I have learned not to doubt the Los Angeles Kings.
A few years back, I was at an Oshawa Generals game and a fan asked me if Andy Andreoff had any shot at getting drafted. Considering that Andreoff had already been passed over twice, I told him that anything was possible, but privately, Andreoff hadn't really been on my radar.
Sure enough, the Kings picked up the gritty left winger in the third round that summer (the 2011 draft) and Andreoff has already played 13 games for the squad this season.
This past summer, I was standing with another reporter at the draft in Philadelphia, marvelling at the bizarre order in which the Kings were picking – taking certain kids way earlier than expected, leaving higher-rated kids to the end. But I'm not going to second-guess GM Dean Lombardi and his crew, which is headed by Mike Futa, VP of hockey operations and director of player personnel, and director of amateur scouting Mark Yanetti because they clearly know what they're doing.
The Kings are life and death to make the post-season right now, but if they get in, they instantly become favorites to win it all. We've seen this script before in L.A.
Inconsistency has plagued the squad and insiders believe the Slava Voynov situation has impacted the dressing room. Yet here they are, just one point out of a wild card spot with a game in hand on Winnipeg.
Tuesday night, they stuffed the Colorado Avalanche, with rookie Nick Shore getting in on the action with his fourth point in 20 games while playing a bottom-six role. Shore was scooped up by the Kings in the third round of 2011.
He comes from a hockey family (brother Drew plays for the Flames, brother Quentin is a Sens pick, youngest brother Baker is on his way) and brings smarts and hockey sense to the ice. Shore was taken 82nd overall, but only 43 players from the 2011 draft have played more games than he has so far.
And I haven't even gotten to the biggest success stories: Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli.
Though Pearson was hyped for the 2012 draft, a big part of the story was that he had already been passed over twice due to conditioning concerns. Playing with future Winnipeg Jets center Mark Scheifele saw Pearson's offensive numbers soar and helped earn him a spot on Canada's world junior team that year. But was that his career peak?
The Kings, coming off their first Stanley Cup, obviously believed there was more and took him with the final pick of the first round. The Kings, clearly, were correct.
Toffoli had always been a big-time producer and had decent size, yet he slipped to Los Angeles in the second round in 2010. Toffoli repaid the faith by helping the Kings win their second Cup last year, playing on a line with Pearson and Jeff Carter.
Is it luck? There's too much of a pattern for that to be true. Plus, out of all those players, only Shore didn't come from the Ontario League (he's a University of Denver product by way of the NTDP). Futa used to be GM of the OHL's Owen Sound Attack, where he was adept at finding gems such as Wayne Simmonds and Mark Giordano. So he knows the league and he knows value.
I also wonder how success has bolstered the organization, how the depth at the NHL level has allowed freedom to take risks at the developmental stage. After all, the Kings have a deadly core of players (Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar, Marian Gaborik, Justin Williams, Dustin Brown, Jonathan Quick, etc.) and if need be, free agency is an easy sell.
But since the team is set at every key position – top-flight center, No. 1 defenseman, franchise goalie – it can afford to take chances at the draft. Not that it would want to, but the Kings are so set in terms of depth that they could strike out completely in the next two drafts and not be affected at all.
The fact they've taken some risks in the past few years and still come up with some value evokes an even scarier thought: Based on their scouting, those players weren't really "risks" at all – but they were savvy enough to see it before others.