Each year, the NHL invites the top 100 players eligible for the NHL Entry Draft to participate at the Draft Combine in Toronto. Once there, team officials have an opportunity to interview potential draft picks and watch them be tested in an off-ice setting.
I asked Tony MacDonald if he could give us some information about what happens at the combine and what team officials were focused on.
"The combine lasts about five days with the European players arriving on Sunday night and interviews beginning on Monday. All the players go through the interview process Monday through Thursday. The physical testing takes place on Friday and Saturday, then players leave on Sunday."
MacDonald went on in more detail.
"For the interview process, teams have the opportunity to interview as many players as they see fit. This year we interviewed 64 players. During the interviews, each team is allotted 20 minutes. It probably works best if you do a maximum of about 15 interviews a day, but some teams do more than that. Obviously, we have done significant research on these players already and have already talked with some of them for five minutes or so to check out their physical stature or to briefly see how they handle themselves, but what this does is allow us to get to know them even better."
And the nature of the questions?
"We delve into their backgrounds a bit and find out a little about their family and their lifestyles, then we go from there. Many of the players we are most interested in or those who we think might fall within the range of where we will pick, will be available to talk to again in Los Angeles before the draft. That way the general manager and our player development people have a chance to speak with them and make their own evaluations."
Tyler Seguin Impresses Scouts
When asked if any players stood out above the rest during the physical testing, MacDonald said that most of the players were in excellent condition, but one did draw some extra attention.
"The players are prepared for the particular tests and pretty much know what's going to happen so they do very well. But Tyler Seguin was probably one of the players who drew some extra attention, not that he needed to do that. He really did an exceptional job and handled the physical testing extremely well, which impressed people. He was very impressive off the ice as well, with his demeanor and professionalism. This is a player who is going to go number one or number two overall and this was not something that was going to affect his status, but it's always a good sign when a player shows that kind of professionalism."
Extra Caution Regarding Russians?
Next up we discussed a few of the various scouting services out there and while the Canes may review a report here or there for supplemental information, they primarily use their own evaluations when ranking players. I mentioned that the ISS Report had Carolina drafting Vladimir Tarasenko with the seventh overall pick and asked MacDonald if the Canes might be hesitant to draft a Russian or European player with a first round pick because of the potential questions involved regarding where they might play.
"Yes, those questions certainly come into play. I think everyone will basically give you the same answer on that one. It's a consideration and one of the variables that you have to look at, as there are other variables with other players. It's less a consideration for those players who are playing here in North America. They are already here and have made a commitment. Many of the Russian players are careful to make it clear that they want to play in the NHL or play in North America, although some of those players who are playing in Russia are under contract to play for KHL teams, so you would have to go through that extra process with the appropriate teams to deal with those contracts."
When asked if MacDonald could confirm a report indicating that Tarasenko is already under contract with a KHL team for next season he replied, "that is correct."
The draft is filled with potential landmines that scouts have to navigate through. Not only could you waste a draft selection on a foreign born player who might eventually end up preferring to play near home, you could draft someone who is injured or is injury prone, a possible long term problem which could keep them reaching their full potential.
One such prospect who might be under this type of scrutiny is Brett Connolly, a very highly rated player who scored 30 goals in his rookie WHL season, but because of hip or flexor issues has not put up much in the way of numbers this past season.
I asked MacDonald how teams knew if players like Connolly were 100% healthy before risking a high draft pick on them? Could they check them out with their own physicians?
"In the case of a player like Brett Connolly where there has been an issue with an injury, many people did start to become concerned if this was going to be a chronic thing. Some of those concerns have been alleviated, but not all of them. There are still some concerns there with a player like that. I'm sure that his representatives will issue a medical report updating everyone about his condition to help alleviate any concerns that some people might have. And yes, it's possible that some teams would like their own people to look at Brett Connolly and get an in-house opinion of where he is physically."
(Next up in part three, drafting the best player available or by team need, just how deep is this draft, and is there a new goalie for the organization on the horizon?)