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

An elk got his antlers caught up in a zip line in Youbou over the weekend. (Conservation Officer Service Photo)
Elk rescued from zip line in Youbou

Officials urge people to manage items on their property that can hurt animals

Egg producers in B.C. aren’t obligated to reveal their production sites. (Sarah Simpson/Citizen)
Not enough local eggs to meet demand: officials

BC Egg Marketing Board doesn’t regulate labelling

The new Malahat Skywalk is expected to be completed by this summer. (Submitted graphic)
Malahat Skywalk expected to be complete by this summer

$15-million project will see 650-metre elevated wooden pathway constructed

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry prepares a daily update on the coronavirus pandemic, April 21, 2020. (B.C. Government)
B.C. adjusts COVID-19 vaccine rollout for delivery slowdown

Daily cases decline over weekend, 31 more deaths

A female prisoner sent Langford police officers a thank-you card after she spent days in their custody. (Twitter/West Shore RCMP)
Woman gives Victoria-area jail 4.5-star review in handwritten card to police after arrest

‘We don’t often get thank you cards from people who stay with us, but this was sure nice to see’: RCMP

A Trail man has a lucky tin for a keepsake after it saved him from a stabbing last week. File photo
Small tin in Kootenay man’s jacket pocket saved him from stabbing: RCMP

The man was uninjured thanks to a tin in his jacket

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation Chantel Moore, 26, was fatally shot by a police officer during a wellness check in the early morning of June 4, 2020, in Edmundston, N.B. (Facebook)
Frustrated family denied access to B.C. Indigenous woman’s police shooting report

Independent investigation into B.C. woman’s fatal shooting in New Brunswick filed to Crown

Delta Police Constable Jason Martens and Dezi, a nine-year-old German Shepherd that recently retired after 10 years with Delta Police. (Photo submitted)
Dezi, a Delta police dog, retires on a high note after decade of service

Nine-year-old German Shepherd now fights over toys instead of chasing down bad guys

Nurses collect samples from a patient in a COVID suspect room in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at St. Paul’s hospital in downtown Vancouver, Tuesday, April 21, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)
5 British Columbians under 20 years old battled COVID-19 in ICU in recent weeks

Overall hospitalizations have fallen but young people battling the virus in hospital has increased

Canada released proposed regulations Jan. 2 for the fisheries minister to maintain Canada’s major fish stocks at sustainable levels and recover those at risk. (File photo)
New laws would cement DFO accountability to depleted fish stocks

Three B.C. salmon stocks first in line for priority attention under proposed regulations

Trees destroyed a Shoreacres home during a wind storm Jan. 13, 2021. Photo: Submitted
Kootenay woman flees just before tree crushes house

Pamala DeRosa is thankful to be alive

Gin, one of the Kantymirs’ two sheep. (Martha Wickett-Salmon Arm Observer)
Sheep start up ATV, sit in cars and go for walks in Salmon Arm

Until they bought two sheep, Ken and Karleen Kantymir didin’t realize just how social the animals are

Most Read