This is part two of a two part exclusive interview with Director of Hurricanes Amateur Scouting, Tony MacDonald. In part one, we reviewed the status of last year's picks as well as some other prospects. In this part, we look for some insight about the combine and upcoming draft.
Did anyone stand out at the combine this year?
Not really. The players are really well prepared now. They know what they are facing when they arrive there. Some players have just finished their season, some players have been off awhile, for several weeks to a month. So the conditioning level of certain people is certainly not the same, but they are all aware of what's expected of them now and usually they come in and do a pretty good job.
A player like Gabriel Landeskog, for example, one of the higher ranked prospects. He did very well at the combine, he was impressive. But most of the top kids were impressive. A player like Nugent-Hopkins, who is one of the top three players in the draft, he's not a real impressive physical specimen at this point in time. He's still maturing physically. So during the testing at the combine, sometimes players don't grade out the way they would like, but it's all reletive to how they are in their overall development. A good grade or bad grade does not necessarily dictate where a player will be drafted.
There were players who stood out in the interview process. Players like Landeskog and Hopkins, they are outstanding young men and they are very impressive. It's an interesting process to say the least. But I wouldn't say that any single player really stood out more than the others. It was pretty much business as usual.
During the interview process, how important is a player's personality, and what type of personality are you looking for?
We try to accomplish a couple of things in the interview process. We try to get to know the player a little better. In many cases we have met the player at least once during the course of the season. Someone on our staff has made some contact, after a game or practice, or whatever. And we try to build on that a little bit and just try to get to know the individual. We want them to relax and be themselves. Usually that works best. We don't try to over-analyze anyone. A session is about a half an hour long. You try to allow the player to tell you where he's from and what he's about. Usually when they leave, we have a pretty good picture of that individual and that is always supported by the amount of research that we have already done. For the players who are in the mix of where we will pick, we might even interview them again just prior to the draft, just so that we have all our bases covered. That will allow our general manager and upper management people to get to know the player better as well.
How many players did you interview this year?
We probably interviewed 60 or more, and that doesn't include the players that our scouting staff have met with previously. I would say that we have touched base with a total of 75-80 players over the course of the season.
What is the process if you see someone you really, really like, but he is ranked higher than where you will draft? Do you tell management, look, we should really try to trade up and get this guy? How does that situation work?
Obviously, that would be something that Jim Rutherford would have to approve, but we all get in on those discussions. Every year you always look at that possibility and you decide whether or not it makes sense to do it or not. There are years when it makes more sense to try to do that than others. If you think you're going to get a good player right where you're at, then you can usually stay the course. The last few years we've been very satisfied to stay where we were, and it's turned out well. But then sometimes, something will come up and give you some extra incentive to do that. Like last year, when you have a player like Cam Fowler falling in the draft. Then you have a lot of people trying to scramble and move up so they could get another pick and maybe have a shot to grab what was the number one rated defenseman in the draft. And he's proved to be just that in his rookie year in Anaheim. I don't know if that will happen again this year, but who knows? You never know until the proceedings start.
Are you going to try to fill any organizational need this year, or stick with the best player approach?
That's been the approach we've taken. We go for the best player, regardless of position. Last year after taking Jeff Skinner in the first round, there was a need to take a look at defense. We certainly wanted to draft some defensemen at some point, but as it turned out, we took four defensemen in a row. Believe it or not, that was just simply because of the way that it went. Those players we selected, we liked a lot and it made sense to go through that door when it was open. To say there was an intention of taking four defensemen in a row, that was not the initial plan. It just kept working out that way. They were the best players available at that pick and the fact that they were defensemen was just a bonus because we did want to start adding to our depth at that position. We had a very good run on defensemen last year, but for the most part during the draft, we are just looking for the best player available when our turn comes up.
How deep is this draft? Do you think you can get someone who could be a regular in the NHL in the second round?
We think so, yes. We were very fortunate last year to get Justin Faulk where we did and we think we can get another very good player when it comes to the second round. There is enough depth to this draft and it is deeper than we initially thought it was. I think there is every reason to believe that we will get someone that we'll be very happy with, with our second pick this year.
Do you think that this draft could be like last year, when some highly ranked players were falling in the first round?
I think there is a possibility, yes. There are some players who were ranked higher, initially into the season and they may have dropped down a little bit. Will we have another situation like last year when two premier defensemen were dropping like Fowler and Gormley? I don't know, but people will be watching and that will probably be in the back of everyone's mind when they are selecting this year. It could happen, but I don't think it's as likely to happen this time around.
How important is a player's size to you in your evaluations? Would you eliminate a player based upon his size or physical stature?
No, we would not eliminate anyone for that reason. I think with the way the game is being played now at the NHL level, things have opened up for the smaller player. Let's use the 5'10, 5'11 defenseman for example. For a long time, that 5'11 defenseman was a concern. Was he big enough, or were his offensive dimensions significant enough to overcome that? That's no longer the case. The same with forwards. The way the game is called now, for example, it creates more space for those players. And you can't afford to overlook that speed and skill that those players bring to the table. We wouldn't hesitate to take a player like that. I think our team philosophy, and Jim Rutherford and I have had conversations about this, is that we aren't going to be concerned with that. If it's the best player available, then that's the guy we go with.
You know, Jeff Skinner is not a very big guy, not that he a small guy either, but he's not your prototypical 6'3 center iceman with that great size and reach that everyone is looking for, but he brought a lot of things to the table that couldn't be ignored. The same thing can be said for a lot of players who are available in this draft. If you have speed and you have skill, if you're smart and quick, then those things have a tendency to offset size, or some of the other parameters that some people have mapped out for certain types of players.