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How The Penguins Scouting Staff Evaluates Draft-Eligible Prospects

by Jason Seidling / Pittsburgh Penguins
We all know that, barring trades which acquire or send away draft picks, the Penguins will add seven fresh faces into their organization on Friday night and Saturday afternoon when they make their 2010 Entry Draft selections at the STAPLES Center in Los Angeles.

While we won’t know the names of the incoming prospects for another couple of days, what we do know heading into the weekend is the process the Penguins’ scouting staff went about using throughout the course of the past two years as they watched, analyzed and rated the Class of 2010.

Led by director of amateur scouting Jay Heinbuck, the Penguins amateur scouting staff consists of eight regional scouts spread out equally among North America, and two more evaluators based in Europe. General manager Ray Shero, assistant GM Jason Botterill, assistant to the general manager Tom Fitzgerald, director of player personnel Dan MacKinnon and professional scouts Derek Clancey and Kevin Stevens also have a hand in the process.

Each of the main amateur scouts is assigned a region where they will see hundreds of games throughout the course of a season. During their travels, each scout will literally watch every draft-eligible prospect for that year in his region.

“We like to think that we are well dispersed with our scouting staff and that we have guys in each home area,” Heinbuck said. “They all have a region that they are responsible for. Then, we have several scouts who cross over into those regions to tie everything into one list.

“My philosophy is to have one area you know as well as you can and then we have a couple of guys on our staff who go in and tie that area into another when we make our final list.”

A majority of the scouting report on a draft-eligible prospect is written throughout the season leading up to the player’s draft year, but that book actually begins a year earlier as scouts are evaluating the previous year’s class.

“We try to get a book on a player or knowledge of a player even as an underage – so probably about a year before their draft year,” Heinbuck said. “Your staff begins to do game reports on him so that you know that player and you have a two-year book on him leading up to his draft year.”

Because draft picks are so valuable in today’s NHL, especially with the need to develop home-grown talent from within because of the salary cap, it’s important for scouting departments to make sure they have each player properly evaluated by the time June rolls around.

We spend a lot of time throughout the year and at our year-end meetings putting our lists together prioritizing our players – this is why this guy went No. 75 on our list and why this guy is No. 76. Really, your priority is to kind of stick with the board, but it is open for discussion in certain situations. - Jay Heinbuck
In an effort to help ensure each player receives the proper evalutation, a few of the scouts on Heinbuck’s staff are assigned to cross-over into other territories to make sure multiple sets of eyes are collaborating on the final ranking.

“Every player we would consider drafting in the first four or five rounds has been seen by at least four or five of our scouts,” Heinbuck said. “There are so many international tournaments and things that happen now and there is such good communication between our staff that the guys that cross over into other areas see anyone who is going to be picked in the first four or five rounds quite often.”

Thanks to an abundance of international competitions and varying playoff formats, prospects have more chances than ever to impress scouts on a big stage in clutch situations.

Among the most prestigious tournaments are the World Junior Championships in late December, the Under-18 Championships in April, the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in August and the Memorial Cup playoffs, which is a Canadian Hockey League mini-tournament between the champions of the Western, Ontario and Quebec Major Junior Leagues.

Heinbuck cautions that his staff cannot let a good or bad performance at these events affect the rating players have earned throughout the season, but he did allow that the team values rising to the occasion on this type of stage as more valuable than the flip side of the equation.

“If you have a player you liked all year and then he didn’t perform well in that season-ending tournament, I would hate to just throw that guy under the bus because he didn’t perform well in that tournament when the whole staff liked him all year,” Heinbuck said. “Some guys for some reason just didn’t play well in that particular tournament. You place some emphasis, but not a whole lot. That can’t be the basis of where he ends up on your list. It can be a contributor.”

Another contributor to a player’s final evaluation is the scouting combine held in Toronto. The combine doesn’t carry quite the same weight as the one held by the National Football League prior to its draft, but Heinbuck definitely finds value from it, especially the interview portion where each team can sit down one-on-one with the prospects.

“I really like the interview part,” Heinbuck said. “You get to know the kids a little bit and its an opportunity where a lot of the kids are right there. You can kind of delve into them and see if you like them as a person. Our area scouts have been talking to their coaches and finding out about their character as the season progresses anyway. It’s nice to sit down and see what kind of person they are.”

As far as the physical testing which goes on at the combine, Heinbuck says the Penguins use it more to look out for red flags because you are drafting 17- and 18-year olds and projecting what they might be at 24 or 25, and predicting potential strength gain or loss that far down the road can be almost impossible.

Following the combine the scouts meet in Pittsburgh with Shero and the hockey operations department. Over the course of a couple of days all the scouting reports are scoured over and morphed into one big list, which comprises the Penguins draft board from which they will make a majority, if not all, of their entry draft selections.

While the team generally sticks to the board throughout the process, Heinbuck and his staff do allow for reaching further down the list in the later rounds if a particular organizational need has to be addressed.

“We spend a lot of time throughout the year and at our year-end meetings putting our lists together prioritizing our players – this is why this guy went No. 75 on our list and why this guy is No. 76,” Heinbuck said. “Really, your priority is to kind of stick with the board, but it is open for discussion in certain situations. Sometimes it might be, by the time you get to the sixth or seventh rounds, you think we should select a goaltender or maybe an abrasive or tough player. Sometimes you may dip a little bit further down on your list to get that type of asset.”

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