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The hockey season starts on July 7

Friday, 07.03.2009 / 9:00 AM / Off the Wall

By Evan Weiner - NHL.com Correspondent

In the days of yore, Canada Day (Dominion Day) and Independence Day were just two holidays in the life of hockey players and executives as they enjoyed being away from the rink all summer and counted the days until the start of training camp. But those days are long gone and hockey front-office types are getting back to work right after the two holidays in Canada and the United States. After all, there is hockey to be played and watched in early July.

That is just how it is these days, and nobody knows that better than E.J. McGuire, the NHL's Director of Central Scouting. For McGuire and his scouts, vacation is over. Of course, they just finished the 2008-09 season on June 27 at the Entry Draft, so that does mean that the NHL has evolved into a 365-day-a-year business?

"July 7, the U.S. Select Team comes together in Rochester, N.Y., for a week-long evaluation camp and we begin to 'unalphabetize,' if that is a word, the alphabetically listed futures list that was handed to NHL teams at the combine. That futures list is eligible for future drafts," McGuire said. "We throw a ton of names out there and now we begin July 7 with the U.S. group. There is a Canadian group that comes together a little later on in the summer.

"So it is a fun summer."

McGuire doesn't plan on visiting Europe, though after all it is summer and there are scouts on the ground there.

"Goran Stubb (of European Scouting Services) has very specific dates. Because we stay very provincial in North America, I don't care about those guys," McGuire said with a laugh.

Hockey wasn't always a 365-day-a-year entity, and even McGuire admits hockey personnel need to stay away from the rink at times. But in today's business, that is not practical.

"There are some breaks, but it is fun. It sure beats the alternative," he said. "There are a lot of people looking to get into scouting. It just doesn't happen anymore. Hockey is a year-round sport. It is a million-dollar business for these players and rightfully or wrongfully, they are immersed in hockey 24/7. They are with their physical trainers during the summer, they are with sports psychologists in any off-time they have and that is why they are so ready at 18 to join the biggest and best league in the world."

Former Red Wings goaltender Greg Stefan said he and childhood buddy Wayne Gretzky never played hockey between April 15 and the start of training camp in September, but that was back in the 1970s and 1980s.

"It evolved over the last decade or couple of decades. I don't think I would have predicted that (back in the 1980s). If I was real good at predicting I would have gone to the racetrack and owned a team," said McGuire. "It evolved as salaries rose and the profession developed and whether it philosophically is a good thing or a bad thing, it is here to stay.

"The players are ready, the players are men and more ready than ever, yet at the same time -- and let me contradict myself a little bit and say they are still 18-year-old teenagers."

Speaking of 18-year-old teenagers, McGuire and his staff have to "de-list" all of the players taken by the 30 clubs at the 2009 Entry Draft in Montreal. They become non-players and someone like this year's top pick, John Tavares, was a non-player in his first year as a 15-year-old with Oshawa in 2005. McGuire's scouts only really look at 17-year-olds.
"They are off our radar. (This year's draftees) stay in our database but they cease to become our charge. In fact, it is hands off," he said. "There is too much variance for, say, a 14-year-old for us to be using our time. I don't even want to say wasting our time, but using our time. There are too many changes in what could happen in the course of a person in developing through his 14th, 15th and 16th years. (Tavares), we didn't do game reports on him then. It's hard for him not to catch your eye, but if we are doing our job right, first and foremost, we have to do the first-time draft eligible players, 17 going on 18.

"We are getting older and older," McGuire said, alluding to the 1992 cutoff for draft eligibility.
When Tavares played for Oshawa in 2005, he was the youngest player in the Ontario Hockey League. But as far as McGuire was concerned, he did not exist.
"Good player, throw him on our futures list in alphabetical order," McGuire said. "Taylor Hall (the possible first pick in the 2010 draft), good player, he is in alphabetic order. You will be talking about Taylor Hall in the top five, maybe the top two, for the 2010 Draft."
"We are scouring the websites of Hockey Canada, USA Hockey.  There are summer tournaments that go on that our scouts are at. It is our charge to leave no stone left unturned." -- E.J. McGuire

McGuire knows too much about Hall and other 2010 prospects even though he claims Hall was a non-existent player in 2008-09. See, scouts do know someone wore Hall's Windsor Spitfires jersey last season and do have a book on him. In fact, they know all about him but they are not supposed to let on that they have a book on Hall and the other players that McGuire thinks can go in the Top 5 in 2010.

"We can scout him (Hall) but we cannot waste our time when there is a current guy we have to get a better read on. We choose not to," said McGuire.

The Rochester camp is the first time that 1992-borns get a thorough inspection from NHL scouts.

"We are scouring the websites of Hockey Canada, USA Hockey," McGuire said. "There are summer tournaments that go on that our scouts are at. It is our charge to leave no stone left unturned."

McGuire's scouts will not bother with Olympics camps as national teams get their rosters ready for next February's Vancouver event. "Maybe a John Tavares will be a candidate for the Canadian Olympic Team," he said. "You are picking from 700 NHL players who are pros. Victor Hedman was playing in an elite league last year, he would be a candidate for the Swedish Olympic team. It depends on injuries during the NHL season. Say if Nicklas Lidstrom was to become injured toward the Olympics, some of these top-end players would be invited."

Scouting is an inexact science. McGuire and his staff, along with the scouting staffs of each of the 30 NHL teams, have found players in the middle of the draft and have been wrong on first-round selections. Sometimes McGuire goes back and tries to figure out how he missed on a player and thinks that some players just get better over the summer after their draft eligible year.

"One of the things I do now is watch a lot of NHL games up at the NHL video review room and sometimes I remark to myself  gee, I really didn't have him making it as well as he is making it now," McGuire said. "I attribute that, maybe in a self-serving sense, to that the player matured, he had potential, he was one of those stereotypical diamonds-in-the-rough who just kept coming on physically, some tall skinny kids who are ranked a little lower because they are tall and skinny and all of a sudden they are big and strong by virtue of work with these strength trainers and they become dominate NHL players four or five years down the road."

McGuire would rather draft 20-year-olds, but unless someone convinces a U.S. court of law that the draft minimum age should be 20 instead of 18, he and all NHL talent evaluators have to live with trying to figure out how a 17-year-old projects as a player.

"We just watched the NBA Draft where they are picking 20-years-olds. Give me two more years and I am going to be much more of an astute scout," said McGuire.

It is back to scouting 17-year-olds in Rochester on July 7 for a week for McGuire and his scouts. You see, the hockey season may be on summer break but it never really ends. There is always another game, but some of those games don't count in the standings.

Quote of the Day

I'm hoping Bob [Murray] didn't go out and get Dany Heatley just to get someone. I'm sure he's excited and motivated.

— Anaheim Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau on general manager Bob Murray's decision to sign Dany Heatley