"We come to a group opinion after working hard on a list, and then we target a few guys. We work off a list when we get to the Draft, and we’ll go from there." - Brent Flahr
"Last year, our Top 50 covered our first five picks...I expect we’ll get two or three [this year]." - Chuck Fletcher, At The 2011 Pre-Draft Luncheon
In the world of sports, where GM-speak and vague statements are the norm, little tidbits like this are likely the most information fans will get in terms of finding out the mechanics behind a Draft table. For the most part, Draft Lists remain largely private before and after the actual event, unless there is a breach of privacy or that one of the principals involved casually drops a nugget about where they had a player ranked (to my knowledge The Wild had Charlie Coyle at #14 in 2010, and Mario Lucia at #35 in 2011) in post-draft interviews, or radio appearances, or whatever have you.
You can be damn sure you're going to hear the "and we're thrilled to get him, because we didn't think he would be there."
So the real question is; how does a team build its Draft List?
It all starts with the scouts; the foot soldiers of an organization. These guys are the shadowy figures in the corners of rinks, drinking bad coffee, jotting notes in their notebooks. Hundreds of games, thousands of miles, rain, snow, or shine- they travel rink to rink.
Each guy has his territory; he's responsible for the players and leagues in his area, including getting to know players off-ice; interviewing them and conversing with their coaches. Game reports will be filed on numerous players; they'll be entered into the system as having a draft worthy grade, or get the dreaded kill report; the NI, or "no interest." Those getting favorable grades get put onto a watch list, and then followed and examined the rest of the season.
These guys will get a chance to make swings through other regions just to gain a familiarity with the draft-eligibles that play there i.e. a Western League scout spending two weeks catching games in Quebec, or a Midwest US Scout spending a few weeks galivanting across Ontario. That way when meetings roll around, or on conference calls, everybody on staff has a decent sense of what and who a player is so a preliminary ranking is formed.
Ahead of the regional guys on the totem pole are the crossover scouts; they go EVERYWHERE. Region to region, country to country- these guys have the most pull, aside from the head scout (titles vary from Director of Scouting to Coordinator of Amateur Scouting, which is Guy Lapointe's title.) These guys will join regional guys at games, and also direct them on where to go and who to watch.
So who do the scouts know to watch?
NHL Central Scouting was created in essence to provide a guideline for all 30 NHL teams. CSS has scouts all over the globe, and the organization in itself acts like a Team. They scout games, they put together Watch Lists, and rankings throughout the season. It's a valuable tool for teams; CSS will send out emails to regional guys alerting them to players they liked in recent viewings (and having gone on one of these wild goose chases, the results can be....mixed.)
That said, teams will already have Watch Lists of their own; scouts can and will do reports on players a year out from their Draft Year, so once the 2013 Draft ends, the organization is prepared to hit the ground running. With CSS, they can cross reference the lists and see if they have missed anyone worth noting.
(An aside; because NHL Draft Lists are kept so confidential, the public is reliant on lists like CSS, Future Considerations, ISS, McKeen's, etc. which are created through viewings, although the rankings are done based strictly on talent. There is no true character analysis, nor is there medical examination- this creates a conundrum because these lists, which are basically done for fun, are taken as gospel. I'll get into this more in the subsequent post.)
So to start building a list, players who've made the cut and are in "the system" are ranked by their region, and then you throw them all together.
Think of it this way; you have a deck of cards denoting each region, including Europe:
So, to form the ranking you just shuffle them altogether...
Then, as the season goes on, the deck of cards get whittled down; players are written off for any number of reasons- their play, their character, or any other sort of red flags the scouts see. The list actually gets smaller, although some players will make their way onto the list. Jake Guentzel, for example, created some serious buzz with the massive second half he had for Sioux City in the USHL.
Crossover Scouts and the Head Scout will begin to accompany regional scouts to games to check out the highest ranked players in their region, in a sort of "show and tell" kind of way. At this point, the Head Scouts have read the favorable reports, and want to see the player for themselves. This would explain why I saw many of Minnesota's head cheeses at Shattuck St. Mary's last year, including quite the party during a game against Culver Academy; as it turned out, they were in on John Draeger, who they took in the 3rd Round.
If the player(s) get the nod of approval, then they are basically locks for the final list; the Head guy and the Crossovers have the most pull, so it bodes well for the regional guy (and his reputation) that the higher ups like "their player". Some scouts are very protective of their region and players, so it can create quite the battle during the final rankings meetings.
The Final Rankings are where it all shakes out; players are raised or lowered. Since everyone involved (well, pretty much since there are two groups of scouts; North American and European) has seen the players involved, it can make for lively discussion. This will take place after the combine, where players will be poked, prodded, tested, and interviewed; this can be the final key as to whether a potential red flag is legitimate, or a non-issue.
All in all, the scouting staff might see over a 1000 players during the course of the season, their final list may only be 100-150 players- these players have all passed the test. They all have the traits an organization look for. And this list will look nothing like anyone else's list, including those available for public viewing like Central Scouting's.
Now the game begins...in the next post, I'll look at the notion of Best Player Available (groan!) and the game behind "managing the table."