Q&A with Kevin Prendergast: Part II, Scouting

By Guy Flaming

Teaser: The second half of HF’s interview with Kevin Prendergast examines some of the focus and thoughts of the Oiler’s scout

From the outside looking in, being an NHL scout could seem like one of the cushiest jobs in the world. Just imagine getting to watch hockey games for a living! There’s the travelling to foreign lands, the hobnobbing with celebrity hockey players, the prestige of being with an NHL team and of course, the fat paychecks that you get almost seem like a bonus!

Well maybe that’s just the view from the outside.

On the inside, life as a scout isn’t always what you might expect it to be. Sure the money’s good and you are getting paid to do something most hockey fans would love to be able to do, but not all of the travel destinations that a scout visits over the course of the year are exactly tourist hot spots.

Ever been to Siberia in January? How about Moose Jaw?

A scout is in an arena somewhere in the world watching junior games or college contests on more nights than not during the course of a season. Preparations for the upcoming NHL entry draft consist of meetings upon meetings and tiring road trips away from one’s family and home.

Hockey’s Future was fortunate to catch up with Edmonton’s chief scout, and VP of Hockey Operations, Kevin Prendergast just days before Christmas to talk about some of the scouting events his staff will be taking in this year.

HF: What are your thoughts on Kyle Brodziak and Jeff Deslauriers both getting cut from Canada’s WJC team?

KP: Obviously we’re disappointed as an organization and being there first hand and seeing it, it’s tough to take. While they are ours, we try to keep an open mind on both of them. I thought Brodziak did everything they could possibly ask him to do but I think that the odds were against him in that he’s never been in their program before and they sort of went within their comfort zone and took players that they knew.

As far as Deslauriers, I think it was a neck-and-neck battle with (Josh) Harding from day one and I think the deciding factor, so I’ve been told, is that they thought that Harding was a little bit better in the summer camp where as in the second camp they were basically even. It’s hard to swallow both of them not making the team but you have to live with the decisions they make on Team Canada.

HF: How important is it for draft eligible players playing in the WJC to have a strong performance in the tournament? How much emphasis do you place on that one specific tournament?

KP: Personally for me, I don’t put that much emphasis on it because in a lot of cases, depending on where a player is from, the game is different. The ice is bigger or smaller, the style of game is different, and I think in a lot of cases the kids are not playing to what their strengths are. A lot of them are playing on the third or fourth line and not playing a lot in each period whereas in their own age category when you get to see them in the age tournaments you get to see them more at their best. The competition level obviously is important to see how they respond to it and in a lot of cases you’re looking to see how tough they are. But do we put 50 percent of our draft eligible stuff on these things? No. We basically combine everything for the whole year and go with it from there on each player.

HF: Do you have scouts attend the tournaments comprised of the Group B, C and D nations?

KP: We see them all. There’s always one country that has a player and I think if you go back years ago (Nik) Antropov was playing for Kazakhstan and they happened to get into the A pool but if it wasn’t for that he would have been in the B or even the C pool. We normally send either Kent Nilsson or Frank Musil in to watch and at least see the team play once and if they feel there’s a player worth seeing again then they’ll watch a second or third game. There’s players all over the world now and you just want to make sure in case somebody ever does take one that at least he was on your list or wasn’t on your list, whoever the player might be.

HF: The WJC this year has a lot fewer draft eligible players participating in it doesn’t it?

KP: An awful lot less. Last year was a huge draft year and a lot of those big guys were in that tournament, this year with (Alexander) Ovechkin and (Yevgeny) Malkin, well, they’re no-brainers to go 1-2. But from Canada and the United States, even Sweden and Finland, there’s not a whole lot of high-end players that will be playing and at that same time you’ve got the Viking Cup going on. So you’ve got maybe ten or twelve draft eligible players playing at the WJC while you’ve got anywhere from 30-50 of them playing at the Viking Cup. That’s the big difference going into this draft as far as the big tournaments at Christmas are concerned.

HF: That said, how many of your staff will be going to Finland to take in the WJC?

KP: For Finland it’s going to be Frank Musil, Kent Nilsson, and Kevin Lowe I believe for a couple days and Scott Howson is going over too.

