|E.J. McGuire, Director of NHL Central Scouting, has spent countless hours evaluating and ranking talent for the NHL's Entry Draft. The payoff, he says, comes later when the players become established NHLers.
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NHL Central Scouting was established 32 years ago as a service to help NHL teams digest the mountain of work involved in scouting hockey prospects the world over.
The department consists of staff at the NHL Offices in Toronto, along with 10 full-time scouts, and as many as 15 part-time scouts throughout North America. The NHL also employs the services of Goran Stubb who oversees a staff of five scouts at the European Scouting Services in Finland.
"There is a healthy competitiveness that all our scouts have when we see our predictions or recommendations taken," McGuire told NHL.com. "That's tempered by the fact that our recommendations are just that, recommendations. It's almost cliché that this is just the door opening for these kids and now it's up to them to work to make the NHL.
"From a scouting point of view, we would like to see them playing in the NHL three years down the road," McGuire said. "It's not about whether or not they are drafted in the exact spot we have them ranked. If we recommend someone at No. 33 and he's taken No. 33 and then he doesn't play, shame on the team for believing and using our recommendations and shame on us for recommending him. The real proof will be if each player we had ranked will be playing three years from now."
Central Scouting provides NHL teams with videotapes of top prospects and two player-ranking lists, which are used by teams as a second opinion in processing prospect evaluations. The CSS also conducts a Prospects Combine, with the assistance of CSS's Nathan Ogilvie-Harris, in Toronto in May for medical and fitness testing. In the days leading up to the Draft, CSS scouts will ordinarily get besieged with phone calls from NHL personnel making final decisions.
"Over the final two weeks leading up to the Draft, plenty of scouts are calling me wanting to know what my thinking was on some of the guys throughout the different leagues," said Chris Edwards, who scouts the Ontario Hockey League. "They're just curious why we ranked some kids as we did."
To no one's surprise, Sarnia's Steven Stamkos, rated No. 1 according to Central Scouting, went to the Tampa Bay Lightning with the first overall selection on Friday. For McGuire and staff, the real intrigue came with the next pick when a plethora of solid defensive prospects were projected to fly off the board.
Central Scouting had Peterborough's Zach Bogosian rated second and Guelph's Drew Doughty third. As it turned out, Doughty was plucked second by the Los Angeles Kings and Bogosian third to the Atlanta Thrashers.
"The Bogosian-Doughty issue was an hour and a half debate at our last meeting of the season," McGuire recalled. "We were just sitting around, racking our heads, noting how this guy shoots the puck faster and that this guy skated a lot faster. It all boils down to what the team needed and Doughty proved to be a better fit for Los Angeles. Both teams (Los Angeles and Atlanta) got a really good defenseman, so now we'll just see how it works itself out."
"We have to have what the CSS provides, no question," McPhee said. "It would be too hard to operate without this information. It's really good to speak with their scouts and know what's out there and to just establish a base to work from. Our scouts talk to them all the time and it's undoubtedly a valuable source."
One player who may have benefited from CSS's Scouting Combine was power-forward Colin Wilson of Boston University. Wilson, who was ranked No. 10 among North American skaters, was drafted seventh overall by the Nashville Predators.
"His Combine was icing on the cake and, because he's a University student at BU, he was very impressive during the interviewing process," McGuire said. "He's pretty articulate and very poised and scouts and GM's like that. The combine all but confirmed what everyone had known about Colin entering the Draft. He's a quality kid who will play in the NHL for a long time."
Atlanta General Manager Don Waddell is another huge supporter of the CSS.
"The CSS does a tremendous job," Waddell said. "The amount of homework that must go into the reports we get must be incredible. I've always said that for the price we pay for those books, we get 10 times the amount of work and they are so organized. When you call E.J. with a question, he usually has an immediate answer. And, if not, he finds out real quick and gets right back to you. They are so valuable."
Edwards is glad all the grunt work throughout the course of the year is put to good use.
"We're never going to nail it right on, but that's not what we're supposed to do either," Edwards offered. "It's gratifying to see the years-worth of hard work being put to the test and it's always interesting to know how it will all play out. There are always some surprises and that's when you start second-guessing yourself, but it's great knowing the work is really put to good use."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.