For much of the year, scouts from NHL clubs and private scouting agencies scour the globe for the next generational talent, the next franchise player, and the next late round steal. On Draft weekend, a year’s hard work is condensed into a single list of names, a few of whom teams hope will become the future building blocks for their franchise. In Part Three of the ’09 Draft Preview, the readers of MLHS are in for a special treat, as I recently had the opportunity to pick the brain of E.J. Mcguire, the Director of the NHL’s Central Scouting Services and perhaps the most well-recognized face of the scouting world, about the upcoming June Draft.
Q -Â Hi E.J., thanks for taking the time. Let’s dive right into this. In a few words, what is the role of the NHL Central Scouting Service?
A – Well Alex, the NHL Central Service serves as an early warning system for NHL teams as they prepare to make selections for the upcoming NHL Draft. There are 9 full-time scouts, 16 part-time scouts and 3 administrators in North America. There are also 9 full-time scouts and 2 administrators in Europe.
Q – Last year’s draft saw an unprecendented amount of players immediately making the jump to the NHL, 10 by my count, including Toronto’s own Luke Schenn. Should we expect something similar next season?
A – By virtue of the NHL Salary Cap, we’re starting to see a growing inclination for teams to bring those players in at an earlier age. That amount of talent on an entry-level contract is much more economically feasible than say, a veteran free agent to fill the same role. I think you’re going to see more of draftees making an immediate jump to the NHL as we go forward.
Q – How would this year’s draft class stack up against those of recent years in terms of top end talent and depth through the later rounds?
A – It’s very similar to those strong draft classes of recent years. It’s a very deep draft and very even. By very even, I mean that you’re not going to see a whole lot of dropoffs or plateaus, for example a distinct top 10 or top 15. I feel that this is one of those draft classes where you’re going to see a few 3rd and 4th round picks making a meaningful impact at the NHL level a few years down the line. Having multiple selections, particularly in those middle rounds is a big bonus.
Q – Since last season, much of the focus has been around the unquestionable Top 2 status of John Tavares and Victor Hedman. However, we’ve recently seen a few scouting services boldly project Duchene as a top 2 selection. Is the gap close enough that this may be the case on draft day?
A – Matt Duchene is an excellent player and will absolutely be a top 3 pick, but where he’s selected will very much be based on the need of that particular team. If a team is looking for a high end defenseman, they will lean towards Victor Hedman. If that team is looking for a dynamic scorer, they’d lean towards John Tavares. And if that team is looking for more of an all-around player who can make an immediate impact, then that’s the team that’s going to take Matt Duchene.
Q – One player who seems to have fallen out of that Top 3 discussion since the beginning of the year is Jared Cowen whose stock seems to have taken a hit since that devastating injury. Is the injury a long-term concern for NHL teams and if healthy, what can he offer an NHL team?
Well, Jared Cowen successfully went through the NHL Combine and took all the required tests and medical diagnostics. At this point, it’s in the hands of the GM’s and their respective medical staffs. From what I’ve heard, all reports indicate that he will be completely healthy by early next season. If his stock took a “hit”, it’s probably more because of unrealistic expectations from myself and other scouts after watching him excel last year when he won the Memorial Cup with the Spokane Chiefs as a 16-17 year old draft ineligble player.
Q – How will Magnus Paajarvi-Svensson’s game translate over to the tighter, more physical style of play in North America?
A – The World Junior Championship presents a very similar style of game to that of the NHL, albeit at a lower level, but serves as an excellent tool to evaluate both North American and European talents. He looked very comfortable, recording 7 points for Team Sweden during the tournament. I think that he will do just fine at the next level, especially as more of his peers start to appear in the NHL.
Q – Last June, we saw Windsor’s Josh Bailey, who was ranked 14th among North American Skaters, make a surprise jump into the top 10 when he went 9th overall to the New York Islanders. Are there any players whom you feel may sneak into the top 10 this year?
A – Well that’s tough to say. Our Central Scouting list comes out fairly early, and our focus is not about where those players will be selected on draft day, but rather how well those draftees project as NHL players 5 years from now. If we have a player ranked at #153 and he doesn’t play a single game in the NHL, but the player at #154 does, then shame on us. Because that would mean that we did not do our job.
Q – Ever since Brian Burke came on board as Toronto GM, the team’s fanbase has been excited about the prospect of building a meaner, tougher team in the mold of the Getzlaf-Perry-Ryan trio in Anaheim. Two players that are likely to be near the top of Burke’s draftboard are Vancouver’s Evander Kane and Brandon’s Brayden Schenn. How are these two players similar and how are they different?
A – Both Kane and Schenn are power forwards from Western Canada, who love to get their noses dirty around the net. Both are physical players with some nice scoring ability. Schenn is more of a natural centerman while Kane is… well come to think of it, both players could probably handle either the center or wing position at the next level. It’s tough to differentiate between the two because they’re really actually very similar players. If you want to talk about tough, power forwards then there’s also Zach Kassian, who we currently have ranked as the 10th best North American Skater. And you can’t forget about Scott Glennie either, a hard-nosed two-way player who was a teammate and linemate of Brayden Schenn for Brandon.
Q – E.J., thanks again for taking the time out of what I’m sure is an extremely tight schedule as you make final preparations for the Draft next week. Any parting words?
A – My pleasure Alex. Make sure you all tune in on Draft Night to witness history being made. Scouting is a tough job, an inexact science, but it is an immensely rewarding job. Once again, good luck with everything.
Always a pleasure,