By Jonah Sharf
When athletes are drafted lower than they feel they deserve to be drafted, it often comes down to two scenarios: they play with a chip on their shoulder and try to prove to everyone they were wrong, or they become so dejected it affects their play and they never reach their full potential. For Los Angeles Kings legend Luc Robitaille though, neither of those routes apply.
Robitaille was drafted by the Kings in the ninth round in the 1984 NHL Draft as a talented, but raw, 18 year old. He ended up being a Hall of Fame talent and is now the president of the team that drafted him, but when he was drafted he didn’t have the typical attitude of a young ninth-round pick.
“Personally, I didn’t have a chip on my shoulder,” Robitaille said. “My whole mantra was my name is on the list, now it’s up to me to make the team. I wasn’t about showing everybody they were wrong…I wanted to show them that I should get a chance.”
He spent the next few years in junior hockey doing just that, winning the CHL Player of the Year award in his final season before being called up to the NHL for the 1986-87 season. In his first NHL season, Robitaille showed again that he deserved the chance given to him by becoming the first and only Kings player to win the Calder Memorial Trophy, awarded to the best NHL rookie.
He would go on to play for the Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers, and even win a Stanley Cup with the Detroit Red Wings, but he is still best known for his 14 seasons with the Kings. He holds several franchise records with the Kings including most goals, and NHL records for career goals, career points, and points in a season by a Left Winger.
Robitaille retired two years into his third stint with the Kings after the 2005-06 season, and in 2007 was named the president of business operations for LA, before he was even inducted into the Hall of Fame for his playing career in 2009. In 2017, he was promoted to President of the Kings after 10 years on the business side.
Robitaille has made two priorities clear since becoming an executive with the Kings—one, that the lessons he learned on how every person who is a part of any franchise should be treated are enacted; and two, that they draft and sign players based on their character as much as their skills.
“I took a lot and [I] learned a lot from these other organizations and wanted to bring it back to the Kings,” Robitaille said. “ I had a real plan in my mind to make it different. To treat our players, our staff, our fans the way they should be treated as a first-class organization.”
As for his process in finding players with good character, Robitaille puts a lot of weight into their history and how the teams they have been on have fared. When he looks at a player like Mike Richards, he sees something special because every team he played for in his youth career was successful.
The same is true for how players react not just when they’re winning or in how they lead a team to victory, but also how they act when their team is losing. It is not hard to argue that this was and is the case with players like Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Jonathan Quick, and Alec Martinez, to name a few.
“It’s hard to figure out [a player’s] heart unless you watch the way he plays,” Robitaille said. “I always tell people that you can see a player play, but if you see him play and see his reaction when he’s down 3-2 in the third period, that’s when you really see a player.”
Robitaille’s method for player recruitment has been successful so far, as they have won two Stanley Cups since he has worked for the team, but the influence he has had from the business side is still being determined. Now that he has been the team’s president since 2017 and made a big signing with Ilya Kovalchuk, it will be easier to credit a good portion of the Kings’ success in the next few seasons to Robitaille.
Until then, he will keep looking for players who will be trying to prove that they deserve a chance to play for a world-class NHL team no matter where they end up being drafted—just like he did in 1984.
“I think you can make anything happen, you’ve just got to believe,” Robitaille said. “If you decide you’re going to work harder and smarter than everybody else, you can do it. You can do anything you want, as long as you’re willing to pay some price.”