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Inside the Penguins War Room on Draft Day

by Jason Seidling / Pittsburgh Penguins
General manager Ray Shero is the voice that will step up to the podium in Los Angeles on June 25-26 to make the Penguins’ seven picks in the upcoming entry draft, but he is only one of several voices speaking on behalf of Pittsburgh.

Shero is one among a host of talent evaluators who scour the globe in hopes of uncovering the proper bricks to assemble alongside Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal in hopes of continuing the Penguins’ winning foundation.

Assistant general manager Jason Botterill, assistant to the general manager Tom Fitzgerald, director of amateur scouting Jay Heinbuck, director of player personnel Dan MacKinnon and 12 regional scouts all have a say in selecting the stars of tomorrow.

“I think the biggest misconception is that a general manager made a great pick here or a bad pick there,” Shero said. “It’s the guys you hire. No general manager has the time to go out and scout all the amateur players.”

While neither Shero nor the coaching staff has the free time during the season to scout amateur talent, they still have an influence on how the scouts analyze players.

As Shero enters his fifth year on the job, he now believes he has a firmer grasp on how the Penguins should best conduct their amateur scouting.

Prior to this past season, Shero gathered the coaching and scouting staffs for a series of meetings aimed at helping everybody better understand the types of players the organization wants to bring into the fold.

“We have kind of changed our criteria a bit,” Shero said. “As a manager, I feel like I am now able to better describe to our scouts the type of player our organization wants. I think it took a couple of years to find out exactly what we wanted because we were all new when we came here in ’06-07.”

Heinbuck already sees the changes paying immediate dividends.

“As an amateur staff, we have a really good dialogue with our coaching staff, along with Ray and Jason,” Heinbuck said. “We met with the coaching staff and listened to the types of players they like. That kind of helped us re-word and tweak our philosophy a little bit. We now look for certain traits based upon what they like. They had some interesting things to add from a coaching prospective which I think helped our overall philosophy.”

Shero and Heinbuck didn’t reveal what those specific traits they look for are – which is understandable considering 29 other teams are fighting for the same players as Pittsburgh – but they did reveal some insight into the thought process that goes on inside the war room on draft day.

Generally speaking, especially in the first round, and usually through the early-to-mid rounds, the Penguins philosophy is exactly what you would expect when many of the players selected are roughly 3-5 years away from making an impact in Pittsburgh – draft the best available player based upon the team’s internal list.

“Like any team, we have guys who Central Scouting has rated in the first round not on our draft board,” Shero said. “We won’t draft them because they don’t fit the type of player we are looking to draft. Every team does that because they have their own criteria.”

So, although the current depth chart includes Crosby, Malkin and Staal at center, and Marc-Andre Fleury in goal, the Penguins wouldn’t pass up a playmaking center or potential No. 1 goaltender. Although those are areas of strength right now, Shero said you can never predict how your team will look and what the landscape of the National Hockey League will be three years down the road when current draft picks are hopefully knocking on the door.

Sticking to the draft board allows the Penguins to make sure they are getting the proper value for each of their picks, which is important in today’s salary-cap world. Heinbuck did offer that there are instances in the later rounds when potential needs can play a factor.

“I have seen it where maybe we took forwards in the first four or five rounds and with our next pick the highest guy we have rated available is also a forward,” Heinbuck said. “If that is the case we would consider a defenseman. A lot of times when you get into the fifth and sixth rounds the players start to equal out. Usually there is a flaw in a player if he is rated there on your list, so there is a greater chance of guys being equal, so you can pick and choose a little bit.”

“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. 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.”

Heinbuck and his staff might not get immediate satisfaction from the work they put in, but they trust the lists they compile and feel confident their homework will result in the Penguins maintaining their perch alongside other perennial Stanley Cup contenders.

“In the end we hope that we have done the job compiling our lists based upon potential,” Heinbuck said. “We know we have to keep the talent continuously flowing into the organization. When we see that we know we have done our job.”


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