"We're serious about ranking guys. 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."
-- NHL Central Scouting scout Gary Eggleston
The latest stop on the road to the 2009 Entry Draft is the NHL office in Toronto.
Starting this weekend, NHL Central Scouting officials will meet to finalize a list of 210 skaters and 30 goalies that will make up Central Scouting's final ranking of North American prospects for this year's selection process, to be held June 26-27 in Montreal.
The list will be released April 14.
Led by E.J. McGuire, director of Central Scouting, each draft-eligible player will be reviewed multiple times, and will be 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.
It’s a high-pressure situation, ripe for second-guessing for years down the line.
McGuire said the difference between Central Scouting's list and what each team comes up with 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.
"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) that it becomes water under the bridge and that can never get recovered."
McGuire says there is one advantage, though, to what he and Central Scouting's roster of experts 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 27. 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."
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 mandates.
"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."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org.