Secrets of the Draft

Friday, 08.06.2007 / 4:44 PM / Features
By Daniel Fung
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Secrets of the Draft
It’s a far cry from Daniel Craig lurking through hockey rinks wearing an Armani tuxedo and swilling martinis, but if you dig deep enough, a weird kind of parallel does exist.

NHL scouts aren’t exactly members of a “secret” society, but they are a quiet lot who spend most of their time traveling in hockey’s shadows - and in true spy-like fashion - keeping tabs on their own “most wanted” list.

But unlike their fictional Hollywood counterparts who always steal the show in the end, scouts only get one opportunity to bask in the limelight. This year, the stage is set in Columbus, Ohio.

YEAR LONG PROCESS

‘Time off’ isn’t exactly a term that’s familiar to Ron Delorme, Vancouver’s chief amateur scout. He’s spent the last 21 years ferreting out talent for the Canucks, and knows as much as anyone that a scout’s job doesn’t fit into the world of clocks and calendars.

When you take into consideration everything from evaluating and interviewing, to the final drafting, it’s easy to see why.

For Delorme, and his team of eight scouts, the cycle begins in August. That’s when he sits down with his staff and identifies regions to be covered, along with a list of players of particular interest. The early part of the hockey season is the “slow” time for the scouts – if there is such a thing. By mid-season the machine is high gear.

“Come February, we’ll have our mid-term meeting and we’ll try and put a list [of top prospects] together,” reveals Delorme. “Then we’ll have a final meeting usually in the middle of May, around the time of the Memorial, and then from there we’ll go to the Combine and do the interviews.”

The NHL Combine - which covers five days in late May and took place in Toronto this year - represents one of the last times the scouts can evaluate a prospect prior to the NHL Entry Draft. The four-day process involves a battery of medical and physical testing, and just as important, one-on-one interviews with the individual players.

“At one time [we were interviewing] about 90 per cent of the kids,” says Delorme. “Now we’ve cut it back to about 80 per cent.”

“We categorize interviews based on family, academics, hockey, and demeanor. [We might also cover] some questionable things they might have done off-ice. Those things could be rumours, but we allow them to at least explain if they’re rumours or if they’re real.”

Once the dust from the Combine has settles, the scouts converge on the draft itself where Delorme and his staff finally show the fruits of their labour.

PREVIEWING THE DRAFT: THE FIRST ROUND

Holding the 25th overall pick, and barring any blockbuster deals, the Canucks likely won’t have a shot at drafting “blue chippers” like Kyle Turris or Patrick Kane. And while the Canucks scouting staff have their top prospects list under heavy guard, a look at the franchise’s drafting history could provide clues as to what the Canucks might do in Columbus on June 22nd.

General manager Dave Nonis doesn’t have a history of draft-day blockbusters, but he’s not ruling anything out.

“Maybe there’s an opportunity to make a deal or two there but we’ll change the look of our club as well,” he said. “There’s not any one thing we’re targeting but we’re looking at a number of different scenarios.”

If recent history is any indication, chances are good that “scenario” entails holding onto their pick and staying in North America with the selection. Vancouver’s last six first round picks have come from either the Canadian Hockey League or the U.S Collegiate and high school ranks. You’d have to go all the way back to 1999 for the last time the Canucks went overseas with a first round pick – they did it twice that year selecting Daniel and Henrik Sedin, second and third overall.

With rising stars in Luc Bourdon, Alexander Edler, and Daniel Rahimi, the Canucks appear set on the blue line. And with Roberto Luongo in the crease, and collegiate standout Cory Schneider likely turning pro next season, one might think the Canucks would be inclined to use their first pick on a skilled forward capable of putting the puck in the net.

Everett’s Zach Hamill, who led the Western Hockey League in scoring with 93 points, or David Perron, who led the Lewiston MAINEiacs with 83 points in the regular season and 28 more in the playoffs, would certainly fit the bill.

Scoring may be at the forefront now but Delorme cautions against utilizing a draft strategy based solely on immediate needs.

“Mock drafts are based on what [information organizations like International Scouting Service or Red Line Report] think a team needs,” says Delorme. “But when it comes to putting a list together and drafting, I’m sure most teams do the same thing we do: take the best available player. You cannot draft based on team needs because what happens is 2-3 years from now, [we may have already] filled that spot by a player who has developed in Manitoba, from Juniors or Colleges, or maybe we have signed or traded for a player.”

