”If there’s a person who could ever come up with a formula, they’d be very, very wealthy.” Panthers Director of Amateur Scouting Scott Luce on the NHL Entry Draft.
When the NHL convenes Friday and Saturday at the Bell Centre in Montreal for the Entry Draft, they will do so in hopes of predicting the future.
Every team will come loaded with data on every draft-eligible player from Chilliwack to Chelyuskin. Every team will have spent countless hours and resources watching, testing and talking to players they believe will help lead their team in the future. They’ll do mental evaluations, talk to current and former coaches, and spend the final days leading up to the Entry Draft in hotel conference rooms doing final interviews.
And in the end, when each teams files out of the Bell Centre late Saturday afternoon, they’ll leave with no guarantees they’ve made the right choices.
That’s the splendor and cruelty of the Entry Draft. It can help build Stanley Cup champions or stall the development of franchises for years. It can cure a team’s problems or cause a downward spiral.
And no one really knows how it will all turn out.
Think about it: Call the name of an 18-year-old player you believe will mature physically and mentally into an NHL-caliber player and, hopefully, a star.
And by the way, read those tea leaves before you line his pockets with cash.
“That’s why it’s an art and not a science,” Luce said. “A lot of (players) have the same skill set as the guy sitting next to them. So a lot of times it comes down to character, work ethic and maturity. Then you factor in, like anybody else, what they’re going to be like when they have a substantial amount of money in their pockets.”
The Entry Draft is a beautiful wreck, and looking back at what’s gone wonderfully right and horribly wrong has become a yearly exercise for every fan in every city.
Exactly how inexact is the Entry Draft? Consider there were 209 players in the 1999 Entry Draft considered to be better than Henrik Zetterberg, including Patrik Stefan (No. 1 overall), Pavel Brendl (No. 4) and Branislav Mezei (No. 10).
Brendl, Mezei and Stefan are all out of the NHL.
Brian Lawton was the first U.S. high school player chosen first overall in 1983 by the North Stars. He wound up playing 10 years and 483 NHL games. Not bad until you consider other players available in the ’83 Draft included Steve Yzerman, Cam Neely, Pat LaFontaine, Claude Lemieux and, all the way down at No. 207, Dominik Hasek.
Brett Hull wasn’t selected until the sixth round (117th) and Luc Robitaille until the ninth round of the 1984 Draft. Drafted ahead of both Hull and Robitaille? Major League Baseball pitcher Tom Glavine (69th overall).
In 1979, when two classes of players were combined when the league decided to change the draft age from 19 to 18, Mark Messier went 48th.
But looking back, Luce says, “is a lot like revisionist history.”
“You have to understand why you made that decision (at the time), but you have to factor in a lot of things,” he said. “There’s development, injuries…did (the prospect) have something happen in his family? You have to have a complete understanding of that player from 18-to-25 and break it down and say, ‘Maybe we didn’t factor in this enough? Maybe we factored in too much to size and his skating never came along? Maybe we didn’t think he’d put on 25 pounds of muscle?’ You have to look at what your strategy was at that draft, too.
“Sometimes you end up taking the best of the worst and hoping.”
For instance, the Panthers selected Denis Shvidki with the 12th overall selection in the ’99 Draft. But, with a few exceptions, that Draft is considered one of the weakest in NHL history. The flip side? In 2004, the Panthers were able to get David Booth with the 53rd overall selection.
For Luce, due diligence goes a long way in the Art of the Entry Draft.
“We ask a lot of questions,” said Luce, who’s been with the Panthers since July of 2002 and has selected Booth, Stephen Weiss
, Nathan Horton, Jacob Markstrom
, Keaton Ellerby
and Rostislav Olesz. “What motivates them to be hockey players? Are they self motivated? Do they need a kick in the butt? How do they work with a demanding coach? Have they had success with a demanding coach? Do they like to do things on their own? We ask current coaches, past coaches…then we come up with a profile for what we call the ideal Panther player. We have a lot of criteria.”
And come this weekend in Montreal, it will all be put to use.