| Red Deer Rebels centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins tops Central Scouting's Final North American Rankings (Getty Images).
Preparation, scouting and in-depth homework will always be a vital component to the process for each NHL team as June's main event approaches.
NHL Central Scouting has long been a mainstay in the prospect world, helping fans, media, and member clubs become accustomed to the extensive talent pool.
Countless hours and resources are dedicated to advanced scouting, so CSS's help in circling certain players beforehand has proven as a valuable tool for many, including each NHL team.
"It's a long process," laughed Central Scouting's David Gregory. "Our work for the upcoming season really begins when the previous year winds down. We start looking at kids as early as possible, so that by the time we wrap up the season, we've already established a list of who we think will be the top prospects for next year."
That process that continues, full-steam, into next season in order to provide the most up-to-date information to each NHL club. As Gregory explains, this next step next is crucial to establish advanced communication.
"When the new season rolls around, the next step is to continue to watch those kids and look for anyone else we might have missed early on.
"We also need to get heights and weights of every player we feel we'll be watching and potentially ranking. There's usually some incorrect information out there, so we provide a concrete record that way."
Naturally, ranking players based purely on skill-set is valued, but that independent system is then divided further, comparing players league-by-league, rather than against one another in the beginning.
"We'll rank the players in some of the lesser-known leagues, such as high school or the Tier-2 leagues in Canada," Gregory explained. "We also do a Top-25 list that comes out in early November each year, covering all the Major Junior leagues in the US and Canada. This way, we're telling teams who we believe are the top prospects, and who they should be spending time to see.
"It's all about giving teams as much warning as possible. This way they can manage their scouting budgets and get their hockey personnel to the right places."
In early January, Central Scouting's Midterm Rankings are unveiled. Following a healthy debate to determine the order, seven rounds of skaters are ranked based on the team's ultimate consensus.
"Our staff meets in Toronto for a week-long meeting and that's when we put everything together," Gregory said. "We rank 210 skaters in North America, 30 goalies and we put them in order based on our viewings.
"We rarely have crossover, but when we do, there's debate and sometimes even an argument because our scouts feel so passionately about a certain player. It's great."
Although this only covers North American skaters, Central Scouting's overseas team conducts the same process in Europe. Once that's completed, 400 players are ranked and the member clubs are aware that they're being tracked throughout the season.
"[The NHL clubs] have heights and weights, statistics, questionnaires about them as people, and so on. By this point in the season, we have a very good database of information on a lot of players. Now the teams can really start to narrow their list and begin focusing on who they'd like to pick in June."
From January through to March, Central Scouting and the NHL clubs have a similar game plan. Over the course of a few months, they need to view as many prospects as possible to gather more information, develop an updated schedule and look ahead to the spring.
"Our season wraps up a little bit earlier than a lot of the team scouts," Gregory said. "We're done around the end of March when our Final Rankings are posted. At this point we've seen each player more and have a very determined order on where the players are ranked.
"We have a detailed checklist on a player's ability including skating, physical play, puck control and leadership qualities. We then provide the teams with that information in about a 1000-page book. It's pretty exciting."