Everything You Might Want to Know About the NHL Entry Draft
Part 3 – Finding out about and identifying top draft prospects
Who ranks these players?
One major source of ranking is from the NHL-sponsored Central Scouting Service (CSS). The main role of CSS is to provide NHL teams with information about rosters, schedules, injuries etc. However they also have a staff of scouts worldwide to compile their own rankings. These rankings come out in November (preliminary), mid-January (Mid-term) and May (Final). In November CSS ranks its European players grouped into an overall European ranking. However, in all three rankings, North American and European are ranked separately and divided into skaters and goaltenders.
Other than individual NHL teams, who else ranks draft prospects?
There are various other on-line and print scouting services that follow draft eligible prospects.
International Scouting Services, Elite Prospects, Russian Prospects.
How do NHL teams rank players?
It depends on the team's needs and philosophies. You can be rest assured that scouts from the same team will differ considerably in their evaluations of players. Some teams will put a premium on a single quality like size, skating ability or focus upon one position more than another. Some may have preferences for character players over raw talent, or they tend to like players from a particular league or country. Therefore, some teams will have a certain player ranked in their top ten, while another team might have that player listed far lower. It is also important to note that NHL teams are generally drafting 18 year. This means that largely a team is selecting on speculation as a balance between potential and production is often sought.
How are the scouting systems of NHL teams set up?
The two main men will be the General Manager and the Director of Player Personnel. It is the latter who oversees the day-to-day activities of the scouting system. Depending on the team, either individual can make the ultimate decision on whom to draft.
Amateur scouts are those who watch draft eligible prospects and those that have been previously drafted and are still playing amateur hockey. A team will have a number of scouts divided by region across North America. Perhaps half will be full-time scouts, half part-time. As the number of top quality prospects coming from Europe has increased over the years, so has the number of NHL scouts in Europe increased.
Scouts keep in touch with each other via special scouting computer programs, which are also the means by which they submit their reports and rankings. They will meet at major tournaments to go over these and will usually have one or two 'all-scout' meetings per year (usually in January and May) to collate all the scouting information and opinions.
Where else can I get prospect information or draft rankings?
Hockey's Future is the best online source. In addition to the team-categorized information and prospect profiles, there are many useful links and hyperlinks and the content is completely FREE. You can read the various forums on the message board to gauge the average fan's perception.
As previously mentioned, International Scouting Service, Elite Prospects and Russian Prospects also do their own draft research and rankings.
The Hockey News also puts out a yearly draft publication that identifies and analyzes the top draft eligible players for a price.
OK. I'm going to watch a CHL junior game tomorrow. How can I identify the best draft prospects quickly?
First, do your homework. Get a roster with height, weight and birth dates printed and note which players have already been drafted. First-time draft eligible players are often the youngest players on a junior team. Therefore, a player of such a young age that is already a significant contributor to his team is likely a top prospect. Playing on a team's top two forward lines or being one of its top four defenseman is a good sign, particularly if it is a strong team. A first-time draft eligible player who plays on special teams (power play/penalty killing) or in the final minutes of close games is worth noticing.
You may want to watch two things closely. One is skating ability, which tends to be on the more sought after traits. Another is grit and intensity. Scouts tend to notice these attributes first. Finally, you might want to note the rate of a prospect's development. If he has already been in the league three years, we would naturally expect him to be a main contributor. But if he hasn't made much progress in those three years the scouts will likely be more impressed with a rookie who may play less of a role for the team now but offers a better long-term upside.