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Central Scouting continues its work

by Adam Kimelman /

Director of Central Scouting E.J. McGuire and his staff review reports on hundreds of players each season to finalize their yearly rankings, which are released well before the NHL Draft.
TORONTO -- The scouts gathered for a second day in the Conn Smythe Board Room at NHL headquarters, revisiting and revising their lists and notes as discussions continued toward finalizing the list of 210 skaters and 30 goalies who will make up Central Scouting's final ranking of North American prospects for the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.

Led by Director of Central Scouting E.J. McGuire, each name was viewed and reviewed multiple times. Players were moved up and dropped down, voted on and discussed, sometimes in painstaking detail.

"We're serious about ranking guys," said Gary Eggleston, who scouts Eastern-based U.S. prospects. "Some years we've had longer arguments about guys in the fifth or sixth round than guys in the first round, because the line is finer at that level. The talent base is broadened so dramatically that there isn't a great deal of difference between players in the fourth and sixth rounds. We try to be more careful examining what the fine line is that separates one player from another."

The goal is to provide an accurate assessment of each prospect's NHL potential that teams can use to guide their decisions on draft day. The list will be released in late April.

It's a high-pressure situation, ripe for second-guessing for years down the line.

During one of Tuesday's conversations, McGuire said the difference between Central Scouting and individual teams is Central Scouting has to show its cards by making its list public, where teams can keep quiet about what players they like or don't like, and why.

"There are a lot of mistakes that are verbalized in a team's scouting meetings that never hit second-guess scrutiny by the public," McGuire said. "Somebody says; 'I think this guy is no good and he'll never make it in the NHL, therefore the Pittsburgh Penguins or the San Jose Sharks pass on you.' When he turns out to be good five years hence, because it was verbalized and not in print like we have (to do), then it becomes water under the bridge and that can never get recovered."

McGuire says there is one absolute advantage, though, to what he and his scouts do.

"We're not going to get fired over a mistake," he said. "We move on to the next year. This year's crop of players that get drafted cease to become our problem or our pride as of June 22. Other scouts have got, theoretically, their job on the line for them picking a player that's a mistake."

The purpose of the Central Scouting report is to serve as a roadmap for scouts and general managers to use when making their draft lists.

"With an NHL team drafting, I think they use our list as a second opinion," McGuire said. "To keep conversation flowing. Our list is public to all scouts, so the GM looks and says; 'How come we don't like him? Central Scouting has him all the way up at 33.' Usually, it's; 'They don't know what they're doing,' and he'll say fine, but it's also a test for a GM to see if his scouts have an opinion."

"With an NHL team drafting, I think they use our list as a second opinion." -- Director of Central Scouting E.J. McGuire
At its essence, what Central Scouting does is take a batch of still-developing 17-, 18- and 19-year-olds and publicly guess what kind of player they will be at age 24, 25 or 26. It's far from an exact science.

"If we recommend somebody in the fourth round and to the extent our recommendation has an influence on your choice, and he doesn't make it, shame on both of us," McGuire said. "Shame on us for recommending him, shame on you for believing us without believing your staff. It's so imprecise."

Another difference is that while teams set their draft lists based on specific needs, Central Scouting has no such encumbrances.

"We do it without prejudice," Eggleston said. "We have no bias and we just think that these guys have a chance to play in the order that we rank them."

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