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Kings have the second pick in the NHL draft. Can it be like 2008 again?

Drew Doughty shakes hands with Kings general manager Dean Lombardi at the 2008 NHL draft.
Drew Doughty, right, shakes hands with Kings general manager Dean Lombardi after being selected No. 2 overall by the Kings in the 2008 NHL draft.
(Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)

The similarities are striking — “spooky” even, in the words of Mark Yannetti, the Kings’ director of amateur scouting.

The team will make the second overall pick in the NHL draft on Tuesday, its highest selection since taking Drew Doughty at No. 2 in 2008.

Just like that year, this week’s selection comes at a crossroads in the club’s years-long rebuild. As they were back then, the Kings are searching for a centerpiece to cement their future.

“The Drew Doughty pick was the most important pick the franchise has seen,” Yannetti said. “You could argue that this is along the levels of that.”

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There are some differences. Twelve years ago, the Kings hadn’t yet won a Stanley Cup. They weren’t yet burdened with such intense external expectations.

They didn’t have a pandemic to contend with either, one that has thrown this year’s pre-draft process off the rails and delayed the event from June to October.

Alex Turcotte, the No. 5 pick in the 2019 draft, is one of several prospects the Kings have lent to European teams while the NHL sorts out next season’s schedule.

“But in terms of making a team a contender,” Yannetti countered, “this pick is equally important.”

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Weeks before the 2008 draft, Yannetti, then co-director of amateur scouting Mike Futa and former general manager Dean Lombardi spent an afternoon at Doughty’s family home.

They met his parents and saw the Kings jersey, pillowcases, and night lamp decorating his bedroom, astonished a player raised two hours outside Toronto had made L.A. his childhood team.

By that point, the trio was confident the Kings would become Doughty’s professional club too. They were already certain of his talent, placing the future Norris Trophy winner atop their draft board, even ahead of consensus top pick Steven Stamkos.

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“When you’re picking second overall, when you’re in that area, you don’t want to be there very long. You’ve got to know the person inside and out.”

Mike Futa, former Kings co-director of amateur scouting

But their due diligence wasn’t complete, not until they could see Doughty react to hard questions — about his training habits, his commitment, his ability to carry an NHL franchise — in person.

“We went into the house and had some pretty, almost uncomfortable times. … telling him he’s got to change his eating habits and stuff like that,” said Futa, who later became the Kings’ assistant general manager before his contract was not renewed this May.

“When you’re picking second overall, when you’re in that area, you don’t want to be there very long. You’ve got to know the person inside and out.”

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Added Yannetti: “You’re trying to walk the line between negativity and respectability. But at the same time, you’re making a franchise-changing, franchise-altering decision. It was awesome, but that doesn’t mean it was smooth.”

The Kings had similarly straightforward conversations, albeit over video calls, ahead of this year’s draft, with forwards Quinton Byfield and Tim Stuetzle believed to be the top contenders to go at No. 2.

HAMILTON, ON - JANUARY 16: Quinton Byfield #55 of Team Red skates
NHL prospect Quinton Byfield takes part in the CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game in January.
(Vaughn Ridley / Getty Images)

Whomever they select will join a team whose rebuild is well underway. After missing the playoffs three times in four seasons, the Kings believe they have quickly restocked their farm system under general manager Rob Blake. They’re hopeful most of their future stars are already in place.

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But they could use one more cornerstone piece, an elite-level talent rarely available beyond the top two picks.

The 2008 Kings were in a similar situation. Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Jonathan Quick were already with the team, but only after Doughty joined did they begin to look competitive again.

Doughty did his part. Taking the work-ethic questions to heart, he slimmed down for that year’s combine and walked into a Toronto hotel banquet hall with a “big toothless grin,” Futa said, laughing. “Like, ‘Check me out, I fit into my tights.’ ”

During that fall’s preseason, it took one day of rookie camp to know Doughty was ready for the NHL. And though the Kings suffered growing pains in his rookie year, their foundation was strong enough for Lombardi to acquire veterans Jarret Stoll, Matt Greene, Sean O’Donnell and Justin Williams — rounding out a roster that would win the Stanley Cup twice in the following five seasons.

