Kings GM Rob Blake has a lot to accomplish in offseason and a lot of time to do it
Rob Blake, the Kings’ vice president and general manager, will have plenty of time to contemplate the next — and potentially most important — moves in his club’s continued rebuild.
Blake’s offseason to-do list is long, from filling a minor league coaching vacancy to preparing for a majorly important draft. But with the Kings not participating in the NHL’s 24-team restart plan, he might not be able to start putting plans into action until “much further down the road,” he said. “We’re one of those seven teams that’s a little bit in limbo on the start date and everything.”
The draft is perhaps the biggest long-term priority, especially after the Kings received the No. 2 overall pick in the lottery last month. With consensus top pick Alexis Lafreniere probably be off the board, the Kings could be deciding between other high-level prospects such as centers Quinton Byfield, who had 82 points in 45 junior hockey games this season in the Ontario Hockey League, and Tim Stutzle, a German prospect who recorded five points in five games during last winter’s World Junior Championships.
Before the draft was officially postponed to this fall (a new date has not yet been finalized), the Kings had been preparing for the original June date. Now with several extra months of prep time, “You can narrow it down to three or four players where you’re really starting to zero in, instead of a group,” Blake said. “But you’re going to review all the prep you did leading up to this one more time to have it fresh on your mind.”
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The delay will also give Blake and Mark Yannetti, the director of amateur scouting, more time to craft a draft strategy, a task at which Blake feels he has grown more adept every year since being promoted to general manager in 2017.
“I don’t think I really understood much of the [scouting] staff the first time around,” said Blake, whose draft responsibilities have greatly increased from his days as the team’s assistant general manager. “[Now], you understand Mark and the way he operates. You understand how they collect their reports and their data throughout the season, and then the selection process.”
The Kings’ three second-round picks and two each in the third and fourth rounds could create opportunities to move around the draft board too, much like they did last summer when they swung a deal with the Montreal Canadiens to move up in the second round and select Swedish prospect Samuel Fagemo.
“The thing that starts to take shape, probably most significantly last [year] and into this year, is the combination of sitting with Mark and going over the draft strategy,” Blake said. “That takes place as you put the plan in place with your team.”
At the NHL level, Blake doesn’t believe a potentially condensed free-agency period will have much effect on the club’s 2020-21 roster plans. He still expects to field a young roster that will come up well short of the salary cap.
He doesn’t foresee any issues in re-signing restricted free agents (the club has five such players who appeared with the Kings last year, including Nikolai Prokhorkin, Austin Wagner and Sean Walker) and he is already evaluating which minor league prospects could make the NHL jump.
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“Some of these younger guys we’ve been able to see for a year in the American [Hockey] League, which gives you a little bit better projection of their time playing in the NHL,” Blake said. “You build your roster around that.”
Other questions are less clear. Blake is still waiting to see how much, if any, offseason training the league will allow for non-playoff teams such as the Kings, who have yet to open their practice facility to players. He’s hoping the club, which has navigated financial impacts to all departments, won’t suffer more serious pandemic-related setbacks. And he doesn’t know when front-office members will be allowed to return to their El Segundo offices full-time.
“It’s interesting when you get put in these situations, everybody’s very comfortable on video conferencing,” Blake said. “I don’t think that was [the case] five months ago.”
Blake said the team is still in the “early stages” of its search for a new coach of the Ontario Reign, their AHL affiliate. The process is being headed up by director of player development Glen Murray and Reign general manager Rich Seeley.
The team is targeting candidates who can help foster a revamped development model that began to be put in place last season. But the uncertain schedule is creating unknowns in the coaching search.
“We’re a little concerned with, are guys going to be available? What’s the timing on all this?” Blake said. “But everything’s obviously being pushed back and the unknown start dates. We’ll make sure we take our time.”
Like with most things this offseason, Blake and the Kings don’t have much choice. A long summer first awaits.
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