The continued success of forwards Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson has brought renewed attention to the Kings’ scouting and development process, and deservedly so.
General Manager Dean Lombardi hired more scouts and essentially reorganized the entire scouting department after he got the job in 2006, and his labor is paying off with a steady stream of young players who have brought energy up front and, in the case of Jake Muzzin and Alec Martinez, stability on defense.
Michael Futa, who was the Kings’ co-director of amateur scouting for seven years before being recently promoted to the new position of vice president of hockey operations and director of player personnel, discussed some of the Kings’ plans and successes with The Times in this column. But space restrictions in newspapers being tighter than the NHL’s salary cap, I couldn’t
fit everything he said into print. So here are some other highlights of the conversation I had with Futa on Sunday.
Futa said Toffoli and Pearson had to adopt better conditioning habits before they could compete at this level, and they did. But both also had to do more than just score if Coach Darryl Sutter was going to put them in the lineup and trust them.
“If Tyler Toffoli doesn’t win Darryl Sutter over on how he’s going to hang in on the walls and get pucks out on the walls, he’s never going to get a chance to play for the Kings to show what he can do offensively,” Futa said. “That’s the kind of accountability that Darryl demands, and the
development team demands. They don’t let kids take shortcuts.
“Then they get themselves in a situation on a big stage like this, their natural coolness, they don’t look overwhelmed when you go into San Jose for a Game 7 because they’re confident, they’ve won their coaches’ trust, they’ve won their teammates’ trust and all their natural instincts kick in because they’ve put the work in.”
Futa said that when he goes to development or prospect camps, he can easily tell which kids have recognized the benefits of being in prime shape.
“I always laugh when I come down because some of them don’t want to take their shirts off when they go shirts and skins, and then once they start to put in the work, some of them don’t want to put the shirts back on,” he said, laughing. “They want to show, ‘Look at the work I’ve put in. Look what I’ve done.’”
Toffoli, he said, “is one of those kids that he’s put himself in a situation now with the work he’s put in….You look at men who are in the middle of their careers, as opposed to the kids who are just starting their careers, and if he wants to put in the work to another level the game is going
to continue to get easy for him to be able to do the stuff that nobody else can do.”
Drafting and building from within are the only way to construct and maintain a consistent winner in a salary-cap era. Lombardi’s mandate is to try and average 1 1/2 NHL players out of every draft, “and we’re kind of well above that average," Futa said. “You’ve just got to keep working. Just as you say to players, we can never get complacent.”
Futa credited the previous Kings regime, headed by Dave Taylor, with drafting Anze Kopitar and Jonathan Quick, and said the Kings have added other core players under Lombardi and built around them. He cited the Chicago Blackhawks, the Kings’ opponent in the Western Conference finals, as another example of how to win through good drafting and development.
“The teams that are left—look at Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane--their own guys that have come up. Look at Boston. The teams that have won recently are all building from within,” Futa said. “And then you can manage your cap and bring in some stars and character guys from organizations, but you build it all from within with the draft.
“So it’s pretty gratifying that way. That’s the way it was set out to be done here. And I think they’ve done an excellent job of managing their cap and knowing what you can do and balancing it out. Sometimes you lose guys, and it’s tough to do. But you’ve got to manage it.”
Futa also said that in his new role he hopes to continue the strong relationship between the scouts and those in charge of developing players. “You try and put a product on that you know Darryl and the big boys are going to take and mold into the final steps of being a pro,” he said. “It’s a good synergy and it’s thrilling for us to literally see that many guys make
Some guys won’t make it, including some who have been called up from Manchester (N.H.) of the American Hockey League and have been practicing alongside or after the Kings. Of that group, some will find places with other teams.
“I’ve been a part of only one organization so I only know what it’s like to work for Dean, and I know what the expectations are to pull on a Kings jersey,” Futa said. “If you don’t meet those qualifications… We’ve got a couple kids we drafted that they got down here and didn’t meet those expectations. It’s a privilege to pull on a Kings jersey and it’s not an easy job to win anymore…. It’s a hard lineup to get into and that’s why we’re consistently playing at this time of year.”