People ask if the pressure of picking is the toughest part of the job. It’s not really. It’s a privilege to have a chance to have an impact on the hockey club. - Thompson
On June 20-21, all those winding roads will converge again for the NHL Entry Draft, this year in Canada’s capital of Ottawa.
As a prelude to the event, local media were treated last Friday to lunch on the Wild, as President and General Manager Doug Risebrough and Assistant General Manager/Player Personnel Tom Thompson discussed the club’s approach to the 2008 talent grab.
For Thompson, it’s one of the top days on the calendar.
“I think it’s best described by my son, who has been at all the drafts with the Wild,” said Thompson of the Draft. “He said it’s his favorite day of the year other than Christmas. And it’s sort of like that -- there’s the anticipation, and you have a hard time sleeping the night before, but it’s fun.”
Minnesota will pick 24th overall, the latest pick it has had in franchise history, by virtue of a 2007-08 finish that included a Northwest Division title. The Wild, because of trades that brought in Aaron Voros (last March, for a seventh-rounder), Chris Simon (February, for a sixth-rounder) and Marc-Andre Bergeron (June 10, for a third-rounder), will arrive in Ottawa with picks in Rounds 1, 2, 4 and 5.
The four picks (Nos. 24, 55, 115 and 145) represent the club’s fewest in history, and though the remaining picks may seem more sacred when set against the number relative to other teams, the Wild, according to Risebrough, are not left without flexibility.
“We’re not peddling picks now, but team situations are different,” he said, referring to the moving parts that face all teams in a formula that might shift with the day. “Some teams can’t handle [spending] some of the money on some players. They might have to move some of their players, and you can, maybe, acquire a quality player. Clearly, I’ve looked at saying the top three picks are important. One more than two, two more than three, and, right now, we have the two best picks that we could have.”
By most accounts, the 2008 draft ranks above average, especially among both quality young men and, in terms of one position, defensemen. Risebrough, who later wondered aloud if a cycle of timing had to do with the perception the team is thinking about a defenseman in the first round (“As an expansion team, nobody was giving you goals -- we had to find goals, and, for the most part, we took forwards …”), is not tipping his hand.
“I’m not sure it will be a defenseman, I’ll tell you that right now,” he said. “I think this is a deeper draft for defenseman, all the way through, so you can say there’s a likelihood.
“Maybe now it’s time to take a defenseman, but it won’t be at the expense of taking a lesser player.”
Of course, Wild fans, Minnesotans in particular, are curious about whether the team might use one of its picks to select a Minnesota-born player. Unfortunately, it’s not always simply a matter of a player being available at a certain spot.
“It’s just too hard when you look at the draft, to say you’re going to have that
player on that
pick at that
time,” Risebrough said. “You can move up a little or you can move back, but it always costs you to do something.
Rounding out the roster with Minnesotans is an aim, but herhaps one best saved for the future.
“Our hope, in the big picture, about the Minnesota player, is that all players that are playing in Minnesota want to play for the Wild someday," said Risebrough. "And the best opportunity for them to do that is when they have their rights back and they can choose. We want to be a competitive team, so if we’re a competitive team, we’re offering that to them. It’s not just coming home -- they want to advance their careers.”
And it is that advancement of a career keeping so many scouts up at night.
The two things Thompson finds most difficult in the process is comparing apples to oranges (“You’re looking at guys who are playing Division I college in the United States, high school hockey, Canadian Major Junior, Junior B, European Elite League, European junior, so you’re comparing people who are playing vastly different levels of hockey …”) and trying to determine just how long or winding a road might be for a player.
“By the time they come on the ice with you, you’ll have paid them a significant amount of money,” Thompson said. “How are they going to react to that? What sort of baggage are they bringing with them, personally, that you’re not aware of when you’re seeing them on the ice.”
Making the pursuit even more, shall we say, interesting, is all the information and video that is available to view the player on the ice. There are stats upon stats, DVDs upon DVDs, clips upon clips.
Is it enough to bring about paralysis by analysis?
“I don’t find any paralysis by analysis,” Thompson said. “I was talking with Tom Lynn the other day, and, more than anything, you feel fatigue with all this information sometimes. When it comes right down to it, what you have to get is enough information to make your decision and then be able to make it.”
It all leads Thompson back to the basics.
“If I was going to do one more thing with a player before I made the choice between two players, I’d have one more little discussion with the two of them.”
Maybe they’d talk about long and winding roads.
FINE PRINT ...The lines of communication between Risebrough and Brian Rolston, who can become an unrestricted free agent July 1, are most certainly open. Risebrough, in a room full of journalists, was even willing to admit the high priority he placed on the discussions. … Of Mark Parrish, Risebrough had the following to say: “He probably had the least healthy [sic] year he’s ever had. Players go through cycles. In Mark’s case, we’re just viewing it as a cycle. He can emerge and learn from the year, and we can learn from the year, and he’ll have a good year next year and put it to bed very quickly.”