This week, Edmonton Oilers scouting brass are hunkered down in the draft war room in preparation for what could be the most active first round in franchise history.
With three selections in the opening round and four picks among the first 36 overall, the Oilers will have plenty of options. The difficult part will be deciding what to do with those options. With eight amateur scouts, four pro scouts and as a result 12 different opinions, there are plenty of discussions when it comes to ranking the amateur crop.
“There’s meetings but there’s a lot of arguments,” said Oilers V.P. of Hockey Operations Kevin Prendergast. “This year especially with three picks in the first round it’s certainly going to get a little heated.”
PRO SCOUT MEETINGS
Last week the pro scouts got together with the Oilers’ management and coaching staff, helping to set the stage for this week’s amateur scouting meetings,
“We got our three pro scouts in – Mike Abbamont, Morey Gare and Dave Semenko along with Kevin and Scott Howson,” said Prendergast. “We basically met and go over all the depth charts of all the organizations, break them down and assess where they’re strong or weak. We look at the potential free agents they could have and the trading part of it.”
The team took a look at what they needed internally as well, bringing in the coaches for the final day of meetings to help with that assessment.
“The coaches came in (on the final day). We had a long meeting with them to talk about where we have to improve the team, the type of player we have to bring in here either by trade or free agency,” Prendergast continued. “So everybody’s on the same page – the coaches, the scouts, the general managers and all that.”
WHO ARE THE SCOUTS?
With the discussion of short-term needs now out of the way, the focus is now on the long term – specifically the 2007 NHL Entry Draft beginning on June 22 in Columbus.
The draft is essentially the culmination of a year’s worth of hard work for the amateur scouts. With so many prospects, it can be a daunting task to cover the world in search of the next Paul Coffey or Jari Kurri.
“We have scouts right across Canada, one in the States and two in Europe,” noted Prendergast.
Chris McCarthy is the Oilers’ main scout in the United States. Based in Boston, he also handles Minnesota among other U.S. hockey hotbeds.
Two scouts, Brad Davis and Kent Hawley, cover Ontario. The pair covers Tier II Junior, College and Major Junior Hockey in Canada’s most populated province. Davis also dips into Michigan and Ohio to cover CCHA hockey.
Bill Dandy covers the Quebec League and also goes into Vermont, St. Lawrence and some of the other ECAC schools.
In British Columbia, the Oilers have Bob Brown and Stu MacGregor handling scout duties.
“They both cover the Western Hockey League”, remarked Prendergast. “Bob is responsible for the Tier II network in Western Canada.”
Rounding out the Canadian scouting contingency, Lorne Davis is the Oilers’ longest-serving scout. He covers the prairies and is based in Saskatchewan. He also visits North Dakota.
In Europe, Kent Nilsson handles the majority of amateur scouting while Frank Musil takes care of the professionals. The North American scouts will come overseas for tournaments and assist the two.
“There’s four major tournaments per year (in Europe) so we send two to three scouts each tournament to go over there with (Nilsson and Musil) to watch it,” said Prendergast.
THE SCOUTING PROCESS
“For the first six weeks of each season they basically go through their own territories,” stated Prendergast. “Then we have a conference call and go through all the players on every team then rate them in an A, B or C category.”
At the conclusion of the conference call, the organization has a pretty clear idea of who to keep an eye on the rest of the way, which helps the scouts chart their travels for the remainder of the season.
“All the scouts have the opportunity to start their traveling so they don’t waste their time on teams that don’t have any prospects,” he said.
“They go through that all year, they each make two trips to Europe to see the tournaments over there and make sure we have a good read on Europeans,” continued Prendergast. “This year there was a tournament in Saskatchewan, which brought the Europeans over here so that made it easier.”
As V.P. of Hockey Operations, Prendergast is a busy man trying to keep tabs on the large pool of amateur hockey players while also keeping an eye on the development of players the team has already drafted.
“My job is to basically supervise what they’re doing. I try to go out and see these players as much as I can and intermingle that with the pro players and put it all together,” he said.
“We had our player interview situation in Toronto two weeks ago. We talked to 62 players. Now we’ll sit down and put a list together of 150 players and get ready for the draft,” he said.
The process began on Sunday and will run through to the end of the week.
“We sent our lists in by computer, we come out with a composite list from there. Now we’ll sit down and hash it over face-to-face with all the guys. That will take us about a week.
“Once we finish that, we give the guys a couple of days to go home then we’re going to meet again the Tuesday before the draft. Once the guys have had time to think it over, we’ll talk about what players we want to move around.”
Particularly in a draft with three first round selections and four picks out of the top 36, the Oilers want to make sure their list is as airtight as possible.
“We just want to make sure we’ve got the right guys in the right spots,” he said. “There will be some players that we’ll want to re-interview next week. After Tuesday, we’ll go through that again and probably bring in another five or six kids we want to talk to – have Kevin Lowe meet them, too.”
Following the Tuesday meeting and several days of prospect interviews and potential prospect re-shuffling, the scouts will engage in a last-minute meeting hours before the Friday evening draft. The scouting staff has to be on their toes since the Oilers might be dealing or acquiring picks at the last minute.
“The draft this year is on Friday night so we’ll meet in the afternoon, basically get ourselves ready for anything that could possibly happen – it could be trades, it could be anything coming into it.”
Following the conclusion of Friday night’s opening round, there’s little time to rest for Prendergast and the scouting staff.
“We’ll meet after Friday’s first round, get ready for the next round (on Saturday),” he said. “We have one second-rounder and no third rounder at this point but it’s an early pick in the second round. We’ll go through what we have left – what type of player we took with our first three picks – and then go through with our fourth pick.”