|Senators director of player personnel Pierre Dorion heads up a group of team scouts interviewing prospects for the 2012 NHL Draft at this week's scouting combine in Toronto (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images).
You only get one chance to make a good first impression.
As trite as that might sound, it surely applies to the interview process that's a key part of the proceedings for the 105 prospects in attendance at the annual NHL Scouting Combine, being held this week in Toronto. It's also a major stop for all 30 National Hockey League teams on the road to the 2012 NHL Draft, set for June 22-23 at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.
Team representatives, including Ottawa Senators player personnel director Pierre Dorion, spend the first few days of the combine doing one-on-one interviews with selected prospects — Dorion expects to meet with 55 of them — before the physical testing begins Friday at the Toronto International Centre.
The Senators currently hold the 15th overall pick in the first round. Not exactly the scenario Ottawa found itself in a year ago, when it owned a pair of first-rounders and three seconds — which wound up becoming a trio of picks in the opening round when all was said and done. But Dorion said the organization's approach to scouting, and the combine in particular, remains the same as ever.
"For us, we've got to be diligent in how we approach this," Dorion told the Team 1200 in a radio interview. "We're going to draft someone at 15 that we think is going to be a big part of our future."
While scouts spend endless hours watching prospects during the season — and Dorion believes what they see on the ice matters most of all — the combine interviews offer a unique chance to probe a player's psyche and see what makes him tick.
"What the players have to keep in mind is that this will be their initial contact with many NHL teams, so they have the chance to make that initial impression," NHL Central Scouting director Dan Marr told NHL.com. "Some kids aren't that comfortable when they're in an interview environment, so you just have to kind of tell them they need to be a little prepared to talk about themselves, which is something they might not be used to doing.
"But teams aren't testing your personality. They're just trying to get to know you in this environment, so it's just an opportunity to make a good initial impression."
While some prospects are clearly nervous in such situations, Dorion said there is no doubt young players today come into the situation well prepared and coached by people such as their agents.
"(The players) come in there knowing what to expect," he said. "You still get some kids who are nervous. We had a few (yesterday) who were stumbling with their answers, their hands were sweaty ... some kids will get nervous, but they're still so much more prepared compared to even five years ago."
"It's the consistency in their answers. Most of the time, we know what type of people they are. We've done background research on most of these players, so we have a good idea about their approach toward the game. As long as it's consistent with what we've heard in the past and what they're telling us ... that's what really impresses me. That tells me he's an honest person and he's going to do whatever it takes to be a player." - Pierre Dorion
In many ways, it's like a job interview — and let's face it, that's precisely how a young player with visions of an NHL career will see it. Dorion admitted some of the prospects he'll meet with come off as overly polished, but it's the information that's presented that counts the most.
"It's the consistency in their answers," said Dorion. "Most of the time, we know what type of people they are. We've done background research on most of these players, so we have a good idea about their approach toward the game. As long as it's consistent with what we've heard in the past and what they're telling us ... that's what really impresses me.
"That tells me he's an honest person and he's going to do whatever it takes to be a player. As long as someone doesn't come in and tells us stuff we haven't heard in the past and our background checks don't seem to match up with that ... that's when red flags start popping up for us."
On Friday and Saturday, the players go through 13 individual fitness tests. That's when director of player development Randy Lee and conditioning coach Chris Schwarz take over as the eyes and ears for the Senators.
"They watch certain kids to see how they handle themselves and if they push themselves and are close to the limit," said Dorion. "It's a broader gauge to evaluate. You get to see how they react in physical situations and then (in the interviews), you get to see how they react maybe under a bit of pressure when we ask them questions."
While the combine is an important tool for teams, Dorion doubts anything that happens this week will do much to cause a major overhaul of the draft list the Senators scouting staff drew up at their meetings earlier this month.
"We feel passionately about, I'm going to say, 14 guys and we feel pretty confident we'll get one of those 14 guys (at No. 15)," he said. "We're going to just go ahead and take the best player available. As far as changes, there might be a few tweaks here and there but as I always tell people, it's on the ice that matters the most. I think we're getting to know them and if there are any red flags for any of these 15 or 25 guys (we're looking at), then maybe we'll do a few little tweaks. But I can't foresee us making any big changes."