HF: Does that mean that the rest of your staff will be in Camrose, Alberta for the Viking Cup?

KP: The rest of the guys are going to split Camrose, some of the guys will be doing NCAA college tournaments during the beginning of the Viking Cup but will come in afterwards. Basically the western guys will start the week in Camrose.

HF: How much time is spent on scouting Tier II, CIS or leagues like the ACAC here in Alberta?

KP: We look at all the players that come onto Central Scouting’s list. Guys who are in the area, like I see most of the Alberta Junior teams, the BC league is scouted by both our guys out there, our Ontario scouts look at the high end guys in Ontario. Any kid who has a chance to go on to University or something else down the road we will have a look at and make sure that, if they’re really good, at least two scouts will see them play.

HF: What kind of relationship exists between scouts and player agents, especially prior to the player being drafted?

KP: The agents are always a scout’s best friends (laughs) prior to when you draft their guy. They always want to tell you how good their players are!

HF: But is there a sharing of information between scouts and agents?

KP: Not really from the scouts. I prefer for our scouts not to tell the agents anything. Of course agents are going to tell you how many teams love their players and that type of stuff but we basically rely on our staff to do as good a job as possible and any information we get we put on the table if we think it’s worthwhile and if it’s not then we don’t use it.

HF: Prior to the recent Comrie deal there was a lot made in the media about a trip you took to Portland and how it ‘must have been a trip solely for you to scout Atlanta’s Braydon Coburn’. If you can say now, was that the reason for that particular trip or was that a regularly scheduled visit for you?

KP: First of all, I wasn’t in Portland at the time — I was in Anaheim! (laughs) When it was reported in the paper, I told the reporter that I was “out west” and he took it that I was in Portland looking at Coburn because I think he had just talked to Atlanta. Most of those trips I do they are scheduled anyways but the Anaheim trip, as we all know now, was to have a look at what they had to offer in a Comrie scenario.

HF: It seemed odd to me anyway because I would have thought you would likely have an extensive book on Coburn already.

KP: We have a book on all of them but when you start talking trade it’s always more comfortable for the GM and the ownership to know the most recent report we have on these kids regardless of what our book says. You want to know how they’re doing, you want to talk to their coaches and their GM’s to make sure that the kids are working hard and still focused on being a pro. Ninety-nine percent of the time that’s the case but every once in a while some kids, after a draft, they sort of forget about what it takes to get to that next level because they assume they’re a shoe-in.

HF: How important are statistics for you when you are scouting?

KP: Statistics in some cases are important, especially if the kid was underage the year before and you see that he’s improved. When you’re scouting you are basically relying on your eyes to tell you if a kid is playing well and we get as much as we can from coaches, trainers or other people in the league that play against him and put it all together. The bottom line comes down to when you put your scouting staff together you have to trust them to have done their job and most of the time their job is what they see on the ice.

HF: One obvious focus you’ve had in the last few drafts is to increase you forward size, is it too early to say where the focus might be for the upcoming draft?

KP: (laughs)

HF: Was that a loaded question? Sorry about that!

KP: Yeah, you know, we’ve gone into every draft, and I think Barry (Fraser) instituted this, that the Oilers will take the best player available to us in the first round regardless of what our strengths are. We certainly feel that we have good young players at all positions right now but personally the one thing I would like to see us improve on is to have more skill in the organization. But looking at this draft, it’s going to be rich in defensemen and rich in goaltenders so we’ll take the best player available to start with.

HF: One of those defensemen that a lot of people are talking about is Cam Barker. Can you compare him to the three big D-men from last year (Ryan Suter, Braydon Coburn and Dion Phaneuf) and say that he is that caliber of player?

KP: Well I think he has a chance to be. He struggled early on this year but he’s gotten better over the last six weeks. I think if he were in a draft with those three guys from last year he would be fourth on the list of most teams. It’s a different year and he brings different things to the table and I think Cam’s probably going to go in the top 15 in this year’s draft.

HF: I was a little surprised that he was not involved with the WHL team that played against the touring Russians. Instead there was Mike Green from the Saskatoon Blades.

KP: That’s something I really can’t say much about. Mike Green was very deserving to be there, as Cam probably would have been too, but it’s one of those things that any time you’re playing the Russians at any level you want to send as good a team as you possibly can. They looked to as many older players as they could for a stability standpoint.

