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Fenton Recaps Draft Combine

by Jay Levin / Nashville Predators
With the NHL Entry Draft approaching next weekend, sat down with Preds Assistant General Manager Paul Fenton to discuss this month’s Draft Combine and the state of the Preds draft board (Nashville currently owns the No. 18 pick in the first round). What role does the NHL’s Draft Combine play in the prospect evaluation process?
Paul Fenton: Well, different teams use the combine in different ways. Some teams ask questions, some make strange requests to see how the kids respond. Our philosophy is to get an eye-to-eye with the kid to see if he portrays the same tendencies and personality in person as he does on ice. There are different theories on interviewing kids, where you use psychological tests, but I’ve had success by trusting our scouts’ opinions on players; we’ve followed that criterion to identify kids. Coming out of this year’s combine, did the Preds draft board change any?
Fenton: There was one (prospect) this year that, in a negative way, impacted his draft position with us. That doesn’t happen a lot. In the year’s I’ve been doing this, I think there are only two kids I’ve had our scouts take off of our draft board based on the combine; the personality of the player, the answers he gave, the lack of drive, or even the extreme cockiness in some manners. But for the most part, what you see on the ice matches up what you see at the combine. Two years ago you mentioned the performance Colin Wilson put in at the Combine as a big reason the team was so high on him Were there any prospects who to turn in that type of a performance at this year’s Combine?
Fenton: (Taylor) Hall didn’t test, but (Tyler) Seguin did and Seguin made a big impression. In general, at this year’s Combine there were some kids who are physically mature, who look like men already, are well put together. Some of the prospects have been schooled and trained very well. You find that a lot with the US kids coming out of the National Program, because they live there and it’s a 24/7 job experience for them. They are able to sponge a lot of that in and take a lot from their time with the program. Is the Combine more important for European prospects who maybe you don’t see as often during the season?
Fenton: It’s funny, people don’t think we see the Europeans as much, but in actuality, the majority of the years we see the top European prospects play more games than we see from North American prospects. When we go over to Europe the kids are playing in a tournament where we can see them play three, four, five times in one trip. In North America when you visit a kid, sometimes you’re making three or four trips because the schedules don’t match up the way you want. So a lot of times we see the top Europeans more than North Americans, even though we’re based here. Prior to the Combine, the last on-ice event for prospects was the Memorial Cup. Did anyone’s Memorial Cup performance change their draft stock?
Fenton: In this year, I would say no. The guys just solidified our thoughts, reinforced what we saw before. It’s such a big stage that some times you have to take the results for what they are, especially with the younger guys. Some are able to play on that stage at this time in their careers. The kids that we were looking at, though, really didn’t change our impression either way. On the topic of the Memorial Cup, how did Preds draftees Gabriel Bourque and Ryan Ellis fare during the tournament?
Fenton: Bourque did what he always does. He was energetic, passionate about his game. He tried to make a difference with every shift. He was physical and impacted every game. From our standpoint he’s ready to turn pro and play in Milwaukee next year.

Ryan Ellis, it seems like he thrives on the big stage. He controls the tempo of the game, he controls the special teams, the power-plays. I think people are appreciating him more now for his two-way game, even though his offense is at such a high end. Everybody who is watching him – being able to perform at the Memorial Cup for two years in a row, being able to play at the World Juniors for two years in a row – appreciate what special qualities he has.

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