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Draft prep concludes despite questions about season, draft itself

Amateur meetings provide Wild an opportunity to solidify its 2020 prospect rankings ahead of NHL Draft

by Dan Myers @mnwildscribe / Wild.com

ST. PAUL -- The Wild's downtown St. Paul headquarters has sat virtually silent for the better part of the past two months. It's something that would have been virtually unthinkable, even a few short months ago. 

Since the stoppage of the NHL season due to the COVID-19 pandemic in mid-March, nearly every aspect of the organization has been run from home offices throughout the Twin Cities area.

Finally, this week, there have been signs of life inside the old Minnesota Club building at 317 Washington Street as members of the team's hockey operations department have descended upon it to begin its annual amateur scouting meetings. 

Under normal circumstances, each of the Wild's seven amateur scouts, along with PJ Fenton, the Director of Amateur Scouting, three European scouts and Ricard Persson, the Director of European Scouting, as well as Video Scouting Coordinator TJ Jindra would be in St. Paul. The meetings would be led be general manager Bill Guerin and assistant GM Tom Kurvers. Also present would be Director of Hockey Analytics Mat Sells and Director of Hockey Operations Chris O'Hearn. 

In the Wild's executive conference room on the building's second floor, they would meet for several days and debate in an effort to finalize the Wild's draft board heading into the 2020 NHL Draft, which before the pandemic, was set to take place late next month in Montreal. 

COVID-19 has forced some major changes, however.

The only four people in the conference room this week are Guerin, Kurvers, Sells and O'Hearn, all socially distanced around a table that normally holds 20 people or more. The scouts have been beamed in via Cisco WebEx in two separate groups to make communication easier. 

And, as of now, nobody knows how the draft will go off this summer. While it almost certainly will take place virtually, as the NFL Draft did last month, whether it's held in June or at a date later in the summer, or even the fall isn't yet known. 

A resumption of the 2019-20 season at some point over the next several weeks could shed more light on that, but even if hockey does make a summer return, it may not matter when it comes to a draft date. The NHL and its organizations have been trying to hammer out specifics for the past several weeks, and all options, including a June draft, are very much on the table.

That's why the Wild, led by Kurvers, who will head the team's draft table whenever it takes place, has gathered -- both in person and online -- to prepare like it normally would. It's the first team-sanctioned event in quite some time that, at least from a timing standpoint, has been uninterrupted by COVID-19. 


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Kurvers has led a team's draft table before. The Bloomington native did so twice with the then Phoenix Coyotes when he was the team's Director of Player Personnel. In that role, he oversaw the club's amateur and professional scouting departments. 

That isn't the case here. His day-to-day duties with the Wild include serving as General Manager of the Iowa Wild, the organization's American Hockey League affiliate. 

So while Kurvers is the person "running" the draft table, he will lean heavily on his scouts, including Fenton and Persson.

"These guys pretty much give their life to hockey," Kurvers said. "Amateur scouting is 12 months a year, it takes everything you have and it's full commitment. We respect these guys that do the work for us, and I'm more overseeing the process than I am in charge of the player selection. The player selection and the lists will come from our scouts, not from me."

These typically in-person meetings allow scouts an opportunity to make a strong case for players they have a real feeling about, to "bang on the table" for a guy, per se. But with these meetings taking place virtually, getting one's point across will have to come through differently.

Part of Kurvers' job is to see and read that. A long-time former scout himself, Kurvers is well-equipped to communicate clearly with the group of individuals who have spent much of the last year traveling the globe in search of talent.

"You absorb that over time," Kurvers said. "I think a lot of years around the process; some years very involved in it and some years, just listening in. You get a handle of how it works and maybe your experiences of how it has worked best. 

"[The virtual meetings] were better than we expected, I'll say that. I think we got some feel beyond just a regular description, beyond the grading and the criteria marks that we use. We worried whether we could get there and I think we did, we got there with our discussion."

That was done by limiting the number of people on the calls. Instead of all the scouts in a single room, the group at homebase spoke to scouts by region, which allowed for easier and clearer communication. 

"We felt that would be more effective than having a lot of guys without much to say where it's hard to keep everyone tuned in," Kurvers said. "We felt like we had just the guys we needed."

Scouts came to these meetings armed with their own draft lists, and after three days of talk about prospects, the group spent much of Thursday refining and finalizing the team's overall draft list that will be worked off of, whenever and however the draft takes place. 

It's not the end-all by any stretch, but it will act as a guide for certain, especially early in the draft, where the Wild is expected to have two first-round picks and another in the second. 

The Wild dealt its 2020 third rounder to Nashville at the draft last summer in an effort to trade back into the 2019 third round, where Minnesota selected Adam Beckman, who was the regular season scoring champion in the Western Hockey League in 2019-20.

Minnesota is currently in possession of its fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh-round picks in 2020, and has a full complement of selections in both 2021 and 2022. 


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Where a June draft could change the Wild's plans a bit is on the trade market. 

Typically, the summer selection meeting is where teams get together to discuss blockbuster trades that, primarily for salary reasons, are easier to complete in the offseason.

It's not often that all 31 general managers are within a 60-second walk of each other, but the draft is. Managers spend a fair amount of time communicating with one another about potential deals and rehashing conversations that may have began months earlier at the NHL's trade deadline.

But with teams drafting virtually, and the potential of a resumption of play after the draft, any trades would likely be moves involving only draft picks.

The Wild, armed with two first rounders and ample space under the salary cap, may have been busy on the player trade market.

With all the different variables in place, the Wild is preparing -- and has prepared -- to make all of its picks and continue restocking its prospect cupboard.

"We're preparing as if the draft is going to be at the time it was originally planned," Kurvers said. "We can't control anything beyond that. If it gets moved back, then we'll have more time. We have to be prepared for a draft that is in June and we're not really thinking much about a plan B. We're comfortable with where we're at and we're on a good timeline here."

With no draft combine to get an in-person look at these scouts and to perform interviews, those too will have to be done virtually.

If the draft order is decided by points percentage, which is one of many different options on the table, Minnesota would currently hold the 11th and 24th selections in the first round. 

At that point, the Wild will focus in on some of the players it thinks will be available at those spots and then try to conduct some virtual interviews in an effort to learn more about the prospects. 

That process will begin soon and take place over the next few weeks ahead of the draft. 

Obviously, teams will be unable to watch guys work out, but scouts have watched these players play several times over the past couple of years and are well-connected when it comes to tracking down fitness information. 

"Maybe this will loosen them up. They go to the combine and it's basically speed dating, they're running around to many teams in a short time frame," Kurvers said. "Maybe this will be a little more relaxed and maybe we get a different vibe than you would at the combine."

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