2007 prospects: Scouting and the CHL Top Prospects Game

By Leslie Treff

How do scouts decide who will be ranked as the top prospects for the 2007 NHL Entry Draft coming up June 22 and 23, 2007 in Columbus, Ohio?  Hockey’s Future recently sat down with the International Scouting Services’ (ISS) Dennis MacInnis, Director of Scouting, and Michael Oke, Chief Scout, to find out.

Although NHL Central Scouting puts out preliminary rankings in November, mid-term rankings in January, and final rankings in May, ISS comes out with its rankings once a month. With time so short in between deadlines, ISS has its scouts in the field send their game reports back to Oke and MacInnis through Rinknet, a computer program set up for that purpose. “Of course,” MacInnis laughed, “we don’t let all our scouts see the others’ work, or there would be no accountability.”

Both Oke and MacInnis agree though that this year, surprisingly, there have been few differences of opinion among scouts on the potential of the young players that they are assessing. Oke adds that, “even if there were, after several regional conference calls with all the scouts on the line, it is the two of us that hash out all the information and decide who goes where in the rankings each month.”

Regarding the disparity among the rankings of the scouting services this year, MacInnis responded that, “because of the available players this year, there is no one player who is far out front of the others in their skill set.” He predicted that because of this fact, “while teams usually select the best available player early in a draft, and worry about team needs later, this year with the talent spread among many players, teams may start to draft according to their needs in the first round.”    

When asked how one decides who is No. 1 on the list each month, Oke stated that “we choose who is the best right now, not who will be picked first in the draft in June. We are acting like the 31st team in some senses. However, unlike the NHL teams, we rank the players strictly by what they do on the ice. We don’t do background checks or psychological testing on the prospects. That we leave to the NHL teams.”

Oke and MacInnis were just back from the CHL Top Prospects Game in Quebec City last week.  It’s an important event in the scouting process. “The 40 players that were invited are some of the top prospects for the draft, and we have the chance to see them play against their peers. Scouts get a chance to evaluate them at almost exactly the mid-point of the season, and then see if there is a player that needs to be focused on more in the second half,” said Oke.

According to MacInnis, “the NHL teams brought almost all their amateur scouts to the event, and many either already had or were about to have their scouting meetings. They are deciding which prospects to focus on, and so are we. The Top Prospects Game hones that process for the NHL teams, as well as for the scouting services. For ISS, the Top Prospects Game allows us to bring in our three head scouts. We watch the skills competition and game, then we can compare notes and make sure we are all thinking the same way.”

Both Oke and MacInnis agreed that all the players selected to participate were the ones who deserved to be there. Oke commented, “certainly others could have been selected too, but who would you leave off the list that was there? We were happy with the selection process, which actually is done with the assistance of the NHL teams. Pretty much they send lists of who they would like to see and the CHL then takes them and sends out the invites.”

Both MacInnis and Oke then told HF about how the game differs for scouts than for the fans. The first day of the Top Prospects festivities included skills testing in the morning for scouts and then a public Skills Competition that night. Oke remarked that “the tests are totally different in the morning. Everyone is supposed to be tested for acceleration, speed, hardest shot, and puck control. Unfortunately, the night before the event began there was some weather issue, and many of the prospects did not have their equipment arrive in time for the morning testing. So almost half of the prospects did not participate in the morning testing.” He went on to add that, in the evening testing, for the fans, “only a few players were chosen for each skill. It was not for the scouts to be watching and judging. It was strictly for fun.”

As to the game itself, MacInnis remarked that “many of the high-end players seemed tired. Many have just returned from playing in the World Junior Championships and did not play with the energy that we were hoping for.” Explaining, MacInnis continued that “first they go to the national team selection camp over the summer, then their regular league games, then the competition with Russia [the Canada/Russia Challenge], then back to Alberta for the December Canadian team selection camp and finally on to Sweden. Many just got back, played with their team for a week, and then they have come to Quebec City for the Prospects Game. It is just too much hockey for them, and too much of an emotional swing. Many of these guys just won a gold medal for their country.”

So it was no surprise that when asked about who impressed them the most in the game, both MacInnis and Oke mentioned names of players who were not on the Canadian U-20 team just back from Sweden. Oke had high praise for Sudbury Wolves’ winger Akim Aliu, who he felt was the best player on the ice during the game. However, when asked how much this one game would affect Aliu’s ranking of 29 overall in ISS’ January 2007 prospect list, Oke responded, “one game or tournament will not raise someone’s stock a huge amount. It is his overall performance over a period of time that does it. For example, in the World Junior Championships, Patrick Kane played a lot, and very well, while (James) van Riemsdyk did not play as much, we still had van Riemsdyk ahead of Kane in our January rankings.”

MacInnis pointed to the play of Brett McLean of the Oshawa Generals as attracting his attention. Currently ranked No. 33, McLean has been steadily moving up in the rankings as his development has moved forward over the season.

Both scouts also said that the team practices in the morning before the Prospects Game gave them an opportunity to evaluate the players’ skills. Of particular note to both MacInnis and Oke was the stickhandling work of David Perron of the Lewiston MAINEiacs, who put on quite a show after practice was over.

With the Top Prospects Game now in the books and the players all back with their CHL teams, it is time for the scouts in the field to once again be on the front lines for all the scouting services. Although the Top Prospects Game may have readjusted some of the scout’s priorities as to which prospect should get a longer look, the job is the same — find a diamond in the rough and let the NHL teams know that they should consider drafting him. 

Copyright 2007 Hockey’s Future.  Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.