Our next installment of our “Five Questions” series features Mark Yanetti, the Director of Amateur Scouting for the Los Angeles Kings in the NHL. Mark is a lifetime player, hailing from Massachusetts. He started scouting for the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1999 and has been working in the Kings organization for five years running. His full bio from the Kings site is here. Sit back, relax and enjoy the ride – this is a pretty revealing interview about true life as an amateur scout.
Who travels more, a player on the Los Angeles Kings, or you, the Director of Amateur Scouting?
Not even close – I do, a minimum of 4 European/Russia trips per year. Last year I spent well over 200 days in a hotel, not to mention days where I traveled to games but came home that night.
I always hear great debate about the whole “you need to have been a hockey player during your life sometime to be an effective scout” – what are your thoughts on that?
Is it absolutely necessary? No. But it does make a big difference – even scouts that have not played some form of pro hockey are at times behind those that did – it is nearly impossible to “tell” someone how tough playing hockey is. You have to live it – the travel and the absolute grind, especially in the minors. Very hard. Then there’s the fear factor and hardness of players & competition that cannot be described – there are so many subtleties involved. However, I do know more than a few scouts whom I consider exceptionally competent even though they have never played at this level or even a competitive level. The learning curve is usually very long however – those that do stick it out “earn” it in many of the same ways ex-players do. Starting at the very bottom and working your way up is long-frustrating and often under-appreciated, to say the least.
Other than viewing and judging talent, can you give the general hockey fan a better sense about what else scouts do that people may not realize?
Judging character…and not just the good old all-american boy whom you’d want your daughter to marry. Many times the things that make you a fierce competitor – single-minded and especially a winner – are not the traits of a good citizen. Sometimes they are, though. Without going into names, some of the players I’d want in the playoffs would not pass people’s OR societies test – its all about figuring out which flaws can be overcome and which cannot be overcome – and which you can live with. Sometimes the best talent doesn’t equal the best player – actually quite often. Then there is the toughest part, which is projections – who will get better, who will hit their potential or whose potential is higher. So even though player A will be better than player B there are circumstances where I will choose player B because of intangibles – such as taking a hard, nasty physical defenseman over a more skilled wing because the defenseman are harder to find (although never bypassing a truly superior player).
What/who is your proudest discovery?
Drew Doughty is an obvious choice but there are so many others – the guys you haven’t even heard of yet. Wayne Simmonds is another one – a kid that wasn’t even rated by central scouting when we drafted him and we, as an organization, took some flak for drafting as high as we did. But Wayne made our team just his second year after the draft and has even played on our first line – but as I said there are too many to name!
Is there an “emerging” area where hockey is really starting to take off that scouts are paying specific attention to?
Actually, California is developing quite a few players now, although the majority of them end up playing in the WHL when they are drafted, but it’s most definitely an emerging area.
What was the last thing that made you laugh really hard?
I have a slightly different sense of humor from society’s accepted norm. Sadly, the only things I can think of I just cant put down in writing.
Do you actually get to attend many NHL games?
Yes, but not as many as i would like because time just doesn’t permit it. I think NHL games are important for amateur scouts like myself to see. Seeing the pace, the skill and how hard it is to play at that level is important. It’s especially good to see the players we have scouted previously that have ”made it” from the amatuer ranks. I have done 5 years of pro scouting as well before this, where the NHL and AHL were my sole responsibilities so I did get to see quite a few playoff games in Manchester, NH, where our AHL team made the conference finals – not quite the same but you take what you can get!
What is the best and worst part about your job?
The best part is the guys I work with. It is the closet thing to a team atmosphere since I stopped playing. This isn’t always the case, though – the group Dean Lombardi (GM of the Kings) has put together is truly special. It’s corny, I know, but I do really believe it. The fact that we have gotten the opportunity to build something from the ground up – I love that challenge. You don’t get that chance to make a team/organization truly in the mold you envision, although we are not there yet!! The worst is that the travel is pretty tough. Everyone always says “wow, you get to travel for a living and watch hockey!” but it’s really no fun. I had a trip last year where I was home only 1 day in all of February, with connections and delays and weather cancellations, I flew 20 different segments and the warmest place I stayed was Winnepeg! I don’t have children so I can’t understand what it is like for my colleagues that try to balance this job and a family. It often doesn’t work.
Huge thanks to Mark for a terrific interview. If you don’t think the Kings are on the right track, just watch them over the next couple of seasons, they are going to be a force to be reckoned with!