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

The view from the mountain cam at the top of the NorthStar quad on Friday, November 27, 2020. KAR file.
KAR outlines plans for safe ski season in Zoom meeting with Kimberley business community

The Kimberley Chamber of Commerce hosted a Zoom meeting on Thursday, Nov.… Continue reading

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
47 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health region

1,538 total cases, 399 are active, ten in hospital

There are several options available for a ShelterBox donation. Submitted photo
Kimberley Rotary continues to partner with ShelterBox

A ShleterBox donation is a great gift

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Interior Health reports 65 new cases of COVID-19

Province-wide, there are 887 new cases of the virus

Peter Wilson, left, and Micah Rankin, right, formed the Special Prosecutor team that was tasked with reviewing and litigating charges stemming from the Bountiful investigation. Trevor Crawley photo.
End of Bountiful prosecution wraps up decades of legal battles

Constitutional questions had to be settled before a polygamy prosecution could move forward

Mary Cox and Jack Plant dance in their pyjamas and slippers at the morning pyjama dance during the Rhythm Reelers’ 25 Annual Rally in the Valley Square Dance Festival in Chilliwack on June 4, 2011. Sunday, Nov. 29, 2020 is Square Dancing Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Nov. 29 to Dec. 5

Square Dancing Day, Disability Day and International Ninja Day are all coming up this week

Black Press Media and BraveFace have come together to support children facing life-threatening conditions. Net proceeds from these washable, reusable, three-layer masks go to Make-A-Wish Foundation BC & Yukon.
Put on a BraveFace: Help make children’s wishes come true

Black Press Media, BraveFace host mask fundraiser for Make-A-Wish Foundation

Kevin Bieksa during his days playing with the Vancouver Canucks. (Photo: commons.wikimedia.org)
Bieksa to guest on free Canucks Alumni ‘Hot Stove’ on Zoom app

Former NHL player has become a game analyst on Sportsnet

114 Canadians were appointed Nov. 27 to the Order of Canada. (Governor General of Canada photo)
Indigenous actor, author, elder, leaders appointed to Order of Canada

Outstanding achievement, community dedication and service recognized

Screenshot of Pastor James Butler giving a sermon at Free Grace Baptist Church in Chilliwack on Nov. 22, 2020. The church has decided to continue in-person services despite a public health order banning worship services that was issued on Nov. 19, 2020. (YouTube)
2 Lower Mainland churches continue in-person services despite public health orders

Pastors say faith groups are unfairly targeted and that charter rights protect their decisions

A big job: Former forests minister Doug Donaldson stands before a 500-year-old Douglas fir in Saanich to announce preservation of some of B.C.’s oldest trees, July 2019. (B.C. government)
B.C. returning to ‘stand-alone’ forests, rural development ministry

Horgan says Gordon Campbell’s super-ministry doesn’t work

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good
Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

2020
Urban wildlife Part VI: The East Kootenay birds of autumn

The work of local photographers printed in the pages of the East Kootenay Advertiser throughout 2020. Part VI.

Alexandre Bissonnette, who pleaded guilty to a mass shooting at a Quebec City mosque, arrives at the courthouse in Quebec City on February 21, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mathieu Belanger - POOL
Court strikes down consecutive life sentences; mosque shooter has prison term cut

The decision was appealed by both the defence and the Crown

Most Read