, that draft will probably have the longest lasting impression on us," Yannetti reflected.
With two Stanley Cup Championships, two Olympic gold medals, and a Norris Trophy on Doughty's resume, it's a pretty easy statement for Yannetti to make. But as someone who is heading into his thirteenth draft as Director of Amateur Scouting with the Kings, he knows just how difficult it is to find a player of his calibre.
"We went to that stage that day very comfortable with Drew as the pick. No one in our organization is surprised that Drew is the player he is today," he affirmed.
That's not always the case, but given Yannetti's track record, the Kings have every reason to be excited about the fifth overall selection this year.