When the Los Angeles Kings were winning Stanley Cups, their team was built on a foundation of leadership and character. It was important to ex-GM Dean Lombardi that the team had a tight locker room. While Lombardi might be gone, this mindset is not. The Los Angeles Kings rebuild is focused on trying to rebuild their winning culture with compete, character, and leadership.
The Importance of Leadership, Character, and Compete in the Los Angeles Kings Rebuild
Rob Blake‘s Values
Ever since being hired as the GM of the Kings, Rob Blake has stressed the importance of keeping their culture. He wanted to rebuild the team with not only more speed and skill but also intangibles that cannot be taught. Blake has put a major focus on drafting players that are skilled, competitive, and leaders.
In an interview following the 2019 NHL Draft, Blake was asked about how he values character and leadership and responded by explaining, “Very much. Most important. [Reporter: Why is that? – is it high in this draft?] I think it’s most important in any draft – it’s a very important ingredient.” He also called it “one of the main ingredients we were looking for in these kids” later in the interview.
Rob Blake believes that to build a winning team, they must have players with high character and compete, who are also leaders mixed with a good skill set. These types of guys are the kind that Blake believes will bring the Kings back into Stanley Cup contention.
The Progress: 2017 NHL Draft
It didn’t take Blake long in 2017 to start adding some leaders to the Kings prospect pool. He selected Jaret Anderson-Dolan in the second round 41st overall. Now, Anderson-Dolan has a track record of being a leader. He was an alternate captain for the WHL Spokane Cheifs in his draft year. He returned to Spokane the next year as an alternate again, then was co-captain with Ty Smith the following season. Not only is JAD a great leader, but he’s a great character and is a responsible player. He has a fascinating story and every coach he has ever played for adores him.
After Taking Anderson-Dolan in round two, Blake went to Mikey Anderson in round four with the 103rd pick. To this day, Anderson could possibly be the biggest leader in the Kings prospect pool. He captained the silver-medal winning Team USA in the 2018-19 Wolrd Junior Championship and is greatly relied on by his teammates.
Anderson elaborated on his leadership in a post-draft interview where he said, “I try and just work as hard as I can, be as good of a teammate as I can, and I feel like that’s one of my key attributes is my character and the way I try and approach the game, so I try and just take it day-by-day and make everyone better every day and do what I can to help the team.”
2018 NHL Draft
Once again, Blake decided to take a player who is both a great character, leader, and competitor. With the 51st overall selection, he took Akil Thomas. Similar to JAD, Thomas was an alternate captain for his junior team in his draft year. He returned as one in his draft plus one year and then captained the Niagara Ice Dogs in the following season before being traded to Peterborough.
On top of being a great leader, Thomas is a fascinating character, who the Kings organization loves as a person. He co-hosts a podcast and even created his own clothing brand, Zale Apparel. He’s the type of player the Kings want to have in their locker room. The Kings are thrilled to have a player with these un-teachable intangibles who also has a very talented skill set. It’s these types of players that the organization believes will be the kind you win championships with.
With their fourth-round selection in 2018, the Kings went to Aidan Dudas, yet another strong leader. While he didn’t wear a letter in his draft year, Dudas was given an ‘A’ in his draft plus one. He was then named captain of the Owen Sound Attack the following year. He is yet another player in the Kings prospect pool to be part of his team’s leadership group.
As far as character and compete go, Dudas is as strong as anyone. He feels as if he has a slight chip on his shoulder due to his small size, so he wants to do everything he can to prove people wrong. Dudas wants to work extra hard. He elaborated in an interview with John Hoven explaining, “You know, being a hockey player, there’s stuff that you can control and there’s stuff that you can’t control. For me, I can’t control my size. I can’t control how tall I’m going to be. Everything else that I can do on the ice, I try to control. That being said, it makes me work ten times as hard as it would if I was 6-foot-2 and just had everything given to me.”
2019 NHL Draft
Alex Turcotte is a player that the Kings organization and Rob Blake fell in love with because of his character and compete. When Blake was asked about picking Turcotte fifth overall (in the same interview where Blake was asked about valuing character), he responded shortly by saying, “I think it’s no secret – the character and the compete level. We found that to be a very important ingredient for our first-round picks, both of them.”
Now while Turcotte may not have worn a letter in his young career, Rob Blake still views him as a leader. In the same interview, he said Turcotte “has a lot of leadership, natural leadership built into him.”
Turcotte is the kind of player that always wants to win, even in practice. He’s always working and grinding, trying to become the best player he can. It’s this type of mentality that the Kings want their team to be shaped around.
With the 22nd pick of the first-round in 2019, the Kings went to defenseman Tobias Bjornfot. While some thought that picking Bjornfot at 22 was a bit of a reach, as he was ranked 35th by Last Word on Hockey, the Kings had convincing reasoning. One factor was that they wanted a defenseman, and they believed Bjornfot was the last quality defenseman they could pick before their next pick (33). However, their main justification for the pick was their belief in Bjornfot’s leadership and character.
The Kings saw a true leader in Bjornfot, who now at just 19 years old has worn a letter for three different teams. In the same post-draft interview as above about Turcotte, Blake was asked about picking Bjornfot 22nd and he explained, “Good skating D, but again, a captain on the U-18 team. Has that leadership ability, that character and that compete.”
This is yet another time where Blake focuses on the character, leadership, and competitive qualities of the players he is selecting. While he obviously wants to pick skilled players, Blake values these intangibles just as much.
When the Kings won their cups, there were probably ten plus players in their room who could have worn a letter. The leadership qualities of Jonathan Quick, Willie Mitchell, Kyle Clifford, Trevor Lewis, and many others was a major asset. Just because a letter wasn’t on their chest didn’t mean these guys couldn’t lead and inspire their teammates. With all of the leaders on their team, the Kings overcame many obstacles and had great success.
Over Rob Blake’s first three drafts as the Kings GM, nine of the 19 skaters he’s selected have worn a letter at some point, some more than once. Of those that haven’t, many still have been noted as great leaders, competitors, and characters. When a team is being rebuilt, not only is it their roster, but it’s their identity that is being reconstructed. The identity the Kings want to build is the same one they once had when they were making deep playoff runs. They want their team to have a locker room full of players who will inspire and motivate each other. The team knows what it takes to win and is doing everything in its power to recreate that.