It's that time of year.
The unmistakably summer, sun-kissed days, fresh-budded blooms, and yes…
NHL Draft talk is back at the forefront.
With the final amateur-scouting meetings - which were held this past Tuesday through Saturday at the Scotiabank Saddledome - now in the rear-view mirror, the Flames have their draft list "90%" completed, and will enter next month's NHL Draft with five selections, including No. 26
CalgaryFlames.com writer Ryan Dittrick sat down with Head Amateur Scout Tod Button at the conclusion of those meetings to discuss the upcoming draft and what the Flames could be focusing on with their first, third, fourth, fifth and seventh-round selections:
Video: Director of amateur scouting looks ahead to draft
DITTRICK: Tod, first off, thanks for your time. Give us an idea of the scope of the meetings here. You have the entire amateur-scouting staff in town to - I assume - begin the process of finalizing your list with the draft about a month away.
BUTTON: Except for the Memorial Cup and the World Championship, we're basically 90% done going through games and evaluations. We're putting our list together, outline a plan for Combine, an interview process, and all that stuff - the background work - we do. We're going to finish up tonight and have a good, solid list of 70, 80 guys, plus another 70, 80 guys on area lists for later in the draft.
DITTRICK: Obviously, not everyone is going to be there, but you mentioned the Combine so I'm curious - how many of those guys that are maybe on your list do you try and connect with again at that event?
BUTTON: We'll interview everybody before the Combine. At the Combine, we sort of focus and hone in on the guys we have interest in and guys that we have a better chance to talk to. There's a policy in place that we're not going to talk to Jack Hughes, or those guys. We'll talk to them outside of the Combine, but at the Combine, we're narrowing in on certain guys and with the information we have, the direct questions we want to ask these guys, to get the information we need.
DITTRICK: I know comparing drafts from one year to the next isn't exactly a useful exercise, but when you look ahead at this one - and certainly, to most fans, guys like Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko are going to dominate the discussion - but later on, as we get to the 26th pick, what can you say about the depth and the talent level that might be available when you step to the podium in that spot?
BUTTON: I think we're going to get a good player at 26. I think it's a deep draft. Our job isn't to figure out whether or not it's a deep draft or try to take ourselves off the hook - our job is to find a good player, and there are plenty of good players that will be there at 26 and past 26. That's what the meetings are about now, getting them in order. The higher guy we can get at 26, the better off we'll be. It's a good draft, a deep draft, and going into the later rounds, the guys are excited about some of the guys we'll have a chance to get there, too.
DITTRICK: Kind of a nice currency to be back picking in the first round as well?
BUTTON: (Laughs) Yeah. You know, as a GM, Tre's job is to use the assets to make the team better, and we always want to pick and pick as much as we can, no matter where. We're excited about going up on the stage and making the pick. Hopefully it stays that way, but who knows? There's a lot of time left 'til draft day.
Video: Flames draft D Juuso Valimaki No. 16
DITTRICK: In terms of the work you guys have put in all season up to and including now with these meetings, does the focus change any because in previous years maybe you didn't have a first-round pick and now you do, but you're still only looking at five picks, whereas in other years you might have had seven or eight?
BUTTON: After our January meetings, we start to focus on a different area of the list, right? If you're in the lottery range, you're still going to watch the top guys, but for the most part, early February we shifted away from the guys you're talking about. We went closer to sort of where we are now. As the second half of the season goes on, you even narrow it even further. You're going to the Under-18s or playoff games, we're focusing mainly on the guys we have a chance to get, that might be in that range. But it's a big range. If could be like 15 to 30. It does change as the season progresses, but you still have all the information and it doesn't change year to year based on whether you have picks or not - you still have to have the information in order.
DITTRICK: You've been doing this a long time now. Is there anything you've noticed about this year's draft that stands out from previous years? Specifically, if you look at the top end, there's a lot more Western League guys this year than we've seen in past years. Is there anything in particular demographically that seems to be rising to the top?
BUTTON: It's always cyclical. Like, this U.S. team - the Under-18 team - is special. The (WHL) was weaker last year, and it's really good this year. There's going to be some high-end players, some top-10 picks this year. For our purposes, it's more about the travel schedule during the year, who you're trying to track and who you're following, right? I live in Ontario and I was out West maybe three times last year, and I was out West a lot more this year because of the quality of players. It changes year by year. Sometimes I spend more of my time in Europe, but this year, there weren't as many late birthday Europeans this year, so we didn't have to spend as much time there during league play. But you still go over to watch other guys. There's a German kid playing pro over there. We don't usually spend a lot of time in Germany, but we were in Germany this year to catch up on this kid. Every year's different, where you travel to, what you focus on, and the depth of the draft.
DITTRICK: When we look back, only two years ago you got Juuso Valimaki. The year before it was Matthew Tkachuk. Sean Monahan a couple years before that. These aren't just guys that are filling spots. These are impact players that comprise the NHL roster, all picked in the first round. From a scout's perspective, and especially as you get deeper into the draft, how do you weigh selecting players that you believe could make an immediate impact, versus one that will take a bit more time to develop?
BUTTON: If you did it the right way, we would get the 26th player in the draft picking at 26. You always want a good player, the best player. You can even look at players we got in the second round, like Rasmus Andersson, Dillon Dube in the second, (Oliver Kylington) in the second, and they played for us this year. ... For us, when we're evaluating players, you can't think immediate impact. I think if you asked me what a unique characteristic is about this draft, as you did, I think the guys later in the 20s to the 50s, they're going to need more time. Maybe one or two guys that might be able to step in maybe earlier than two years away. I think that's unique. But they're still good players - they're just going to need more development time.
Video: CGY@NYI: Andersson blasts slap shot past Lehner
DITTRICK: And that's a testament to the staff, right, to be knocking it out of the park for you guys like they have in recent years?
BUTTON: I sit here in front of the camera and talk to you guys, but those guys are unbelievable. They hit on their players, they're passionate about them, they get their evaluations right. We have some debate, but it's debate pushing each other because they like their players. The work they do - like, coast to coast - you're spending a lot of time in hotels away from your family to do that but they love it. They love the Flaming C and want to be part of it. It's exciting when you get together now and we get together for the Draft and go the Combine together and they're pumped. We're getting closer. You can see the finish line.
DITTRICK: And on that note, going back to last year's draft - speaking of unique drafts - you had to wait 'til the fourth round to make your first pick, but those guys are already making some big strides. You've got (Martin) Pospisil and (Dmitry) Zavgorodniy who have already signed their entry-level contracts. Just a thought on what you've seen in their development early on and to have that feather in your cap that you went the right way at the draft table.
BUTTON: The one thing you're always looking for is progress. But it always depends on what the situation is and what you're experience level is like. The five guys we drafted, they all exceeded what we thought they were going to be, this early. Emilio Pettersen (6th round, 167th overall) went in as a freshman in Denver and was really good. Milos Roman (4th round, 122nd overall) is playing in the Western Hockey League final and has been a solid, solid guy. You mentioned Pospisil (4th round, 105th overall) and he played with the puck this year, he showed creativity, he played with more skill. There was progression, right? Zavgo (7th round, 198th overall) played on a really good team in Rimouski and he improved in every area. He stayed in Calgary all summer to work out, and that's a boon for him, a boon for us. Demetrios Koumontzis (4th round, 108th overall) goes down to Arizona State and was a really good player for them. He's still got a ways to go, but they all made steps. And sometimes kids don't make steps, they regress, and the next year they make steps. But it was all positive to see that they all made steps in their first year after they were drafted.