Canada’s Alexis Lafreniere smiles during practice at the World Junior Hockey Championships in Ostrava, Czech Republic, Friday, Dec. 27, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Canada’s Alexis Lafreniere smiles during practice at the World Junior Hockey Championships in Ostrava, Czech Republic, Friday, Dec. 27, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

‘The work is still getting done’: NHL teams preparing for unusual draft

There’s talk the NHL could hold its draft online next month even though the 2019-20 season has yet to finish

Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning and his NHL counterparts usually have the luxury of a picture that’s mostly come into focus.

A normal draft year will see scouts and executives spend the spring crisscrossing Europe and North America collecting every scrap of information possible on hockey’s next crop of high-end talent.

They watch games, talk to those closest to the prospects, conduct in-person interviews with players and examine physical testing results. The under-18 world championships, Canadian Hockey League playoffs and Memorial Cup are all on the list of must-see events.

The circumstances surrounding a 2020 NHL draft and the COVID-19 pandemic, however, aren’t anything resembling normal.

The culmination of junior seasons were cancelled, tournaments were nixed and the league’s annual combine — a crucial exercise where teenage hopefuls are put through physical exercises and mental hula hoops — was postponed and looks unlikely to go ahead.

There’s talk the NHL could hold its draft online next month even though the 2019-20 season has yet to be completed. But that’s far from the only unique aspect for teams poised to make franchise-altering decisions in this unprecedented era of social distancing.

READ MORE: NHL suspends 2019-20 season amid coronavirus pandemic

In short, the book on many of the youngsters in question won’t be fully written.

“It’s nice to see how players perform in the playoffs,” Benning said. ”That’s a big part, I think, of finding players that are winners … when it gets hard in the playoffs, if they step up. We’re going to miss out on all that.

“We’re trying to do the best we can under the circumstances to get to know the players and try to figure out what they’re going to be in three or four years time.”

Scouts logged plenty of kilometres until the novel coronavirus outbreak brought hockey to a halt in mid-March, but there was still lots of work to do, especially outside the top half of the first round headlined by Alexis Lafreniere and Quinton Byfield.

“Probably not as complete as it would be had it been a normal ending to the season,” Columbus Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen said of his team’s eventual draft list. ”You’re running around trying to (watch) the top guys one last time or guys that you had missed earlier in the year. Now we’re watching tape instead.

“It will be different coverage, not as good coverage … that’s the reason why we have the amateur scouts on the road. It’ll be a little bit different. It’ll be interesting and we’ll see how it goes.”

Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said clubs will be forced to lean heavily on the work put in from September through early March heading into what’s expected to be a virtual draft similar to the one held by the NFL last month.

“We’ve always tried to keep a handle on times-seen of players … try to have a good balance,” he said. “Scouts, by their nature, live in the moment and go to the game and just hope the guy’s not hurt. They’ve always had to adjust.

“The interesting thing is we’re all in this same boat together. We all don’t have to pick or choose which game you’re going to, even though you’d love to be picking or choosing which game you’re going to.”

READ MORE: ‘Knowledge and creativity’ the only training limitations for goalies in pandemic

The NHL usually puts more than 100 draft prospects through physical testing at the combine in early June. It’s also an opportunity for teams to hold one-on-one meetings in hopes of getting to know the player on a different level.

Like businesses, families and friends separated during the pandemic, NHL front offices are getting creative with video conferencing platforms, but there will be blind spots in other areas.

“The biggest thing losing the combine is physical testing,” Calgary Flames GM Brad Treliving said. ”They all need to get stronger, but you get a sense of their frames and who needs what in terms of physical maturation.”

While teams will be at an obvious disadvantage, Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Jack Campbell said some players could be in the same boat, especially with the need for remote interviews.

“I just enjoy face-to-face no matter what scenario it is,” said the 11th pick in the 2010 draft. ”It’s just more real, I guess. But you’ve got to just make the most of what we’re given right now.

“It’s definitely a unique process for the prospects and the organizations.”

One that all involved, like the rest of society right now, will do their best to navigate.

“The work is still getting done,” Treliving said. “Ultimately you’re going to make decisions based on the information you have.”

