Tom Kurvers is in his eighth season with the Phoenix Coyotes, having served mainly as a scout. Recently, he officially took over as the Director of Player Personnel. Hockey’s Future caught up with Kurvers after the Coyotes first draft in the NHL’s new era. Here’s what he had to say about the experience and the players.
HF: What was the Coyotes strategy going into this year’s draft?
TK: Given the fact everyone’s position for this year’s draft depended on a lottery, it was a little hard setting it up. Once it was clear where we were drafting, we could narrow it down from there. That made it very challenging for us because we had to cover a wide range of prospects, where in the past we knew where to look and what to expect.
Once we knew where we were selecting in the 17th slot, our focus moved towards developing a consensus of who most likely already be selected when it got to us. Once we got to that point, we started talking in-depth about what our approach should be.
HF: Did any of the imposed rules changes factor into your drafting strategy?
TK: We discussed it quite a bit. You can’t be premature with those assumptions [that the rules will effect the landscape of the game]. We should know in a couple of years. I think a particular type, or style of player, who will be in higher demand down the road will probably be determined in a year or two. Looking at where we’re going into today, we made some assumptions and we talked a lot about the proposed changes and how it might affect things.
HF: You went big this year. Can you talk about the overall size of the players?
TK: Yes, we had big selections this year. Hanzal’s size didn’t really factor into the equation. It came to down to our first selection, and he was the best overall player available. As for Pelletier, goalies are usually seen as ‘the bigger the better’ in general terms these days. For the players down the line, you’re really looking for assets that are going to help them play after they develop. Sometimes it’s going to be a small guy with speed. Other times, size makes it easier for a scout to project or visualize if they can develop their own game that would work in the NHL.
HF: Talk about Martin Hanzal and your overall feeling leading up to his selection?
TK: He’s a big forward that I feel can play both center and wing. Those are the type of players you would like to base your team around. Smaller players, such as (Sidney) Crosby being the far extreme, have the capability of caring a team. In more cases, it is the bigger players. He’s a highly rated player who has played at an excelled level in a part of the world that hockey that is a very important part of life. You see in that region, the better athletes play hockey as a priority. Hanzal is a great athlete and he is in good physical shape. He has some physical developing to do, but he is on his way.
He played in a prominent role for on a good Czech team at the U-18 tournament [2005 IIHF World U-18 Championships]. His game is not perfect nor is it consistent as you would like it to be at this point, but this is something normal for a kid his age. He is a great prospect. He’s going to be considered as a skater who can keep up with the NHL pace when he develops and who has skill. Some players, who are considered inconsistent, may not win the most determined player down the line. Over time, they just have to pick it up each year and build that aspect as they would their bodies or their skating.
HF: He was selected in the 2004 CHL Import Draft by Regina in the WHL. Would bringing him over be an option right now?
TK: Overall, we want him to have a good year regardless of where he might play. We as a team would like to have an influence where he plays, but sometimes we just don’t have the final say in those matters. It really comes down to the individual player and the club for what happens. I think when an NHL club picks players such as Hanzal, we would prefer to see them in the Canadian junior leagues so they can get acclimated with the style of play quicker.
HF: Did you expect Hanzal to be there at 17?
TK: Well I think like all players, when you get through the first few picks, you realize that you have someone higher on your list then they end up. Each team is a little different. Their approach is different as well as their needs are different. I would, yes, but as the old cliché goes, we had him higher on our list than 17.
HF: Can you talk about his upside and how that will translate into the future?
TK: He has potential as a front line player and quite possibly a top line player. His size and skating ability are a mix that shows he has hockey sense. He does things away from the puck, so it’s not just a puck game with him. He has a game that has a whole different dimension to it. As a big player, he has some advantages, but most notably he skates very well.
HF: What can you tell me about Pier-Olivier Pelletier, and what was so intriguing that made you trade up for him?
TK: He’s a winner. He played more than expected this past season and outperformed his teammate. He was only going to be a backup this past season, but he stepped in and took over for his team. He was a backup to Carey Price on Team Canada’s U-18 squad this past year at the IIHF World U-18 Championships. He’s going to the World Junior camp for Canada, and he is in the mix of top young goaltending talent.
HF: Would you say that one of his biggest assets would be his determination?
TK: I would say the best thing right now would be that he is in a winning environment. That is a good environment to work in. He’s a French goalie and seems to be a good thing. He projects himself, as an athlete who has every chance to become a starting goalie in the NHL.
HF: What did you exactly sacrifice to move up?
TK: We made a move and ended up shorting ourselves one pick. We made an exchange and in this case, it was a later pick. A goalie was one of our needs, and we had him rated high on our charts. When things shook out the way they did, we didn’t hesitate making the move for him. We feel very strong on defense among our prospects, and we felt that we needed a good young goalie in the system.
HF: What will be the keys to his development over the next few years?
