Following last week’s NHL Scouting Combine in Toronto, nashvillepredators.com caught up with Chief Amateur Scout Jeff Kealty to discuss the combine process and how the Predators’ scouting staff goes about evaluating prospects at the combine and beyond.
NashvillePredators.com: Describe the scouting combine process this year compared to the past few years when the Preds didn’t have a first-round pick or even a high first-round pick.
Kealty: The format has stayed pretty much the same as it has been in past years. Like you said, we haven’t had a first-round pick in a couple of years, so it is a little bit different this year. We’ve always been prepared because you never know what can come about. This year, we were much more focused on the top guys because we are picking fourth and we know how important that pick is. All in all, it was a very good week and we met with a lot of good kids – not just at the top of the draft but all the way through. We are very happy with the way it went.
NP.com: Do you treat the combine as more of a job interview or are you using that time to get to know the players on a personal level?
Kealty: It’s a little bit of both – It’s a job interview in the sense that this is a business and you have to find out about these kids if there are questions that need to be asked. At the same time, they are 17- and 18-year-old kids that you have to try to make comfortable enough to answer the tough questions and get real answers out of them. A lot of them come in and they’ve been schooled by their program or agent to answer questions a certain way. So we try to put the kid in a comfortable situation so he really answers the questions that we ask and we get the information we want.
NP.com: How much weight do the interviews and physical fitness tests hold when making decisions on prospects?
Kealty: It really depends on the kid. For the most part, I would say the interviews hold more weight, but it really depends on the kid. Every player is different – there may be one player who had some character or personality questions that you need to check on, while another kid had questions about his physical strength and how much stronger he can get over the course of his development. There isn’t an exact science to the process. So we look at it from an individual basis based on the kid’s strengths and weaknesses.
NP.com: Seth Jones, Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathan Drouin and Aleksander Barkov all skipped the physical fitness tests for various reasons. Does it make the process harder when you don’t have the physical element to look at when analyzing a player?
Kealty: Those guys are such top-end players and in their case there haven’t been any huge questions about their physical abilities. So it wasn’t a huge draw back that we couldn’t see them participate in the fitness portion. As far as the three that participated in the Memorial Cup, they all had very long seasons, played a lot of games and proved a lot over the course of the year. When you just finished playing 90-plus games or whatever it was a few days earlier, it’s not that big of a deal because they didn’t have enough training to put into it. In Barkov’s case, he was injured. Again, there weren’t questions physically with any of these guys, so it’s not a huge issue going forward.
NP.com: Did the performances of the top three at the Memorial Cup have any bearing on your opinion of those players?
Kealty: I think every scout is different when it comes to games like that. In our case, we certainly weigh it because it’s a big game on a big stage. Those three guys were outstanding in the Memorial Cup, but we do look at other events throughout the year. Looking back, Jones was probably everyone’s top guy going back to the World Juniors and that may or may not have changed after the Cup. All these big games are certainly pieces of the puzzle, but overall, we look at the body of work when it comes to deciding who will be the best player in the end.
NP.com: Were there any surprises – either positive or negative – among the top six or seven players?
Kealty: There weren’t any big surprises from any of those guys. If anything, it reaffirmed just how high-end these players are. We all know what they can do on the ice, but when you get them in the room and ask them questions – that’s when you see how focused they are, how driven they are, and how well they know the game and where they are going. That fact really adds to why they are as elite as they are.
NP.com: What factor does the recent Valeri Nichushkin news play going forward?
Kealty: All along we knew that he ultimately wanted to play in the NHL. I think all of the top players in the world want to play in the NHL because it’s the best league in the world. What Nichushkin’s course is to get there may be a little different. If he doesn’t make a team next year and ends up back in the KHL, I think ultimately, he wants to be here and he will be here. We’ve been looking at it like that all along.
NP.com: What the process between now and the draft?
Kealty: I will stay in contact with David Poile and Paul Fenton on a regular basis. The staff, as a whole, will continue to talk and have several conference calls over the next three weeks or so. We focus on our lists, but we also begin to get a game plan together for how we will react to certain situations on draft day. As you know, we work the entire year for one day, so the more prepared we are, the better we will be able to react on the floor.