HF: When I’ve talked to various Oiler prospects many of them claim to have not had any idea that Edmonton was interested in drafting them and most never had an interview. How important is the interview process for you?

KP: We’ve done our homework on a lot of these players; we know their backgrounds so we’re just trying to put a face to the player. You have all kinds of information on the guy from your staff or you’ve talked to people or seen them on the ice but I think it’s just one of those things where we’d like Kevin Lowe to have a look these guys just so they see what they look like personally. We don’t put a lot of emphasis on the interviews like a lot of teams do. We do interview a lot of them at the Central Scouting thing but is it a deciding factor on anything we do? No. It’s more of an informal thing for us to get to know the player, what type of person he is, what his interests are and add that to everything else we have in his file. Probably the worst interview we’ve ever had was with Ales Hemsky. Only because Ales didn’t speak English very well and I think we were the 26th team that interviewed him that day so he just didn’t want any part of being in that room. So was that any kind of deciding factor for us, obviously not. We knew what type of player Ales was and the interview was more of a funny thing than anything else. I know a lot of teams go back and say ‘he was a good interview’ and ‘he was a bad interview’ but it really doesn’t matter to us.

HF: That’s a great story though.

KP: It is and (laughs) it was really funny because he wanted no part of being in there and any question we asked him he just shrugged his shoulders and said ‘yes’, ‘it’s been a long day’, like he was really thinking ‘Get me out of here!’ We were just laughing when he left!

HF: Through recent drafts you have been collecting players who either are currently or have been captains during their amateur careers. I’m thinking of guys like Jarret Stoll, Zack Stortini, Doug Lynch, etc. I wonder if there is ever the possibility of having too many former captains in one dressing room?

KP: I don’t think so. There’s always a process that goes with any team the higher up the hockey level you get there’s a lot more stability with certain players. Players who have played a long time and have a reputation, other players learn off of them and that’s how your captains are born through your organization. Any time you’re a captain of a hockey club it’s because of the type of person you are. Looking back over the years at our history, the Oilers could have had any number of captains as they went along the line, they were all deserving as they went through it. You still have to play as a team and if you’re the captain of the team then there are certain responsibilities that go along with that. Being a captain at a higher level, I don’t think it’s as important a thing as it is when you’re younger and we put a lot of emphasis on our kids to be young men and to be strong leaders. It’s showing in the minors that we have a lot of guys like that but at the next level you can only have one captain of your hockey club and I think all those players are willing to accept that and they know it’s something that they can achieve as they get older.

HF: I posed the same question to Doug Lynch a few days ago and he replied by saying that he didn’t think you could ever have too much heart or character in one room.

KP: That’s what wins hockey games for you and we think we have a lot of those guys coming in the near future.

HF: With your prospects that are still to be signed to contracts, do you anticipate waiting until the new CBA is completed before doing so?

KP: I think for the most part we will. We’re going to have to look at how our hockey club is going this year and what type of holes we might have to fill down the road. There are a couple of players that we have to get done this year and we’d certainly like to knock them off and see where it goes. The other players we’ll approach if we feel it’s time to do something but if Kevin decides that we’re not getting into that type of money scenario then we’ll wait for the new CBA to come into place. We’d like to get as many of them done in a fair market value to help us out but we can wait just like anybody else can.

HF: You do have a couple players that you have to sign at the end of May or else they’ll go back into the draft though, correct?

KP: Yes that’s right. We have Deslauriers and Brodziak to sign by June 1st.

HF: The way the game has evolved over the last 10-15 years with players constantly getting bigger and faster, has scouting also evolved along with it so that you are looking for things you might not have been a decade or more ago?

KP: I think each scout has his own criteria. Within the organization we have certain things that we put as priorities, like skating, but I don’t think it’s really changed. You’ve got a scout like Lorne Davis who is 73 years old and he’s not going to change. The basic line is that it’s still 5-on-5 and there’s still only one puck. We have a good rapport within our own staff as to how everyone else thinks, what the thought process is, what the organization expects from players. New young scouts come in with their own ideas of things and they just sort of blend into everything else you have going at the same time.

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