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Pracey's Thoughts On The 2011 NHL Entry Draft

by Kyle Shohara / Colorado Avalanche
Colorado Avalanche Director of Amateur Scouting Rick Pracey discussed the upcoming draft on a conference call with local media on Monday.

"It is that time of year again and it is real exciting for us.  For our scouting staff there is so much work and preparation that goes into these two days.  It is always an exciting time of year for us.  Especially this year in particular, not only having the second overall pick which we feel is putting us in a great position to add a core player to our organization, but also having the eleventh overall pick.  We have seen in the history of the draft what that can possibly do for your franchise.  For us, it has added a little extra excitement in terms of what potentially could be there for us. 

We see this as a deep draft.  We are in a great position in terms of planning. We have looked at several prospects.  One thing we are certain of is that we are very excited about who we can potentially add at this spot, so for us the (second overall pick) holds a very special spot.  The eleventh pick – we think there is enough depth.  There are probably two or three groupings at the top and we will have to wait and see how it all shakes out.  But at the end of the day, there are two groupings in particular that we are interested in and we think we will have an opportunity to add another valuable piece to our franchise.  Those two picks hold a great deal of excitement for us as well as every other pick going forward. 

We have absences of picks in the second and third rounds at this point in time.  But being at the top of every round, it gives us a little bit of an advantage.  It is not always the greatest thing, with the way the season ended, but come draft time one thing we noticed back in the Matt Duchene/Ryan O’Reilly/Tyson Barrie draft, getting those picks that are high in every round certainly puts you in a better position and we think you almost end up being a round ahead in terms of our planning process and what we think will be available in those spots as well. 

So it is a ton of work and our staff has been meeting throughout the year.  We have finalized things.  We have been through combines.  We have been through interviews.  We have conducted a secondary interview process with a bunch of prospects.  There is a lot of continuity within our staff throughout the last couple of years.  There is great chemistry.  I am very proud of our group.  Alan Hepple, Rick Lanz, Guy Perron, Don Paarup, Neil Shea, and our European contingent of Joni Lehto and Anders Carlsson.  The amount of time and preparation that has gone into this process is overwhelming at times but we feel great about it. We are also very excited about going forward with our prospect base.  This year in particular with Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly – it is always easy to forget that they are 20 years old.  We have signed Stefan Elliott, Tyson Barrie, Joey Hishon, Calvin Pickard, and Brad Malone just recently.  We think these players and prospects are going to be a big part of our future.  It is nice to have a lot of the players on our roster home grown and developed in the draft.  It is a big part of the organization.  We are excited and ready for the challenge.  I would just like to reiterate, from our standpoint, that this can be a very big part of our future with the next coming week and having these two top picks."

On the depth of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft:
When I look back at the (2009 draft), our scouting staff had a lot of interest in Evander Kane and Brayden Schenn.  Once we started narrowing things down, it did not sort of take shape that way.  And Matt Duchene was clearly a player we had a tremendous amount of interest in and we were very fortunate that it went our way.  But this year, the names that are floating out there are Adam Larsson, Sean Couturier, Jonathan Huberdeau, Gabriel Landeskog, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.  We can even go on with Mika Zibanejad and Dougie Hamilton.  I do not want to say it is wide open by any means, but there is certainly enough there to make this process very challenging.  It is a situation where we looked at all of these players.  We have talked to them and we have gone through our process.  We know that there is depth there and that also leads us to the excitement.  As we were narrowing down our list, we basically have only one variable with what Edmonton decides.  But there are certainly a lot of quality prospects to choose from.  There are some very good players and it is not an easy task to go through and separate.  There are different types of players – whether it is by position or skill set or the player-type.  In my opinion, there is no consensus number one, two, or three.  I think you can easily come up with four of five candidates. 

On final decision for the number-two overall pick:

We have had our meetings and gone through the whole process.  We are prepared and ready to go.  In our minds, we have made our list and the order has been set.  Everything is taken care of.  At this point in time, everything is set.  Our mind and decision has been made.

Thoughts on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Gabriel Landeskog:

On Nugent-Hopkins: He is a very talented offensive player playing in the Western Hockey League.  His skill set is probably his defining trait.  He can make plays, he can score, he is a creative player in terms of vision and seeing the ice, and he is a player that people will look at as transferrable offense at the NHL level.  He is a very talented, offensive, and gifted player.

On Huberdeau: He is a player who had a very strong season from start to finish in terms of his Quebec-league season.  He gained a ton of momentum along the year.  He came to the forefront in the Quebec league as a scorer on a consistent level.  He also has size and is good two-way player.  He is diligent away from the puck and he is a player that, in terms of projection, looks like he is on the upside.  Things are going to get better and better.  He is a very interesting prospect.  He has a ton of qualities that should translate into the NHL level.  In terms of projection, it started for him during the playoffs a year ago, continuing onto this regular season and another great playoff run from start to finish as they won the Memorial Cup.  He is a player of interest as well.

On Landeskog: He is a player that plays the game probably the way you would expect all of your players to play.  He plays with character, he competes, he has the skill sets, and he goes to the dirty areas of the rink.  In terms of a calling card, it is his battle level.  He is a physical player in terms of confrontation.  He initiates the contact but he is also a player who plays the full length of the ice.  He is diligent and there is a lot to like here in terms of his overall package.  He is an interesting player because he scored over 30 goals.  He competes and plays the game at a high intensity level.  Going forward, his character is something that is very attractive to not only us, but the whole industry.

