BUFFALO, NY - The NHL Scouting Combine can be a gruelling grind not only for the draft-eligible prospects, but the management teams as well. But it’s a very useful tool for Edmonton and the rest of the league, for many reasons.
By the end of the weekend the Oilers plan to have talked to 85 prospects. They’re allotted 20 minutes with each player, meaning Peter Chiarelli and his scouting staff will have spent roughly an entire 24-hour day in conversation with player after player. Their job? Sift through the rehearsed answers and dig deeper into what kind of person they are, adding more and more information to help make the decision when the club is on the clock at the end of the month.
“I look at it as a necessary evil,” said the Oilers general manager. “These kids are very well coached and well rehearsed. But when you dig a little deeper in these 15-to-20 minute interviews, you can usually find out a little about them. Obviously, you can weed out three or four out of 85.”
Success in these interviews could in fact weigh on the players’ draft stock more than the physical testing component of the combine. It’s a chance to make a good impression on the people determining where they’ll further their career.
“You get some good, youthful kids that are fun to listen to and then you get some that are a little full of themselves,” Chiarelli explained.
So, how do teams like the Oilers choose their list of names to talk to?
Chiarelli and his team put together a list heading into this weekend, keeping in mind their draft board and where they believe players may fall. In years where the team has more picks in a certain round, they may put more work into players who fit that value. For example, the Oilers currently have three third-round picks, so they’re taking great interest in players they have tagged with third-round grades.
“Some teams test 50 players here, some teams test all the players here,” said Chiarelli. “We’re somewhere comfortably in between. It’s a good chance to compile data. We videotape the interviews.”
Fans may wonder why the Oilers would take the time to interview players they may never have the chance to draft. It’s information the team may used down the road if the prospect becomes available via trade or free agency.
“You never know down the road when you might acquire someone in a trade and you go back and any data you have can help you,” Chiarelli said.
While management does spend time poring over notes and putting faces to the names of the players they’ve been scouting all season, the interviews are not the only part of the combine the Oilers keep a close eye on. The fitness testing also provides useful information about the prospects that they can use to help make decisions come draft day.
“We want to watch them work out as well,” said Oilers Director of Player Personnel Bob Green. “We have people here doing that, and just getting a sense of what kind of shape they’re in, what type of body they have, their ability to put on weight and muscle, and just to get a sense of how big they can be.”
“The physical testing, when you look at the metrics, they’re useful and you can compare them to the historical data and that’s helpful,” said Chiarelli. “Some of the stuff that we look at in addition to that is their effort during these tests.”
Chiarelli goes on to say management teams across the league have discussed adding on-ice drills and testing, but he’s unsure if/when that would come to fruition.
The draft board is tentatively put together at this time, although players’ names could move up or down based on their performance during combine week. However, the Oilers don’t want to put too much stock into a few days of interviews and testing. They’ve also watched countless hours of film and have seen the majority of these players in person.
“(The combine) is just another part of the bigger picture of watching them,” said Green.
Drafting aside, the Oilers are also using combine week to lay more groundwork for discussions and potential deals.
“All I can tell you is I’ve had a lot of discussions here,” said Chiarelli. “This is another useful tool for a general manager because most general managers are here. We’re all in the rink, we’re all within walking distance of each other. It’s a very casual environment so it’s a good, casual breeding ground for those decisions.”
When the Oilers and the rest of the league return to Buffalo at the end of June, they’ll be making deals and making picks. It’s the culmination of hours and hours of scouting, research and conversations. The Scouting Combine is another tool along the way to help teams, like the Oilers, when it comes time to make decisions that shape their roster for the short term and the long run.