After a near eight-hour process for Day 2, the 2020 NHL Entry Draft finally came to a close on Wednesday.
Director of Player Personnel, Darren Yorke, played a vital role in it as one of the head voices in the draft. However, what he wanted to make sure of was that all of the work that went on behind the scenes was recognized.
Opening his Zoom availability with a request to acknowledge that, Yorke made sure to thank all of the scouts, the support staff, the hockey information group, the PR staff and even all the way to the kitchen staff, essentially everyone, for the hard work they put in not only today but throughout the season to get them to this point.
Following that, Yorke offered up his thoughts on each of the players the Hurricanes drafted over the past two days.
Seth Jarvis: When I say what’s the best thing about Seth, it’s his hockey sense. It is hard to do anything better in the last two years than what Seth has accomplished, and it’s because of how smart he is. He’s able to read spacing. He’s able to transition the puck from the neutral zone and get it into the offensive zone. He makes other people better. He can score. There are so many layers to his game, that it really is special. We are thrilled to have him and I think our fans are going to be thrilled to watch him progress in Portland and then be a Carolina Hurricane. Just a high-end offensive talent. Having said that, he also has the ability to use his speed on the back check and he has the ability to use a smart stick and turn that defensive game around into an offensive chance. Really thrilled to have him in our organization.
Noel Gunler: For us, I know it sounds cliché when teams say they don’t expect a player to be there, but we really didn’t. For us to get a player that has the speed and skill and hockey sense in the second round, it really wasn’t something we expected. A player that is able to transition the puck and get it from the neutral zone to the offensive zone and make plays at the same point, when this guy gets the puck on his stick he can score. He’s able to be a dual-threat in terms of making plays while being a goal scorer.
Vasiliy Ponomarev: When he played at the Ivan Hlinka Tournament, he was playing a different role than when he moved to the QMJHL. In the Ivan Hlinka Tournament, he was high-end, playmaking and showing hockey sense, compete and defensive abilities. As we go through these names, we are going to have a common thread, and it’s hockey sense. With Ponomarev, this kid understands the game. When he moved to Shawinigan at the beginning of the year, he was in more of a defensive role. This is a player that knows how to play from an offensive standpoint and a defensive standpoint. As he transitions to the pro game, it should be an easy step because of how smart he is.
Alexander Nikishin: A bigger defenseman that when he plays in the MHL, in the Russian junior league, shows a little bit more of that offensive dimension. When he’s playing in the KHL, he uses that big, long skating stride to get up into the play. At the same point, when he is defending, he’ll hold extremely tight gaps and has a little bit of a physical element. For an 18-year old going up against men in probably the best league outside of the NHL, he’s able to hold his own. You think about the transition for young kids as they go from the KHL or MHL to the NHL, he already has a leg up because he already plays that defensive role with some offensive elements against really tough competition.
Zion Nybeck: Unfortunately, when everyone looks at him, they look at his size and that’s really unfortunate because of how smart and skilled he is. This is a player, similar to how I’ve been describing some of these other guys, who has the ability to take the puck from the neutral zone and get it into the offensive zone. He’s able to do it through skill. He’s able to do it through speed. He’s able to do it from a hockey sense perspective and understands how to read spacing. If he knows that the defense are tightly gapped, he can go around them, he can pull up, he can find the open man and when he’s in the corners, he’s able to get the puck from the boards to the net despite being a little bit shorter than the competition.
Lucas Mercuri: Another one of these smart players that can transition the puck. To have the hands that he has at 6-3 is pretty impressive. We like that he is able to go through the USHL and then to college to start to continue to refine his game. It’s another player that has that hockey sense.
Alexander Pashin: Again speaking in a little bit of clichés, he was not someone we expected to be there. Similar to Nybeck in terms of the high-end skill, he and Ponomarev played together at the Ivan Hlinka Tournament and Ponomarev was able to feed Pashin just to score goals. What’s great about Alexander is that he is able to take his same game from the MHL and play it in the KHL. He started this season in the MHL, but most recently has been playing in the KHL and it hasn’t affected his game. He’s still able to bring that high-end skill level while competing against men.
Ronan Seeley: Extremely fast skater. Holds tight gaps. Is able to jump up into the play. When we’re talking about looking for a defenseman to be able to play the NHL style, and transition that style from junior hockey to the NHL, they got to be able to skate. With Ronan, he’s able to get up into the play, hold tight gaps. He’s able to play the style that we love here in Carolina.
On which player he was most excited to be able to get: I don’t know if I can single out just one player. The draft day is really the most exciting day of the year. We’re thrilled to get these players. It’s not necessarily us selecting them, they earned the selection. They were able to show their talents to us and basically forced us to select them. I don’t know if I can name one that I’m more excited about than the others. We are thrilled here with this class and to have our fans be able to track their progress and see the future Canes.
On evaluating players that had started playing again recently: Obviously this year is unique with that. We have a process in place to talk about the new information. The new games allow for some recency bias that could come into effect and you don’t want that to impact your judgement. Having said that, we have to be able to take new information and make a better decision because we have that. We wouldn’t be doing our jobs if we didn’t take into account these games that are being played right now.
On some of the stigmas around drafting Russian players: It’s so hard to identify and select great players that we think are going to be able to take the next step already. I don’t think we’d be doing our jobs if we were to bypass or add another variable into the equation. For us, we’re excited. Our European scouts do a great job in identifying these players and we wouldn’t be supporting them if we were to bypass them to select a North American player.
On seeing the picks used rather than traded: These guys work so hard and they don’t get the credit they deserve. They’re supportive one way or another, but having said that, I think when they are able to track these players and get to see them develop, they are obviously more excited when you select players than when you don’t.
On stories concerning Gunler’s attitude: It’s funny when we read these stories. I’ll use an example in the NBA right now because it’s getting played out in the championships. If you were to go back and look through some of the stories about Jimmy Butler in some other organizations and now all of a sudden we are seeing how strong of a leader he is and he’s taking a team to a championship. It’s hard sometimes to truly evaluate what you may read in reports and equate it to situations that they are in. Jesper Sellgren has played with Noel Gunler. We’ve done our research on him and we’re thrilled to have him. We don’t think any of those reports or anything like them are justified.
On the depth of the goaltending in the organization: If we’re drafting for need, it’s so hard to identify players and expect them to take the next step. We’re not trying to overcomplicate these things, like trying to draft for need. We have our lists and we have our conversations all centered around who we feel is the best player available. For us, when we were going through, we had some goalies that we liked, but we also had all these skaters that we felt will have the biggest chance to have the biggest impact in the NHL.
On what is the next step for these players: In a normal year, we have development camp right after the draft and we get our hands on them, so to speak. Just because we’re in a pandemic and our schedules don’t allow for that doesn’t mean that we can’t be creative to give our support for these players. We have a process in place to aid with their development. A lot of these players are either already playing right now or, if they’re North America, their seasons are going to start up. It really will just be a different base than if we were going to have development camp, but we are going to put all of our resources into starting that development process right now.