"I think the athletes being able to meet their teams is something that is unique to hockey. It's a shame that the athletes lose that immediate connection to their team," said Director of Player Personnel Darren Yorke. "I know from when I've been in the building, you see the athlete's excitement and the parents' enjoyment and the emotion on their faces, it's something that never gets old. It's unfortunate because of the pandemic that the players and the families are going to lose that once-in-a-lifetime experience."
Absent this year is the pomp and circumstance that typically accompanies the league's annual search for tomorrow's stars - at least, relative to the halcyon days of a pre-COVID-19 world.
The stage for the 2020 NHL Draft, which will now take place Oct. 6-7, is a virtual peek inside each team's war room, of sorts.
The arena is a cyber collective, a "draft floor" connected via telecommunication lines.
The crowd will be tuned in from the couch.
The contingent of draft eligible prospects and their family and friends will be waiting and watching from around the globe, the anxious moments still very palpable.
In many respects, the 2020 NHL Draft will be (and already has been in the lead up to it) different, a familiar refrain for this calendar year.
But there is familiarity with the process, no matter the venue, no matter the method, no matter the circumstance.
Draft day, now a little more than three months later than expected, is years in the making for scouting departments and largely a lifetime in the making for those who hope to hear their names called.
That moment, even if it happens a little differently than anyone could have imagined even eight months prior, makes everything that came before all worth it.
"One of the things we've done right from the get-go was work with our marketing and PR department to find unique ways to build a connection right away with the athletes," Yorke said. "We want to ensure they're not losing out on the experience of being drafted had they been able to be in Montreal."
RELATED: CANES TO PICK 13TH OVERALL IN 2020 NHL DRAFT
Yorke and the Canes' amateur scouting staff have been nimble in their planning process for months. When the 2019-20 season pause began on March 12, there were more questions than answers, so they had to be ready for any possible draft scenario.
"In the event the draft would change, whether it moved up or moved back, we just adjusted our calendars," Yorke said. "We built up a pretty big infrastructure in terms of utilizing technology, and I think it allowed us to run pretty seamlessly given the circumstances."
At all levels, sports and the world at large halted in mid-March. There were no in-person draft meetings. There was no Scouting Combine. Junior-league playoffs and the IIHF U18 World Championship, typically one of the last waypoints of player evaluation prior to the draft, were canceled.
So, the Canes had to scale an evaluation process typically reserved for injured players for the entire draft pool. They utilized Microsoft Teams to remain in constant communication. They sifted through video. They asked questions. They finalized a list.
"The one benefit from the pandemic in terms of the draft process is that it gave us more time. It gave us opportunities to take a breath, allow some of the emotions to subside and make better decisions," Yorke said. "When you're able to get more information and slow things down, you're able to make better decisions. I think our group did an excellent job with the circumstances. From a meetings and information-gathering perspective, we're as prepared if not more than any other draft year."
The Canes scouting staff sought to avoid paralysis by analysis as they delved into deeper conversations about prospects during the extra months of draft prep. Now, they're guarding against recency bias as they observe some draft-eligible players already back in action overseas.
"That's the one advantage of having a draft late," President and General Manager Don Waddell said. "We've probably had the opportunity to see more video on players than ever before."
But just because there is added game film to analyze doesn't mean the Canes' master draft list is going to undergo a massive overhaul as the first round draws near.
"You don't want to bump a player up based off a small sample size, and with North American players not playing, you don't want their spot on the draft list impacted because they can't play," Yorke said. "You're always trying to gather information about these players that you put into your decision-making process. No one game should impact how you view a player, no differently than if a player had one bad game or great game in the middle of a season."
The Canes are set to select 13th overall in the first round, the slot that landed them defenseman Jake Bean in the 2016 NHL Draft. A wide swath of names could be available at No. 13 this year: forwards Jack Quinn, Anton Lundell, Dawson Mercer or Seth Jarvis, defensemen Kaiden Guhle or Braden Schneider or goaltender Iaroslav Askarov are a sampling of names in the mix.
The Canes could dangle the carrot of lucky number 13 on the open market, as well.
"We all know who is probably going 1-2-3. After that, the next five guys or so. Then you have a group of another seven or eight guys that we didn't think we'd ever be in the mix for. We feel good about it," Waddell said. "We've done our homework on all those players. You don't know who's going to be there, but if we do keep our pick, we know we're going to get a good player."
The Canes are then set to make seven additional picks in the following six rounds, but that's very much subject to change. Recall last year when the Canes took a league-high 10 picks to Vancouver and left with 12 prospects.
But, speaking of trades, will there be as much wheeling and dealing this year when general managers are stationed in 31 different cities instead of all packed onto the arena floor?
Maybe. Maybe not.
"I've thought a lot about it. It's going to be way different. I like to work in person. I've made a lot of deals on draft day over my years," Waddell said. "You like to be able to read people and see what they're thinking. It's still going to be busy on draft day. We'll have multiple phone lines, your cell phone, obviously. But it is going to be way different. Just last year even, we moved a lot of picks around. It's easier to do if somebody comes says, 'Hey, I'll give you pick 48 and 58 for 32.' Now, you're going to be managing that on the phone. I'm anticipating still a lot of things to happen, but I think some things may go by without being able to be done because of not being in the same room."
The NHL Draft is unique in that every team is stationed in a centralized location. There's something to be said about the ease of being within earshot of other teams. General managers can wander from table to table or maybe even bump into each other in the hallway. Communication is rather simple and straightforward and sneaky all the same.
"When you're on the draft floor, you have teams pretty close to one another, so you're trying to whisper, but there's crowd noise, and you may not have the clearest conversation," Yorke said. "Without those factors, we may be able to have deeper conversations and speak a little more freely."
The Canes' locker room at PNC Arena will serve as the team's draft headquarters, a fitting stage for a one-of-a-kind event. A U-shape of tables will line the room in front of decorated locker stalls. An empty nameplate slot awaits the Hurricane of tomorrow. Who will it be?
"We can be excited that there's going to be a player who has high impact," Yorke said. "I think the top 15 picks or so are very tight. Somebody that we're going to get is going to be able to have an impact for our organization for a long time."