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Interviews can say a lot about prospects

by Rob Brodie / Ottawa Senators
A strong interview with Ottawa Senators management convinced the team to make Nick Foligno its top pick at the 2006 NHL Entry Draft in Vancouver (Photo by Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images). 

Call it the ultimate job interview for an aspiring young hockey player.

More than 100 top prospects for the 2009 NHL Entry Draft have gathered at the Westin Bristol Place in Toronto for the annual scouting combine. One of the key components of their time in front of general managers, scouts and executives from around the league is the one-on-one interviews that dominate the first four days of the combine, which began Monday.

"We've set up anywhere from 40 to 50 interviews with the top kids," said Brent Flahr, the Senators' director of hockey operations. "We interview kids that we have a chance (to draft) with our first pick or have a chance to get with our second or third."

Meaning time won't be wasted by the Senators on the likes of John Tavares of the London Knights or Swedish defenceman Victor Hedman, who are widely expected to be the top two picks at the June 26-27 draft at the Bell Centre in Montreal. Ottawa currently holds the No. 9 pick in the first round and also owns a pair of second-round picks.

The interview sessions offer teams the chance to learn a little more about a player they've likely spent literally hundreds of hours watching on the ice through the winter months.

"It's getting a feel for the guy," said Flahr. "Our scouts spend a lot of time watching them as players and they do interview them and get to know them a little bit. It gets a little more formal (at the combine). Some kids blow you away and with some kids, you realize there's a red flag there and you'd better do a little more homework."

Randy Lee, the Senators' director of player development, considers the interview a "really important" part of the combine process. The key to their value, he added, lies in the ability to get the prospects to open up and reveal certain aspects of their personalities.

"It's tough to do (the interviews) because the kids are very intelligent and they're very well prepared for this," he said. "Many of them have agents, so they're prepared and sort of coached on this. Your job is to get through. The success of the interview is dependent on how well you can create some questions that really draw out their true personality. If you just ask basic questions, you're only going to get basic information. You've really got to go at them and challenge them.

"Some guys do a great job in interviews. I've been in interviews where you're blown away by the player because you can see their character and you can see their integrity and you can see that they're competitive people. Other ones, you can see where a guy is skirting around questions and issues and it can give you concerns."

And yes, honesty is often the best policy.

"Certain players, coming into it, have red flags, whether it's potential off-ice issues or on-ice issues or injuries or things like that, so we get the details," said Flahr. "(You find out) if they know what they are as players, their strengths and weaknesses.

"It's getting a feel for the guy. Our scouts spend a lot of time watching them as players and they do interview them and get to know them a little bit. It gets a little more formal (at the combine). Some kids blow you away and with some kids, you realize there's a red flag there and you'd better do a little more homework." - Brent Flahr
"When you ask them about their weaknesses, if they're not aware of it, sometimes you're concerned."

Then there are the players who quickly erase a team's worries with the confident manner in which they handle the grilling. Lee quickly mentions defenceman Erik Karlsson, whose size gave the Senators scouting staff cause for concern. But after the Swedish blueliner wowed them in his interview session, the Senators had no reservations about making the talented Karlsson their top pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.

"For sure, the confidence that Erik Karlsson presented (made a difference)," said Lee. "He has no concern about his body size and height and he says 'I can compete.' He sold us because we did have concerns as an organization.

"Nick Foligno's interview (before the 2006 draft) was wonderful. I remember years ago, our early scouts were saying that the interviews that Chris Neil and Mike Fisher did... you could just see the quality of the person behind the interview that really came out."



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