On best player available versus need:
The best player available is certainly the way that we build our list.  The needs of the organization, not only ours but others, change drastically.  The thing that we are dealing with here is 18-year-old players.  It is very important to us and it is something that is a challenge even when you are building your list, whether it creeps into the subconscious or you want to play general manager.  Our goal and mandate as a scouting staff is to get the best player available.  So regardless of the team need, we will be going forward with who we think is the best player.  It is certainly a challenge to get to that point but every team has needs.  Our mandate going forward is best player.

Chance of draft pick(s) making opening-night roster:
I would not rule out anything.  I think it all depends on how our roster takes shape throughout the summer and whether there is opportunity there or not.  But what we have seen in the past, with what Matt Duchene and Ryan O’Reilly did, makes things interesting.  So that is something that would have to come from our coaches and our management group.  But depending on the players you are looking at who are at the top of the draft, I think there are a couple of players that can make the jump.  So certainly that is a possibility. 

We are looking at this as a long-term investment.  Regardless of what happens in 2011-12, we are looking at it as more of a 10-to-15-year process.  If it is a matter of strength, speed, or another factor holding a particular prospect out of the NHL right away, and if we think those factors are developmental issues or things that could be corrected in the long term, we will still be going with what is best long-term for the franchise and who is the best player available. 

The character of a player:
The evaluation process – capabilities, on-ice potential – is what gets us through the majority of the season.  Our traveling and coverage helps us identify the players based on their on-ice skill set and on-ice ability, in terms of what we think they are capable of or what we see in terms of future development.  A lot of things we do revolve around networking – talking to coaches, people at their schools, their interaction with peers and teammates.  There is a lot of background work that goes into to the process during the season where you develop a profile on players and a feel for their personalities.  Then we get into NHL events like the combine where we spent some time with prospects.  It is not very much time; a 25-to-30 minute window that gives us a snapshot of what the players are like.  We go through a consistent questionnaire process.  But for the second and eleventh spot, we try and dig deeper and spend more time with the players and find out more about their families.

Character has to play a huge part.  Certainly with youth there are different levels of maturity and that is evident with every new prospect that comes through the door.  There are challenges.  But to me, it is very important.  This is a lifestyle of being a professional athlete and learning to be a pro.  We have developmental people that help them along the way.  Drafting good people and players that have their priorities in the right order, and players that come to the rink committed and prepared to play the game is a big part of the evaluation.  Players with character will also overcome adversity and they will also have the intangibles that are contagious throughout your lineup.  If they are doing the right thing it rubs off on everyone around them.  When we are talking about picking at number two and eleven, the potential of adding core-type players to your franchise is a very important factor to consider.  The players at the top of the board, from our perspective, check out.  They have the qualities that we would be looking for. 

On the top goaltending prospects:
I think there is a group of goaltenders in the draft that are interesting.  John Gibson from the U.S. program is an interesting name.  Samu Perhonen out of Finland is an interesting name.  Christopher Gibson from the QMJHL is an interesting name.  In terms of goaltending, there are going to be options for teams.  But I think those are a handful of names that most teams would be talking about.

On Adam Larsson:
He is another player of great interest of ours.  He is a defenseman who moves well.  He has experience at a higher league playing in the Swedish Elite League for the past two seasons.  His on-ice development has made him attractive.  He can make plays.  He is an intelligent player with and without the puck.  He has a competitive nature to him.  He is a player that we have seen not only seen internationally (Word Junior Championships) but our scouting staff went into the Swedish Elite League and watched his Skelleftea team during its playoff run.  We have seen him amongst his peers and in his league.  We were very impressed.  In terms of the qualities of an NHL defenseman, we think he is the best (of the draft).  He is another name that is at the top of the board.

Biggest unknowns going into this draft:
A lot of the unknowns come from the challenge within the job like the different tier groups and the level of competition of which the players play.  For example, Adam Larsson played against men for the past two years versus, perhaps, a highly-rated U.S. high school prospect.  Weighing that against the Canadian Hockey League or weighing that against 17-year-olds playing in the NCAA.  To me, that is one of the biggest challenges; weighing through levels of competition and trying to project players.  Quite frankly, it is not a level playing field. 

We try to keep digging and doing our homework.  We may never have all of the answers.  Can character change with age?  The maturity of players is certainly at different levels.  Whether it is physical maturity in terms of growth, body weight, and overall strength, or it is on the personality or maturity level of players.  There are so many things that come into play.  But the unknowns for sure are level of competition and how that translates going forward.  Maturity, in terms of personality and physical maturity, is a huge part of it.  We do a ton of work in terms of self-evaluation and our own diligence.  I think we have come up with a lot of things that have put us in the right direction.  The feedback we are getting in terms of our prospects going forward has been very positive.  We are on the right track.  But there are a ton of unknowns in this line of work.  Whether we know all of the information and all the answers, I certainly know that we do not.  But we are doing everything in our power to go through it. 

Closing remarks
Thanks again.  I really appreciate everyone being on the call.  I want to reiterate how important this is for our scouting staff and our organization to have these two high picks.  It is an exciting time and I look forward to it. 

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