Preparing for the Draft
The Nashville Predators scouting staff met up in Music City May 5-8 to compile their player ranking for the 2014 NHL Entry Draft, which will take place June 27-28 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. This was neither the first nor the last time that the scouts would come together to prepare for the yearly event.
Initial draft meetings, which are held in January, allow scouts and the Predators front office to compile a preliminary ranking of amateur players across the world. Upon completion of the preliminary list, the scouting staff part ways until May, when the group reconvenes to revisit and refine the previous list. In June, the scouts will meet again in Toronto at the NHL Draft Combine to interview prospects and gather information on a player’s physical abilities through various physical testing.
The Spring Meeting
It is during the second meeting where the scouts do their best to determine the top prospects and review different scenarios that establish where each player will be chosen. In order to decide what player the Preds will select with their pick (11th overall this year), the organization’s draft committee must try to guess the moves of every other team in the League.
North American Amateur Scout David Westby, who is based out of Minnesota, discussed the lengthy process that goes into creating a ranking, and how the organization decides who it will hope to draft.
“It starts individually,” Westby said. “Each scout goes to games throughout the year and writes reports, which go into a system. We keep our own individual list [of players], and we break those down into different categories. We then build the ranking here [in Nashville] with other scouts by combining our individual lists into the team list.”
European Scout Janne Kekalainen, who is based out of Helsinki, Finland, added that the list is subject to change after it is created based on various factors such as the NHL Draft Combine.
“Right now we are building a draft ranking and then we go to the Combine,” Kekalainen said. “We’re evaluating development and for different players there are different factors that we look into. If there is some significant information [at the Combine] that changes things, then we make the changes.”
The Draft Combine, which is the third time scouts and other organization personnel come together for draft preparation, takes place May 25-31 in Toronto and allows each team to interview and review the physical testing of the 120 players invited to the event by the NHL Central Scouting.
Going into the Combine, European Scout Lucas Bergman, who is based out of Sweden, said that getting into a player’s head through interviews helps organizations to decide if a prospect will be a good match for a team.
“During the year we kind of know what they can do on the ice,” Bergman said. “So during the Combine, we’re trying to dig deep in their personality and find out what kind of inner drive they have or how strong they are mentally.”
Kekalainen had similar thoughts. He sees the relatively short interview as a way to iron out any reservations a team may have about a player and the physical testing as a way to look for a player’s ability to grow.
“First, we interview the players for 20 minutes, which is the time that is reserved for each team for a player,” Kekalainen said. “[What we discuss] depends on what kinds of question marks we have about the player. Then there are the physical qualities. Some kids are mature and ready when they’re 18 and some kids are just getting there.”
The questions raised and answered at the Combine will help the Predators make a few final edits in their draft ranking before heading to Philadelphia where the Predators’ committee will face the challenge of grabbing the player they want.
Bergman noted that a person can attempt to predict the outcome of the Draft, but that the event has its own life. In the event that a scout’s “nightmare” comes true and the prospect that an organization is trying to attain gets taken, every team needs a Plan B.
“If the player that you want gets drafted and you can’t move up or do something and he’s off the board, then you have to have a backup plan for what you’re going to do,” Bergman said. “What that plan is I’m not going to say, but you always have to have a Plan B because you can’t control the draft; it has its own life.”
Westby summed up the idea of Plan B in the simplest way possible – “We find a way to be happy.”
Happiness was in the cards early for the Predators during last year’s Draft. The team had resigned to using Plan B until Seth Jones – the organization’s top-ranked player – fell from the first to the fourth slot. Though the Preds had Plan B in their back pocket, Plan A worked out in the end, a situation they hope happens once again.