Huddled in a conference room on the suite level of Nationwide Arena, the Blue Jackets’ amateur scouting staff put nearly a year’s work of hard work into action this week.
This time each year, the team’s regional scouts convene in Columbus from all over the world and bring their observations, opinions and lists to the table. They’ve seen hundreds of players, watched countless games and watched several players of interest play well, play poorly and either climb up or fall down their list.
It’s detailed, meticulous and energizing work with long stretches spent away from home, and it all leads up to their big moment and big stage at the 2015 NHL Draft.
And in a draft year with a highly regarded draft class with a very deep first round (and then some), the Blue Jackets’ amateur scouting meetings and the ensuing conversations are especially important.
“The main goal is the list,” Paul Castron, Blue Jackets director of amateur scouting, told BlueJackets.com. “We’ve put our final list together and that’s an important step. With the extra picks we have this year, we want to get the players in the right order. Our scouts really fight for the players they believe in and they have strong opinions about them, and that’s important because these are players we may see as Blue Jackets down the road.”
The exchange of ideas – sometimes a quite passionate exchange of ideas – is one of the benefits to having the scouting department in the same room. For much of the year, scouts are filing reports (all of which are readily available to Castron, Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen and head amateur scout Ville Siren) from rinks, hotels and airplanes in North America, Europe and elsewhere, making it difficult to get a consensus rather than a collection of individual ideas.
With roughly six weeks until crunch time, the debate is one of the more catalyzing aspects of these meetings.
“We don’t all agree on every single player, and you need that,” Castron said. “If everybody agreed on all the players, what's the point? We had a lot of good debate in a lot of areas; there’s always debate on the order of our list, too, but you have to make decisions and if it’s a tight call, we try to put it together as best as we can.”
And though the top three players of the 2015 class seem to be set on most pre-draft lists, mock drafts and projections, what happens beyond that is anyone’s guess.
“At the top end, obviously, with McDavid, Eichel and Hanifin, they look to be really special players and the consensus top three going in,” Castron said. “Whether it turns out that way remains to be seen, but that’s how most people seem to feel right now. I think, after that, from the 4-14 range, it could go anywhere with a lot of quality players.
"The next 10 players are, in our minds, guys who make you say ‘geez, I’d be really excited to get that guy with our pick.’ We have (picks) 34 and 38 right now and you’re still pretty excited with the names in that area, so in that sense it looks like a pretty deep draft.”