The Los Angeles Kings are one of the NHL franchises kicking off their 2011-12 regular season in Europe. In preparation for the season opener against the New York Rangers in Sweden, the Kings have paid an NHL organized visit to the Freezers, an Anschutz Group affiliate from Hamburg, Germany. Hockey’s Future was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to sit down with Jack Ferreira about the Kings’ prospect system. A former NHL general manager who has been serving as the King’s Special Assistant to the General Manager for the past six years, he works very closely with the entire hockey operations unit and had been responsible for scouting in both Europe and North America in his previous position as the Director of Player Personnel for the now defunct Atlanta Thrashers.
Hockey’s Future: Mr. Ferreira, our homepage ranks the Kings as having the number one prospect pool in the NHL. Would you agree with this ranking?
Jack Ferreira: I guess so, yes. I mean we have our fair share of good prospects, but so does everyone else. It’s kind of arbitrary as to who really has the best system. We’re proud of what we’ve done.
HF: Obviously, a team isn’t able to draft every player it would like to every summer. How much time and attention do the Kings and their scouting staff put into monitoring other team’s prospect pools, perhaps hoping to follow and later obtain a certain player in the future via trade, waivers, etc.?
JF: We rate the entire system of every single team in the league. As such, we’ve graded every player who has been drafted or is on another team’s reserve list.
HF: Hockey’s Future currently ranks Jonathan Bernier and Slava Voynov to be your 1st and 3rd best prospects, respectively. They are both with the team now in Europe. What have you been looking for from them in the preseason and tonight in preparation for the season opener?
JF: Well, I think Bernier is just absolutely solid. He’ll be with the team the whole year. Voynov is still pretty much on the bubble. The way he has been playing this preseason; he is capable of playing in this league.
HF: The Kings have a luxury in having two goalies they are confident in. We’ve seen what Jonathan Quick can do. Both goalies are still pretty young. Do you see Bernier one day supplanting Quick as your number one goaltender?
FJ: (Shrugging his shoulders) We’ll let them decide that.
HF: According to our criteria, Alec Martinez is still considered a prospect of sorts. Do the Kings see him as having graduated, so to speak, to the NHL?
JF: Yep. Physically, he’s a lot stronger. Last year, towards the end of the season when things really heated up, he played very well. So yes, I’d say he’s one of our top six right now.
HF: Do you see him as a defenseman with good offensive potential or is he counted on to be a primarily defensive defenseman?
JF: Ohhh, he’s definitely got that different dimension where he can step up into the play. He can play on the power play, where he’ll get some time. He’s got a combination of skills. I’d certainly say his offensive game is one of his strengths.
HF: Speaking of defensemen, could you comment on late camp cut Thomas Hickey and what role he may still play in the course of the season?
JF: Thomas had his best training camp ever. At the moment, we really have a very solid six to seven man defensive corps, but he’s really not very far from stepping in and playing. It’s imperative that when you get an injury or something that you’ve got guys in the system that can immediately step in and do the job for you.
HF: Do you consider his skating to be the strength of his game?
JF: Yes, I’d say so. He’s certainly a very good skater.
HF: Assuming you attended the Kings prospects’ camp this summer, were there any kids there who positively surprised Kings management?
JF: I don’t know if anyone surprised us per se, but we ended up signing a kid named Alex Roach from the Calgary Hitmen of the WHL. He was at the camp on an invite and came in and simply did a good job and he earned a contract.
HF: And where will he be spending this season?
JF: He’s with the Hitmen again. He had been a player who did not get drafted, so we invited him to camp.
HF: Speaking of the draft, the Kings will forever be associated with Luc Robitaille, who was a 9th round pick and is a symbol of how far hard work and dedication can take you. He certainly serves as an inspiration for guys who are drafted late, or perhaps not even at all. Are there any late rounders of note currently in your system who you think will ultimately make the jump to being a successful NHLer?
JF: Forward Dwight King and forward Jordan Nolan, who was a 7th round pick. I believe King was a 4th round pick. They are two kids who had really good camps. They probably each need another year in the minors, but they’ll play in the NHL.
HF: Russian player Maxim Kitsyn was a later round pick.
JF: Yes, he’s back playing in Europe now. That was part of his deal, which saw him coming over to play junior for a bit and then going back. He’s got a contract in Russia and it’ll be another year before we see him.
HF: He had a very strong WJC with Russia last season, who took the gold medal in Buffalo. What do you think his NHL possibilities are down the road?
JF: Well, he’s a skill player and he’s very strong. He sees the ice well and he makes plays. He’s one of those players who can make something out of nothing because of his skill.
HF: Would you say that if he makes it, it’s going to have to be on one of the top two lines?
JF: Hmmm, well, yes I mean I think that’s where you might logically project him. Still, I don’t think it’d be beyond him to play a third line role. Do you remember Dmitri Khristich?
HF: Sure, I believe he came up with Washington.
JF: Yes, well Maxim is a very similar type of player.
HF: The Kings are playing in two cities here in Germany whose teams are part of the Anschutz Group. In recent years, the Kings haven’t really taken any Germans, much less players from countries like Austria, Denmark, Latvia, Norway, etc. Of course, Anze Kopitar is from Slovenia, but was drafted out of Swedish juniors. All of these countries are bit off the beaten path. Does your scouting department even bother looking at talents from these areas?
JF: Oh yes, there are very few areas we overlook. It’s just that with a seven round draft, you can’t take everybody or at least not everybody you want.
HF: You mention that in light of the draft no longer featuring nine rounds. Is there a train of thought in the scouting community that a team may see a kid it likes enough to draft, but it may think that no-one else is going to take him – perhaps because he’s from one of these lesser-known hockey areas – and thus, they can just wait to see how he’s developed by the time he’s 20, 21, 22, etc., when they could just sign him as an UFA? Is that actually a tactic of sorts?
JF: Very rare! If you like a player, you step up and take him. That’s certainly always been our philosophy.
HF: Who are the prospects eligible for the 2012 draft that you are most excited to see this winter?
JF: I really can’t say at this point. I mean yes, there’s of course the young man playing in Sarnia, Nail Yakupov. I had a chance to see him as an underager. I won’t start going out and seeing the junior kids until about January. I’ll better be able to answer this question then.
HF: What area do you yourself do the most scouting in – or are you just all over the place?
JF: I’m all over the place. I start off travelling with the big team and then I go see our minor league team play. Then around Christmas time, I go out and look at all the kids our scouting staff has narrowed down as being top candidates. That gives me a pretty good idea of the guys that’ll be in the range where we’ll be picking. I concentrate on this process in formulating our draft plan.