As a 17-year-old, Seattle general manager Ron Francis grew three-and-a-half inches taller and gained 35 pounds in "about four to five months." Already a coveted NHL prospect playing for his hometown Sault St. Marie (Ontario) major junior team, the added size no doubt helped boost Francis' first-round draft position to fourth overall.
Francis eventually filled out even more-from 5-foot-11, 172 pounds at 18 to a 6-2, 208 pounds roster listing. All of which proves a point about how it is to scout young players in the late teens, especially to project not only growth patterns but whether that prospect is mentally prepared for scaling up to the NHL level of play.
Now layer on top of that challenge another one: The pandemic has drastically shortened or canceled most seasons for 2021 NHL Draft prospects. As a result, amateur scouts for NHL teams are relying on video of past seasons to build out evaluations.
Video: Ron Francis discusses state of Climate Pledge Arena
"I have talked with many of my colleagues [fellow GMs] around the league," said Francis during a media Zoom conference Tuesday. "We've talked about how you might get a better player in the fourth round than in the first or second round this year... It's an extremely challenging draft for sure."
One hopeful note for the Kraken front office, especially director of amateur scouting Robert Kron and his staff: The U18 World Championships are slated for April 26 to May 6 in Plano, TX. A number of Kraken staffers will be on hand in person, including Kron and Francis.
Francis covered a number of topics with local and national media members, ranging from how this week's NHL trade deadline deals affected the Kraken's expansion draft plans to when fans can expect the first Kraken head coach to be hired to how the current "taxi squads" system changes pro scouting efforts:
Video: Ron Francis on the timeline to hire coaching staff
- Francis referred to St. Louis Blues GM Doug Armstrong telling reporters that teams have "learned a lot from Vegas [2017 expansion draft) and are cognizant of what it takes to protect a player that you have traded for."
- Nonetheless, Francis said he is hoping and expecting there will be opportunities derived from a flat salary cap over the next few seasons due to the loss of revenues during the pandemic. Rival GMs who anticipated rising cap numbers are now faced with cap limitations because they made past decisions to sign longer-term, higher-value deals thinking future offseasons/signing periods would include additional salary cap room.
- When King 5 television reporter Chris Daniels asked Francis about plans and timeline for hiring a head coach, the Kraken GM joked, hey, pretty good, it took six or seven questions before anyone asked about a top item on many fans' minds. The answer: Francis kept to his previously stated intention to hire the team's first coach by "the end of the second quarter of this year" or late June. He did note the Stanley Cup Playoffs, expected to start May 11, are now pushed back at least a week due to scheduling issues related to COVID-19. That might delay a decision if a possibly available coach is still leading his team in the playoffs.
Video: Ron on the upcoming NHL expansion and amateur drafts
- When asked if there are coaching finalists of sorts, Francis acknowledged the Kraken front office has been keeping "a spreadsheet for a long time" with names of available coaches, coaches with expiring contracts and other names of interest. The GM reiterated he prefers candidates with previous NHL head coaching experience because of the nature of "bringing everybody together" in rapid-fire fashion from an expansion draft/amateur draft/free agent signing period in late July to a first puck drop in October.
- With Monday's trade deadline past, the Kraken hockey operations group, including its cutting-edge analytics group, now has the most realistic rosters across the league to consider mock drafts. Teams that don't make the playoffs or get eliminated in the early rounds can still make trades angled at protecting certain players and/or trading others who might be exposed to the Kraken selection process. Yet the current rosters are likely to be predominantly similar to the ones submitted to the league office in July.
- Until the Kraken's final expansion fee payment is official later this month, Francis and his braintrust can't make trades. What can occur is conversations and even "handshake" agreements that will focus on the Kraken receiving certain added value or assets (players, draft choices) if they do or don't select a certain player from a team. In all, 30 NHL franchises except Vegas (which doesn't share in the expansion fee) will lose one player each.
- Scouting players to select in the expansion draft is a bit harder this season, said Francis. That's because teams are allowed taxi squads to have reserves readily available if COVID-19 protocols require an unexpected removal of players and/or some players need a breather from a demanding season that essentially calls for games to be played every other night for months. "The taxi squads can make it hard to get complete evaluation," said Francis. "There are many young players who would normally be playing AHL games but instead remain [on the practice squad, maybe playing a few games] with their NHL clubs."