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One-on-One with... NHL's Director of Central Scouting E.J. McGuire

by Jay Levin / Nashville Predators
As part of its 2008 Draft Coverage, caught up with the NHL’s Director of Central Scouting, E.J. McGuire to talk about Central Scouting’s role in the draft process, this year’s draft class, and some of the prospects of note in this year’s draft. Read Part 1 of the Q&A below and check back tomorrow for Part 2. Thank you for joining us.
E.J. McGuire: Happy to be here. This is a great draft for Nashville. Other than the draft being there in Nashville, this is a super year for the franchise with so many picks. If they keep them, by our rankings, we think they’ll be in line to get some very good prospects, or if they trade up or they trade them away, it’s good to have those picks in the bank. I hope the excitement in Nashville really bubbles over for this year’s event. Can you explain what Central Scouting does and what its role is in the draft process?
EM: What the Central Scouting does is provide a subjective, opinion on who our scouts feel should be drafted and in what order. Our directive at Central Scouting is to put together four lists, a ranking of North American skaters, European or International skaters, and then separate rankings for goalies. So we put out those four rankings and then let the teams mesh them together for their big list. We provide that foundation and that recommendation and a futures list so that the Jeff Kealty’s (Nashville’s Chief Amateur Scout), Paul Fenton’s (Nashville’s Assistant General Manager) will look at it and say, “I know that guy. And I know that guy there; and that guy there. I don’t think he’s as highly rated as Central Scouting has him, so we won’t waste very much money or time scouting him early, but if his stats show otherwise, we’ll send someone in later on.”

So Central Scouting is sort of like a second opinion and an early warning system. And at the end of the year in the scouting meetings David Poile may say something like, “What about this Player X. Central Scouting has him ranked pretty high. Why haven’t we talked about him more.” And either Jeff Kealty or Paul Fenton are likely to respond some thing like, “Well, we included a few Europeans in the mix and a goalie.” And David Poile’s been around long enough, so he knows the drill. But then he’ll probably ask challengingly, “Tell me about Player X. Why isn’t he higher on our board. Why don’t we like him as much as Player Z.” And those are the type of challenges that go around the Nashville room, the Carolina room, the NY Rangers room, and pretty much every room across the league. Our Central Scouting list is used as a barometer or a second opinion. When does Central Scouting will start charting prospects?
EM: They hit our radar screen relatively late. At this year’s NHL scouting combine, which is similar to the NFL scouting combine, all 30 teams were presented with a thick book that is 95% concerned with this year’s draft eligible players, but a small portion is called a futures list. And that contains the new entries for next year who caught our eye this year. We start tracking prospects or start taking more extensive notes, just a year prior to his first year of draft eligibility.

Our list of futures turns into a November list of what we call a “players to watch” list. So we publish a futures list one year out and those players help form our players to watch list in November and then they become our rank order kids in our Mid-term publication in January and then our Final publication in mid-April. How extensive is Central Scouting’s list of scouts? What areas of the globe does Central Scouting scout?
EM: NHL Central Scouting has two prongs. One in North America and one in Europe. Although I oversee out of the Toronto office all of Central Scouting, we have a Director of Central Scouting in Europe, Goran Stubb. He works out of Helsinki. Goran Stubb employs seven full-time scouts over there to put together his lists and a countless number of part-timers. Here in North America, we have 10 full-time scouts, myself and nine others. And we have as many as 15 part-time scouts or “bird dogs.” You hear a lot of talk about a particular draft class being stronger or weaker. What are scouts basing that upon? Is it the high-end talent, the depth, a combination of both?
EM: It could be a top end talent. I’ll cite two different examples. If somebody says that three years ago it was a great draft simply because there was a player named Crosby at the top of it. Well that’s great for Pittsburgh, the team with the top pick, but the teams picking second, third, fourth, if it drops off, well it’s not as good. But that’s still a highly publicized, very visible draft. In this year’s draft, when people talk about it being a good to great draft, I think people are talking about the depth of talent. Much to the delight of the Nashville Predators, in my opinion they are going to get a player who, depending on his development level and depending on the needs of the Nashville Predators, could possibly play next year for Nashville or at least very soon in the NHL. In general, though, good drafts are ones that are projected to provide a volume of players who will play in the NHL within three to four years. What are the deeper positions in this year’s draft, as you look position-by-position.
EM: To over generalize, this year’s draft is a strong, incredibly strong defenseman’s draft. Of our top-10 in North America, a forward Steven Stamkos is No. 1, but then two through six are defensemen, so there’s five “D” in a row and not far after there’s another group of “D.” So it’s heavily laden with defensemen at the top this year. It’s my opinion that defensemen develop a little later than forwards. I think into the mid-20s (in age) is maybe when you can first start making your judgment whether a defenseman is good or great or not. This year’s crop, though, has the potential to be outstanding in that position. Of the top prospects in this year’s draft, who has seen his draft status rise the most over the final months of the season?
EM: There’s a kid for the Kitchener Rangers, Mikkel Boedker, who is rated No. 11 (on the North American skaters list), but he had a strong showing at the Memorial Cup, where a lot scouts were watching. So that was a last impression and in front of a big audience and maybe it influenced teams to move him higher than No. 11? It’s players like that, though, who have good playoff runs that tend to rise up draft boards late. We’re trying to get our Final Report out before the individual team scouting meetings, but that’s with the full knowledge that our scouts stopped scouting in April. Are there any other prospects besides Boedker who really came on strong over the tail end of the season?
EM: There’s a Boston University kid, Colin Wilson whose stock kept rising and rising, but had to abruptly stop when the NCAA season ended and Boston University stopped just short of making the NCAA Tournament. We’ve got Colin Wilson ranked No. 10, but momentum was moving him higher, so he may very well be picked before then.

Check Part 2 of the Q& A tomorrow when E.J. McGuire goes more into more detail on this year’s draft class and some of the “sleeper” names Preds fans may want to learn.

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