TK: Looking at the whole picture, it is a good day for these young men to be selected. It is going to be another push for them going down the path. When they play for their national teams and for their junior teams particularly, it just gears them lifestyle-wise and training-wise. Their preparation changes, and it more focus and concentrated. They start doing things a lot more professional. For Pelletier, he’s already on track.
HF: What does Keith Yandle bring to the table?
TK: Yandle is a player that comes highly rated out of the Boston area. He’s going to the U.S. junior camp this summer in Lake Placid and we think he is a great prospect. The good thing about Keith is that he’s going to play in college, and we will have some good time to watch him develop. We think we have a player with size and ability to make his mark. We had him going higher than he did. Especially in this case, much higher.
HF: Were you surprised to see him around this late in the draft?
TK: I would say that we were watching for his name on the board for a while before we got to our next pick. He was there, and we were happy to select him.
HF: How important does it all figure in his overall development, because he is going to a top program in Maine?
TK: Going to a wining and successful program is a good environment for these young men. Players who are in these types of environments, tend to pick up characteristics that you would love them to bring to your team.
HF: Can you explain what happened to Russians this year?
TK: It was a slow year for the Russians. Overall, we were told that it was an off year for the Russians generally. That didn’t mean that there weren’t any good players this year, there just wasn’t any elite type of players.
HF: What type of player can be expected out Anton Krysanov down the road?
TK: Anton is a big centerman; he moves pretty well, plays a good two-way game and showed really well at the U-18 World Championships. He played in the elite league. He was a player that stood out. When you’re out there scouting, you’re looking for a particular feel and picture that player developing tools to become a NHL caliber player.
HF: Do you remember when he hit the Coyotes radar?
TK: You start picking these players up when they are about 16 and 17. It’s not that much about hitting the radar, as is it is maintaining a certain profile and watching them develop. He didn’t make a big splash, but he has made progress over time that we noticed. Our scout had him rated highly, and he was the best player we felt for that pick.
HF: Because the Russians were slow getting on the board, do you think that undervalued his overall selection?
TK: I think it was just an odd year, that there wasn’t a player that was considered a premier player. The Russians have developed many good players over a long period of time. I think it was unusual that there wasn’t a certain player, or more, who wasn’t highly rated this year. That is just not the norm.
You also have the situation where the CBA changes everything. You have a situation where these prospects can do pretty well [financially] as opposed to playing over here in junior or even in AHL. That opens up a lot more uncertainty then there was over the last few years. I think it is all a factor, but not an eliminating factor. I don’t think you’ll see many years after this where you have the first Russian-born player going 70th overall in the third round.
HF: How did Pat Brosnihan come into the picture?
TK: He is a player that flew under the radar because he played with a smaller program at Worcester Academy. He was recognized as a player, but he was playing in a less competitive environment. When you’re not playing in the top environments, sometimes you don’t get the same reception as another player would because it is hard to measure their game to one that would be playing in the OHL, for example.
HF: What do you see in Pat and what does he have ahead of him, development wise?
TK: He is a big guy with skill. Progress is going to be the key with Pat. He’s going to a good school and program in Yale University. They have a good coach and have been very successful in the past and that factored into the bigger picture. He’s going to a good program where players do develop and where plenty of Yale graduates have gone onto play more hockey down the line. Being in his situation, he has as much time as he needs to develop. If he needs two years or more than it would take a junior player to develop, then he has more than two years.
HF: Do you think you set out and accomplished everything you wanted to today?
TK: Well, the draft is like trying to hit a moving target (laughs). We are as optimistic as every team is right now and pleased with the selections we made. Given the effort the scouts put in throughout the year and especially within the last few days getting ready, it really showed in the draft room. The tension came first, and then the excitement grew over the events that led up to our picks. You could tell by the reactions from everyone at our table as well as the rest of our staff here, that they are extremely passionate in what they do in this setting. It is a demanding job for everyone here in the room. We all love the work and we’ll all come back for more.
HF: Looking back now, how was it to run your first official draft?
TK: It was more the attention and intensity of the preparation process and from the overall view. You have so much input going back and forth. I processed so much more information this time than I have ever around the draft. It was a new experience. It also helps to have such a knowledgeable person such as Cliff Fletcher who has some much insight to share. It worked so well because we all work well as a team. I worked hard, and the rest of the staff worked hard and I’m just happy to be a part of this team.
HF: Holistically, how do you think the prospect pool looks now after the last two drafts?
TK: We have high hopes for the players we took today. We have a couple players that we took in the later rounds last year who followed up with good a season. We have good expectations for our higher picks from last year.
Realistically, the players will decide which one of them is going to make our team, eventually. It’s not a matter of, ‘did we find the right players.’ It’s ‘can we provided them with the right platform to make them decide to be player’ and that is what we plan to do with these players.
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