Nill and general manager Ken Holland gathered the entire Detroit scouting staff to the Phoenix area to decide on what amateur players the Red Wings will target in late June in Montreal.
“What we’re doing is going over each league, and we’re going to rank the players, talk about the players, discuss what’s good and bad about them,” Nill said. “Get all the information on the players then we’ll start to rank them.”
It might sound simple, but it’s a grueling 3-4 day project for Nill and the staff. The group will meet for 4-5 hours a day, breaking down every player from every country that is draft-eligible this year.
“We’re going to rank each area - western Canada, Ontario, Quebec, U.S. colleges, all of Europe - and then we’ll sit down and condense the list even more,” Nill said. “We’ll start to get into a first round list and a second round list, so it’s about compiling all the info on the players.
“Scouts have been out there going to games, seeing all these players, ranking them themselves, and now we’re going to come together and fine tune the list.”
Nill acknowledged that his hard-working staff has been traveling across the entire globe, so the other function of this week is to give them a rest just like the players. The Wings’ assistant GM was quick to point out that it’s tough for his scouts to travel through places like Russia, northern Canada and the U.S.
“They’ve went through storms and bad weather, and we like to bring them to a nice climate, they can bring their wives and families with them,” Nill said by phone on Wednesday. “These guys go on the road for two weeks at a time, then they’re home for two days, then another two weeks. It’s kind of a chance for them to recharge their batteries and spend some time with their families in some nice weather down here.”
Taking part in the amateur scouting meetings for the first time is team vice president Steve Yzerman. Nill said that Yzerman wanted to see how the scouting staff goes about building a dynasty with lower draft choices. Since the Wings tend to finish in the upper echelon of the standings each year, they are forced to make due with being at the bottom of the draft.
“I was talking to Stevie about that today,” Nill said. “He said, ‘How does that work?’ and I said, ‘Well, you can watch today.’ When we talked about the first round players, it was the (London Knights forward John) Tavares and these guys, we’re not getting those guys. We just take John Tavares and (Brampton Battilion forward) Matt Duschene and rattle of 10 names we know we’re not getting, and then after those 10 names, that’s when we start to discuss the players.
“So instead of focusing on the top half of the draft, our focus because of these meetings, we’re going to narrow it down to 20 players we really have to know well because we think those guys are going to be there for us.”
Nill described the selection and development process by using two of his most famous examples: Henrik Zetterberg
and Pavel Datsyuk
“This is the process we did with Zetterberg and Datsyuk 10 years ago,” Nill said. “They were names on this list, they became drafted, they stayed in Europe and played for three or four years. And all of a sudden they showed up in Detroit and everybody was like, ‘Wow, where did they come from?’ This is the process that starts that.”
The Wings are able to unearth hidden gems like Zetterberg (seventh round), Datsyuk (sixth), Nicklas Lidstrom
(third), Johan Franzen
(third) and more growing talent in their system because the scouting staff is on the same page, and have been for a very, very long time.
“We’re a very tight knit group,” Nill said. “We’ve been together for anywhere from 10-15 years, so we know how everybody thinks. Everybody knows their responsibilities. We know what type of players we want for the Detroit Red Wings, the scouts know what they’re looking for, and they all do the great job in their own areas. They know the players inside out, they know what their responsibilities are, so like I said we’re a team that’s been together for 10 or 15 years and they just know how to work it.”
That consistency has allowed the Wings to draft for the future, not the present. The Detroit system is deep enough to allow for players like Zetterberg and Datsyuk to develop at their own speed, not rushed into an NHL line-up too soon. This also allows Holland and Nill to go for the best players available when it’s the Wings’ turn to choose, even with limited options.
“When you pick in the top five, you can say, ‘There’s a good defenseman. There’s a good center. There’s a good goalie. Who do you want?’ When we’re picking, we’re not going to have that choice, it’s going to be one or two names, and we’re going to say, ‘Who is the best guy?’ So our philosophy is lets go after the best player.
“If there’s two players there and one’s a forward and one’s a defenseman and we say we need more forwards, then we go for the forward. But when we’re picking, usually that decision has already been made by the teams picking ahead of us, so our philosophy is just pick the best player. We’ve got a lot of depth in our system we think, so it’s not like we have to have a goalie or a defenseman or a forward, we think we have four or five names in each of those groups so we’re OK.”
Just like how the All-Star game serves as the midway point for the season, these scout meetings serve as the midway point for the draft at the end of the grueling scouting season. The meetings allow for Nill and his staff to prepare for the second half of their season.
“We’re at the halfway point for the draft, and by doing these lists, we’re going to sit down and say here’s who we think we have a chance to get in the draft, here’s who we need to key in on, what is our concerns about these guys, do we know enough about them or do we need to know more. It’s condensing all this information and getting this list in order for the stretch run.”
And if history reveals anything, the Wings scouting staff will be more then ready when that stretch run comes.