NashvillePredators.com will be doing a weekly series called "Morning Skate with...," where we will spend time with key members of the Preds' hockey operations and business staff to give you, the fans, some insight into their lives and careers.
In this week's installment, we sit down with Assistant General Manager Paul Fenton.
Now in his 15th season with the Predators, and his seventh as the club’s assistant general manager, Paul Fenton has been instrumental in bringing in many of Nashville’s core players, primarily through the draft, but also through trades and free agent signings.
After serving as the director of player personnel for the Predators’ first eight seasons, Fenton was promoted to assistant general manager on June 5, 2006, where he oversees the Predators’ amateur player development, manages the team’s professional and amateur scouting staff and advises President of Hockey Operations/General Manager David Poile on player personnel decisions. He has been in charge of all player acquisitions since joining the Predators and managed the club’s Entry Draft efforts since 2003 (when the team selected Ryan Suter, Shea Weber, Kevin Klein and Alexander Sulzer), doing so jointly with Chief Amateur Scout Jeff Kealty in the process since 2008.
Fenton also serves as general manager of the Predators’ primary developmental affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals of the American Hockey League, who made their 10th consecutive playoff appearance in 2012. The Admirals have won four division titles in the past nine seasons, and became the first team in AHL history to post 40-or-more wins and 90-or-more points in eight consecutive seasons from 2002-03 to 2010-11. He also served as Associate GM for Team USA at the 2011 World Championships.
Now that you have the facts, let's hear a little more about Paul's draft philosophy, his sons and why he can hit home runs like Carlton Fisk.
Talk about some of the challenges you faced moving from the player ranks to the scouting/player development ranks…
The interesting part is, it was very easy to move from the player ranks to that of a scout, because, as a player, you are always assessing the talent you are playing against. You always know which players are on the other team, their tendencies, their strengths, their weaknesses – you’re always looking at that stuff. So, for me, to go right into professional scouting after playing, the transition was very easy. My initial year scouting was just like playing. I knew all the guys and I knew which guys I would like to try to acquire in trades and who I could recommend to my general manager. The problems came when I had to go back and watch the minor league guys and the junior players. It was more difficult to figure out how they would turn themselves into NHL players.
What makes scouting junior players so difficult?
People always try to define it and put a structure, if you will, on what exactly scouts should be looking for. The truth is, there is no checklist to what you’re looking for when you’re scouting a player. When I look at a player, I first and foremost, look at them as a hockey player. I just have a feel for watching guys and seeing how they adapt to certain situations. I firmly believe that character is the best trait in a player. They need to have character and I’ve stressed this point with our scouting staff. The Predators have been built on that and our whole staff is driven by that.
Character obviously plays a huge part of your scouting philosophy. How would you define your player development philosophy?
We all look for different things, and obviously, talent is the be-all and end-all. But in order to mesh that all together, they have to have character. They need to be a driven individual; they need to know what it takes to make it in this league and they have to be focused on the team aspect of the game. Yes, there are individual things that happen in our sport, but for the most part, it is team driven. We look for kids who are coachable, and kids that can fight through adversity. Again, the checklist doesn’t work. I’ve seen several scouting layouts over the years where you rank 25 different categories and you can put as many check marks as you want on these things, but at the end of the day, the kid has to play hockey, he has to be able to adapt to a team atmosphere, and he has to want to win and do whatever it takes to win.
In your opinion, why have the Predators been so successful in finding talent late in drafts?
We look for one defining quality in a guy and I was taught that by my mentor in hockey, Jack Ferreira – former General Manager of the Anaheim Ducks. For a kid to play in the National Hockey League, he has to do one thing really well. Does that mean skate? Does that mean shoot? It doesn’t have to be something physical; it can be something like character. When you look at the guys we’ve taken late in the drafts they all have one thing in common – they all compete really hard and that’s what our scouts saw in them. Those guys had other ingredients that we knew were workable – they were good hockey players; they were competitors; they were driven; they would never give up on a puck and they all had that desire to win. Fortunately, we’ve been very lucky in finding quality guys late in drafts.
What is one memory from a draft that really sticks out in your memory?
The 2003 draft here in Nashville was the first draft that I was really put in charge of. So, to be able to take four defensemen that would end up playing on the same team was really special. I don’t think that has ever been done with four defensemen. I remember when those four guys all were in the lineup together for the first time – it was a very proud moment for me from a draft standpoint.
One of your primary duties is serving as General Manager of the Milwaukee Admirals. Can you talk about some of the players there that you are excited about?
I think a lot of our players down there right now have real potential to play in the National Hockey League. We have guys like Taylor Beck, who has gotten off to a great start in his second professional season. He is producing points and he is getting chance, after chance, after chance. Seeing him having that kind of success as a scorer gives us hope that he’s going to be able to do it at this level. He is a big, powerful forward who is determined to take the puck to the net and he’s willing to pay the price to get there. Another guy is Michael Latta – he has the ability to come up here and be a physical, in your face type of player. He has grit, he’s physical and he will back it up by dropping the gloves if he needs to. Austin Watson, our first-round pick in 2010, is showing the reliability and dependability of a two-way forward. He has scored points, he’s playing the second line center and he competes every night. Our players down there are flocking to his type of attitude. Jon Blum is ready to make jump again after stumbling a little bit last year. Mattias Ekholm started with us last year, but now he’s really getting his feet wet in North America. He is going to be able to make that next step and join us up here in the near future as well.
We were able to sign free agents like Daniel Bang and Joonas Jarvinen. We don’t characteristically have a lot of big bodies on our rosters. Jarvinen, in particular, is a physical defenseman, and we’ve coveted that here. He is a big, strong, physical guy that we hope can bang some bodies around at this level. Daniel Bang is a 6-foot-3, skating forward, who is relentless with his work ethic. He is another guy that we think has a very bright future here as well.
You often talk of your sons P.J. and Owen. P.J. was selected by the San Jose Sharks in 2005 and is playing over in Germany right now. How’s he liking that experience thus far?
This is his fifth year of playing professional hockey, and he and his wife love it over there. He’s playing for Bietigheim and she is an accountant with Daimler-Mercedes. They met in college – she was a basketball player and she has recently started playing professionally for the third league in Germany. They are enjoying it and they are having a great time traveling around in the offseason. They’ve been to Italy, Spain and Austria – they’ve really taken advantage of being over there.
My youngest son, Owen, has already received his master’s in chemistry from M.I.T. and he’s working on his doctorate. He has been having a great time achieving all of his goals in school.
You’re a big sports fan away from the ice. If you could play any other professional sport, what would it be and why?
I’ve never thought about that. I think I would play catcher for my beloved Red Sox. I like being in the mix and I loved playing catcher as a kid, so that’s the spot for me. I’d like to hit a home run like Carlton Fisk did in 1975 to take it to Game Seven.
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