It’s no secret that the 30 teams in attendance at the 2011 NHL Scouting Combine last week could meet with all 102 draft-eligible prospects in attendance if they so desired.
But what, exactly, were the Penguins looking for when they met with those players and then watched them undergo fitness testing?
The echoed sentiment between Penguins assistant general manager Jason Botterill and director of player personnel Dan MacKinnon was this: compete level.
“We do have an internal philosophy,” MacKinnon, who oversees all aspects of the Penguins’ professional scouting operation in North America and Europe, said. “And part of it is heavy on the compete level, which sort of blends in with the mix that (head coach) Dan Bylsma and our players, like Sidney Crosby
, have created.
“Obviously talent is a part of it, but talent without the compete level and the ability to get after it probably isn’t worth a whole lot to us.” WATCH: PENSTV EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH DAN MACKINNON
This year, MacKinnon and the other members of the Penguins senior scouting staff – director of amateur scouting, Jay Heinbuck, and assistant director of amateur scouting, Randy Sexton – interviewed less than 50 of the 102 prospects in attendance in order to improve the quality of the interviews.
“We’re trying to be a little more focused than years past in terms of knowing what we want out of the draft,” MacKinnon said.
The Combine is significant for MacKinnon, Heinbuck and Sexton in terms of putting faces to the names of the prospects that have impressed the Penguins’ regional scouts.
It’s also very important to the organization to gauge the type of personalities those players have and how they present themselves.
In fact, the scouting staff actually works closely with a psychologist back in Pittsburgh to gain some understanding of what makes the prospects tick.
“She’s helped us put some questions together that we ask all of the prospects,” Heinbuck, who oversees amateur scouting in North America and Europe,
said of the psychologist. “Then she’ll give us some feedback after this event. Hopefully that will help sort out some things that we need to touch upon, like if there’s red flags that come up with any of these guys by some of their answers.” WATCH: PENSTV EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH JAY HEINBUCK
A player’s overall performance at the Combine generally doesn’t have a massive impact on where they are ultimately drafted.
But when a team is picking later in the first round, like the Penguins are with the 23rd overall pick, the Combine – especially the interview portion – does take on some added meaning.
“If you’re picking where we are, you’re dealing with maybe a little bit larger group of players in terms of anticipating who might be available there,” MacKinnon said. “So the interview process becomes all that much more important as you’re sorting through maybe a core group of six guys.”
Heinbuck agreed, saying “It does take on a significance, because some of these teams that are picking early in the draft can really narrow down to concentrating on three or four players.
"For us at No. 23, that could be expansive. Just with our first-round pick alone, you could be looking at 12-14 names. And then you’ve got your second-round pick after that. So since you can’t really focus in on a smaller group of players, things are a little broader for us.”
But no matter who the Penguins end up selecting when the 2011 NHL Entry Draft takes place June 24-25, they’re certain they’ll get a quality individual.
“I think every year – but particularly this year – I’m just really impressed with the quality of the kids,” MacKinnon said. “They’re really mature, really focused and really know what they want to do with their careers.”