FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida -- As the owners of the 17th and 25th selections in the first round of tomorrow’s NHL Draft, the Winnipeg Jets are in some unfamiliar territory.
“We're fishing in a different pool of players than we have in the past,” Director of Amateur Scouting, Marcel Comeau, said today in Fort Lauderdale. “Picking at 17, we've never been that low, and the extra pick at 25. Just more scenarios to try and make sure we know where we're headed.”
Up seems to be the direction the Jets are heading. After making the playoffs for the first time since relocating to Winnipeg, and first round draft picks Mark Scheifele and Jacob Trouba playing big roles in getting the team to that point, the scouting staff is looking to continue the process of building through the draft.
But selecting the right player is a process that begins far before the draft. Scouts travel to hockey rinks all over the globe to evaluate players. Then things heat up at the Combine.
“I think we interviewed 86 players at the Combine,” General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said. “Between the combine and here you don't really interview too many players more. Throughout the course of the year we encourage our staff to have 1-on-1 interviews with the players, make the notes, and put them in the system.”
Cheveldayoff went on to say organizations sometimes meet with a player for a second time just prior to the draft.
“At the Combine, there are so many interviews. You ask the kids how many teams they're interviewing with, a lot of cases it's 20-26 teams,” he said. “It's not a pressured time, but it's a time that the kids can't really relax. Here it's a different time. If you have a 1-on-1 interview with a kid he may have only met a second time here with two or three teams. You get to see maybe a more true personality of a player.”
While there are many traits and skills the Winnipeg Jets staff looks for, ‘hockey sense’ is one aspect of a player’s game that sticks out.
"It's a fast game nowadays. Players that can think the game through both offensively and defensively, are nice players to have,” Comeau said. “You have to be able to keep up. Certainly skating is a part of it. But hockey sense is really front and centre for us. Chevy, Zinger, the management group have indicated to us that that's a strong area for them. So we play a lot of attention to that.”
That attention to detail, and Comeau admits, a bit of luck, is what has helped the Winnipeg Jets select players in later rounds that stand out in training camp.
“Hellebuyck in the fifth round, Tucker Poolman is a good prospect in the fifth round, CJ Franklin is another guy in the fifth round that played in Mankato this year. We think these guys are good solid prospects,” he said. “We have some players we'd like to get in that range this year, they have to be there, and if they are, we'll take a shot.”
Comeau believes most teams have a similar list of the top 10-12 players in this year’s draft class, with the names “spreading out a bit” after that. He says those differences in rankings have benefitted the Jets.
“We've been fortunate the last couple years. With Ehlers last year, we were surprised he was in that spot; same with Trouba a few years ago,” said Comeau. “You never know what can happen here. Everybody's list is a little different after the first two I'm sure. We'll see how it plays out.”
When the names start getting called and phones start ringing, Cheveldayoff, Comeau, and the rest of the Winnipeg Jets staff will be all business. But along with that, Cheveldayoff keeps things in perspective.
“It's an exciting time for hockey,” he said. “The draft itself in hockey is such an important thing with respect to how pretty much every team has to build in some way through the draft. It's an exciting time for the game.”
Cheveldayoff joined his scouting staff after returning from the NHL Awards and General Managers meetings in Las Vegas. While there, the discussion centered around 3-on-3 overtime, coach’s challenges, and the salary cap.
“I like the 3-on-3. It'll be exciting for the fans. The AHL had some good results with what they were doing with the 4-on-4 then the 3-on-3,” Cheveldayoff said. “When you get that open ice, and you get the skill players out there, there will be some interesting times.
From a coach's challenge perspective, I think ultimately all we're trying to do here is get more toward the right call. There's going to be some challenges, there will be times when people will say 'well they still maybe didn't get it right' you use the best technology available to you to try and make the best decisions possible.”
Also on Thursday, the NHL released the schedule for the 2015-2016 regular season (see the Winnipeg Jets schedule here). Cheveldayoff gave his thoughts on what the Jets will face this season, including 12 back-to-backs.
“Like any schedule, you get it the first time, it's interesting. You try to make some tweaks to try and make some changes. It's such a big function of your own dates, the other team's dates, travel, TV. There's not a lot of things you can control when it comes to it,” he said. “We were able to push a few things here and there, change a few start times to try and help the travel. Like anybody, there are going to be parts of it you're not going to like.”