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“All of a sudden, you’re like, ‘Now we’ve got some pieces that are coming,’ ” Futa said. “You see your whole identity start to change.”

Drew Doughty celebrates with the Stanley Cup following the Kings' win over the New York Rangers.
Drew Doughty celebrates with the Stanley Cup following the Kings’ win over the New York Rangers in the 2014 Stanley Cup Final.
(Christian Petersen / Getty Images)

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Before all that, however, there was a brief moment during draft day that Doughty thought he might not be a King after all.

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While sitting in the stands at the Scotiabank Place in Ottawa, Doughty closely watched the action on the floor. When he saw Lombardi shake hands with then-Calgary Flames general manager Darryl Sutter, he sensed a draft-day trade had just been made.

“I was losing it,” Doughty said that night. “I looked at my parents and kind of buried my face in my hands. They were a little worried because they knew how bad I wanted to come [to the Kings].”

But then came a call from Futa, who had known Doughty since his Pee-Wee days. Doughty was indeed a King.

“That was a fun call,” Futa said.

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Doughty’s inclination wasn’t wrong either. The Kings and Flames had struck a deal. It was a three-way trade that saw the Kings, who also had the draft’s 28th overall pick, move up to No. 12 by sending Michael Cammalleri to the Flames and the No. 28 selection to the Ducks.

Drew Doughty poses for photos with Kings personnel after being selected No. 2 overall in the 2008 NHL draft.
(Bruce Bennett / Getty Images)

“I’ve run that draft over 10,000 times, I’ve run that draft over this month, just the scenarios, all the time,”

Mark Yannetti on the No. 12 pick of the 2008 NHL draft

It was intentional. Committed to building depth on their blue line, the Kings wanted to add another right-handed defenseman. They knew several would be available in the early teens.

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Debate at the draft table began immediately between Tyler Myers, Erik Karlsson and Colten Teubert. The first two had higher upsides on offense. The latter possessed an old-school physical presence.

Their pre-draft prospect list was reevaluated in the heat of the moment. Amid a five-season playoff drought, Teubert’s toughness tilted the scales. The Kings swapped picks with Buffalo to get him at No. 13.

Twelve years later, Teubert has become one of the biggest busts in recent franchise history — the player picked over Myers, the 2010 Calder Trophy-winner as rookie of the year, and Karlsson, a two-time Norris Trophy winner as the league’s top defenseman.

“I’ve run that draft over 10,000 times, I’ve run that draft over this month, just the scenarios, all the time,” Yannetti said, tormented still by the decision even though the Kings got Slava Voynov, another impact right-handed defenseman, in the second round.

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“The procedure on that pick was wrong. Getting Voynov at 32 and Drew at two, there’s so much that was right. But the whole staff saw that 12th pick going wrong. … It should never have happened. There’s a lot of things that bother me about that draft.”

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That’s the thing about nailing the No. 2 pick, though. It makes up for other mistakes made along the way.

No doubt, the Kings’ recently robust run of draft picks will include a few failed selections. It’s inevitable. But getting a star second overall makes each one easier to overcome.

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The Kings’ pipeline is considered among the best in the league, according to several hockey publications. And yet, a successful pick on Tuesday night could “speed along the process by two years,” Yannetti said. “Or it could add two or three years on the back end of how long you’re a contender.”

Those are the stakes. Yannetti and the Kings know them well.

“This is a more important pick than picking at 20, this is a more important pick than picking at five,” Yannetti said, referencing the Kings’ draft positions of the previous two years. “We’re getting a different level of player.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has altered this year’s experience, eliminating many of the same in-person evaluation opportunities and turning the draft into a virtual event. But when the Kings decision-makers file into a war room in their El Segundo offices, they’ll be hoping their past can repeat itself, that this No. 2 pick can impact their future as much as the last one.

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“I reminisce on that draft a lot,” Yannetti said, this time finding a source of optimism from another 2008 reflection. “It was the first step in the success of us winning a Cup.”


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