-With files from Donna Spencer

___

Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

CoronavirusNHL

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Terry Keogh, an RDN Transit driver, used his paramedic skills the morning of Jan. 22 after coming across an unconscious woman along his route in downtown Nanaimo. (RDN Transit photo)
RDN Transit driver stops his bus and helps get overdosing woman breathing again

Former EMT from Ireland performed CPR on a woman in downtown Nanaimo on Friday

Peter Crema and Harmony Gray (from left), past participants of the Nanaimo Art Gallery’s Code Switching teen art group, at work in ArtLab in 2019. The NAG will be expanding the space thanks to a $75,000 arts infrastructure program grant. (Bulletin file photo)
Nanaimo Art Gallery, Nanaimo Aboriginal Centre receive new arts infrastructure funding

Province announces recipients of funding through B.C. Arts Council program

Angela Waldick is the new team photographer for the Nanaimo NightOwls. (Nanaimo NightOwls photo)
Half-blind photographer will help Nanaimo’s new baseball team look picture-perfect

NightOwls announce partnership with Angela Waldick of Nightengales Photography

Emergency crews were called to a crash involving a hatchback and a taxi minivan at the intersection of Fitzwilliam, Pine and Third streets on Friday afternoon. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)
Driver hurt as taxi and hatchback crash in Nanaimo

Collision happened Friday at intersection of Fitzwilliam, Pine and Third streets

A person experiencing homelessness in downtown Nanaimo last week. (News Bulletin photo)
LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Change approach to combatting homelessness

Letter writers express frustration with status quo

Emergency crews were called to a crash involving a hatchback and a taxi minivan at the intersection of Fitzwilliam, Pine and Third streets on Friday afternoon. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)
Driver hurt as taxi and hatchback crash in Nanaimo

Collision happened Friday at intersection of Fitzwilliam, Pine and Third streets

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a daily briefing in Ottawa. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)
31 cases of COVID-19 variants detected in Canada: Health officials

Dr. Theresa Tam made announces 13 more variant COVID-19 cases in Canada

Daily COVID-19 cases reported to each B.C. health region, to Jan. 20, 2021. Island Health in blue, Northern Health green, Interior Health orange, Vancouver Coastal in red and Fraser Health in purple. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate stays stable with 508 cases Friday

Vaccine delivered to more than 110,000 high-risk people

Black Press file photo
Investigation at remote burned-out Vancouver Island cabin reveals human remains

Identity of victim not released, believed to be the owner of an SUV vehicle found parked nearby

Nanaimo City Hall. (News Bulletin file photo)
City of Nanaimo councillors like new sustainable buying policy

Finance and audit committee recommends council approve new procurement policy

Danielle Groenendijk raised more than twice her goal for Parkinson Canada. (Photo submitted)
VIU volleyball athlete doubles fundraising goal for Parkinson’s

Daily runs over 30 days by Groenendijk add up to 254 kilometres

An Atlantic salmon is seen during a Department of Fisheries and Oceans fish health audit at the Okisollo fish farm near Campbell River, B.C. in 2018. The First Nations Leadership Council says an attempt by industry to overturn the phasing out of salmon farms in the Discovery Islands in contrary to their inherent Title and Rights. (THE CANADIAN PRESS /Jonathan Hayward photo)
First Nations Leadership Council denounces attempt to overturn salmon farm ban

B.C.’s producers filed for a judicial review of the Discovery Islands decision Jan. 18

More than 100 B.C. fishermen, fleet leaders, First Nations leaders and other salmon stakeholders are holding a virtual conference Jan. 21-22 to discuss a broad-range of issues threatening the commercial salmon fishery. (Black Press file photo)
B.C. commercial salmon fishermen discuss cures for an industry on the brink

Two-day virtual conference will produce key reccomendations for DFO

Premier John Horgan leaves the podium following his first press conference of the year as he comments on various questions from the media in the Press Gallery at B.C. Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, January 13, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Interprovincial travel restrictions a no-go, Horgan says after reviewing legal options

The B.C. NDP government sought legal advice as concerns of travel continue

Most Read