After eight seasons as the director of player personnel for the Nashville Predators, Paul Fenton recently received a nice promotion. Upon the departure of longtime assistant general manager Ray Shero for Pittsburgh's GM job, Fenton accepted the call to fill the vacated post. The immediacy of the NHL Entry Draft and Nashville's conditioning camp--both of which are managed by the assistant GM--offered little time for the Longmeadow, Mass. resident to ease into his new role. Fresh from the draft, Fenton, who played for seven NHL teams over 11 seasons before joining the scouting ranks, took time during conditioning camp at Centennial Sportsplex to answer a variety of questions for nashvillepredators.com.
Q. What is the purpose of conditioning camp? Is it something all teams do?
A. I'm not sure if all teams do it. We initiated it in the first year and we think that we've had success with it if you look at our lineup from top to bottom. From Nashville to Milwaukee we've been able to take our players in, get them acclimated to our surroundings and hopefully bring them into what we would consider the Predators family. Anybody in business knows that the more comfortable you make people in their environment, obviously the better off they're going to be and hopefully be able to perform up to their expectations.
Q. What are your general thoughts on last weekend's draft? Were there surprises? Did it go as you suspected?
A. It never goes as you suspect. From our standpoint, it was tough waiting to have our first pick at 56 but Blake [Geoffrion] was one of the kids that we really targeted and did our research on. We were very happy to have him still available at that point. We honestly didn't know if he would be. It's a cliche at the draft--"Well, I didn't expect that guy to be there"--but in all honesty we didn't expect him to be there. From our standpoint, we're very happy to get a big potential two-way centerman with character coming in here. Part of our philosophy when we look at kids is having that character and perserverence to succeed. He's one of the kids that we really had targeted, like I said.
Q. How many drafts have you attended in an official capacity, and do you get nervous on such a big day?
A. It's got to be 14 now. Something like that. I absolutely get nervous. It's probably as similar to playing as you can get in a lot of ways. The preparation is there, the rehearsal, but a lot of stuff that you can't control, so it's a lot of reaction on your feet. From our staff we're very fortunate that we have people who can think on their feet, make decisions, adapt to what's going on, make recommendations on trades, and look at the future to see if we should move the pick or not. Our staff has been very well schooled. I'd like to say it's a well-oiled machine.
Q. At the draft, there was obviously a focus on power forwards by Predators management. Was that a position where you were consciously trying to add depth going into the draft, or were your picks strictly based on the talent available when your picks came?
A. A little bit of both. Our need going forward here has been center ice men. We've fulfilled one of the pieces. Obviously we'll need a few more. But taking Blake was one of the goals that we had set. Also, goaltending and taking Mark Dekanich gives us an opportunity to have a prospect in our system. Then looking at the year and the way the NHL has gone--we're very fortunate to have quick, small forwards that we had a lot of success with last year, but we also saw that there's still a need for the big powerful guys that separate guys from the puck and bring that grit element. On the talent part of it, we thought that [draft picks Niko] Snellman, [Ryan] Flynn and [Viktor] Sjodin were all kids that had that element, that size and the grit that we're looking forward to having in our lineup someday. It's not an exact science. You're trying to get some of these kids that will eventually develop into players for us. Three of them give us the size we're looking for.
Q. You were recently promoted within the organization from director of player personnel to assistant general manager. How does your role change as assistant GM?
A. I don't know how drastic it will be this year. It will be more of what I was doing four or five years ago when I was kind of running the pro side of it and the amateur side of it. After having to go and run the amateur side for the last four years, it has given me a different perspective. It's given me experience that I hadn't had before or hadn't known that I was really looking forward to. From a personal standpoint, it's been a great education and it's given me a different appreciation of the drafting end of it. That's been great. I'm still going to continue to do that. I'm still going to run the draft for us and run [the Predators' top minor league affiliate in] Milwaukee, but the best part of it is I get to go back and do more of the pro scouting, which I really came into this business doing and hopefully made a niche and a mark for myself, having acquired players in the past for both Anaheim and Nashville. I think that will help me to refresh my memory on a lot of the players and that's what I'm most looking foward to.
Q. Was it hard to make those departmental changes so close to the draft?
A. It made it a little bit more stressful, a little bit more urgent to have a lot of things and a lot of decisions that I had input on but didn't have a lot of the final say for in a lot of ways. Now being in more of a decision-making process with [general manager] David [Poile] is a real challenge and it's something that I'm really looking forward to.
Q. You were a scout in Anaheim when the Mighty Ducks drafted Kariya. Last summer, were you pushing Predators GM David Poile to pick him up as a free agent?
A. I was one of the people who was really pushing for Paul. Having known him from his draft year and watching him develop as a person--seeing his professionalism--I thought that it would be a great thing to introduce our younger players to and show them what the preparation work he goes after each day, whether it's practice or a game. I think it's really rubbed off on a lot of our players and it will in the future as well.
Q. How has Kariya developed since you've been watching him?
A. He's a special player. One whose talent is top-end. There's no question about it. But he hones his skills every day. He works on things every day. He tries to perfect his game every day. And he knows he's never going to, but that's the driven part of him that he knows that he's going to be pushing himself to be able to get to that level. That's the fun part of Paul Kariya, knowing the expectations are there and he's never going to achieve them, but he sure is going to try as hard as he can to get there.
Q. How many days a year are you on the road?
A. [Laughs] I don't know. I know I spent over 170 nights in a hotel last year, and that's just from September till now.
Q. Will that change with the assistant GM role?
A. The interesting part is that living where I do and not having to relocate, I think it will cut down on some hotel nights for me. Because the American Hockey League is right in my backyard and I can get to National Hockey League games in Boston, New York, New Jersey and Philly and still get home at night to sleep in my own bed. I haven't had that convenience in the last four years.
Q. What's your strangest scouting story?
A. I think we all have experiences where you go to a game and a kid isn't playing or you've traveled all that way and the kid's been traded. Or you show up at a game and it's at a different rink. We all could go through a million stories like that. I don't think I have one particular one that sticks out.
Q. Is there a particularly strange event that stands out from your years at the draft?
A. No, not really. It's always a pleasure to be at the draft because a lot of stuff does happen. The timetable, the pressure of picking guys and making deals is what the draft is all about. After you're done with the draft, the decompression is the biggest thing. It's like, "My God, we just spent all year doing this and now we need a couple days to just kind of clear our minds." Unless you do this for a living you don't understand what the preparation and the pressure is leading up to it--trying to find everything on every player and get as much information as you can. We know that that's impossible as well, but working at it is hopefully going to take you to the next level.