Recent first round picks in Canucks history:
Forwards – 21 (most recent Michael Grabner, 2006, 14th overall)
Defencemen – 13 (most recent Luc Bourdon, 2005, 10th overall)
Goaltenders – 1 (Cory Schneider, 2004, 26th overall)

PREVIEWING THE DRAFT: ROUNDS 2 THRU 7

After the first round, the inclination to draft based on positional needs may creep in. But as cliché as it sounds, selecting the best possible player is still the best strategy, especially if it could prove to be the difference between whether that player plays in the NHL or not. Delorme admits however, that there is at least one scenario where the rules on selecting the ‘best available’ could perhaps be bent.

“In the later rounds, if two players are equal and one kid’s from British Columbia, we’re going to go for the kid from British Columbia,” says Delorme. “[That’s because] the kid from B.C. grows up watching the Vancouver Canucks and he’s probably going to put a little more effort into his development to try and make the Canucks farm team and, eventually, the Canucks.”

Though the later rounds of the Draft can be a crapshoot at times, Delorme remains confident in his group’s ability to find quality players beyond just the first round. He points to the likes of Kevin Bieksa, Matt Cooke, and Brent Sopel; all three who were drafted in the latter rounds of their respective draft years and have now turned into quality NHL players. And like the movie spies who always end up getting their man, Delorme is confident this Draft can yield a good crop of players for the Canucks to build their future around.

“I think there is some depth to get some pretty decent prospects later on in the draft,” says Delorme. “We have to just do our homework.”

FUTURE WATCH

Delorme and his staff almost never see immediate returns on their scouting work – Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal are rare exceptions - but that doesn’t mean they don’t savour the payoff down the road.

Scouts keep close tabs on the progress of the picks they were responsible for drafting. Most notably, they will be keeping an eye on four players, all drafted in the last two years, who have already gotten a taste of pro hockey with the Moose late in the 2006-07 season…

Luc Bourdon, who started the 2006-07 with the Canucks, is a strong candidate to turn full-time pro next season, either with the Canucks or the Moose. The Shippagan, New Brunswick-native had 20 points (4-16-20) and was a plus-22 in 36 games split between the Moncton Wildcats and the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles of the QMJHL before joining the Moose for five Calder Cup Playoff Games. Bourdon also suited up for his second consecutive World Junior Hockey Championship with Team Canada, capturing his second goal medal at the tournament in Sweden.

Michael Grabner was the toast of the town last season when the Canucks made him their first round selection, 14th overall, in front of the hometown crowd at GM Place. The Austrian-born forward completed a successful third season in the WHL, notching 55 points (39-16-55) despite facing some criticism for a lack of physical play during the middle of the season, after which he responded with one of his best offensive stretches of the season. The soon-to-be 20-year old joined the Moose late in their season, netting two points (1-1-2) in two regular season games although he went scoreless in six games during the Calder Cup Playoffs.

Daniel Rahimi, a hard-nosed Swedish defenceman described at times as “menacing”, spent the majority of the year playing for Bjorkloven in Sweden. Standing 6’3” tall and weighing 221 lbs., the 20-year old defenceman racked up 104 penalty minutes in 33 games in the Swedish Elite League before joining the Moose.

Mason Raymond, a former Alberta Junior Hockey League MVP with the Camrose Kodiaks, suited up for his sophomore season at the University of Minnesota-Duluth before signing a pro contract. Raymond played in 39 games with the Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs during 2006-07, recording a team-high 46 points (14-32-46) and 45 penalty minutes, en route to capturing the Mike Seiler Award as the team’s Most Valuable Player. Raymond suited up for all 13 of Manitoba’s Calder Cup Playoff Games after joining the Moose following his pro-contract signing.

Another candidate likely to turn pro next season is Cory Schneider, who led his Boston College Eagles team to the NCAA Frozen Four finals before losing out to the champion Michigan State Spartans. Schneider appeared in 40 regular season games for Boston College, compiling a 28-11-1 record with a 2.10 GAA and a .927 save percentage along with six shutouts. The Canucks are hoping Schneider will find a spot with the Manitoba Moose next season.