MONTREAL — There’s no doubt that the pressure that is placed on 18-year-old kids at the NHL Entry Draft is unmatched, maybe even unfair. These kids trade skateboards and roller blades for business suits, sit through difficult job interviews with countless NHL general managers and have a media spotlight shone on them for three straight days.
For college kids, that pressure is even stronger as they are questioned on their future. Every college expects when they accept a student that he or she will matriculate after four (sometimes five) years.
But once the pressure (and not to mention the multi-million dollar contracts) of the NHL weigh on a kid, there’s often a difficult decision to make whether to go to or return to college or head straight to the pros.
During Thursday’s media luncheon with the top prospects, Colorado College freshman-to-be John Moore was put on the spot by event host and TSN and NBC analyst Pierre Maguire.
Asked Maguire, “We don’t want you to go to college, we want you to play major junior. Would you do that?”
On the spot, Moore answered with little hesitation something that CC coach Scott Owens likely would cringe to hear.
“Sure,” said Moore. “My dream is to play in the NHL and whatever that takes, I’ll explore all avenues, talk it out with my family and determine what’s best for me.”
The difficult question scenario that Maguire posed could be realistic as teams often prefer players to play a full, 80-game major junior schedule as opposed to the shorter 30-plus-game college season.
But, according to Moore, college provides an advantage that is often overlooked but made his decision to head to Colorado College in the first place easier.
“You get the strength and conditioning piece with college,” said Moore. “You’re practicing five days a week, so you can make tremendous strides both on and off the ice.”
When asked if he’s broached the subject of almost inevitably abbreviating his college career with CC’s Owens, Moore said the subject has been discussed.
“[Owens] has said all along, ‘If we can get you for even a year, we’d feel really lucky,’” said Moore. “From my standpoint, that’s all I can ask for.”
Draft’s Opening as Easy as 1-2-3
When talking with E.J. Maguire, head of the NHL’s Central Scouting, he’s pretty sure that the top three players to be selected in Friday’s opening round are pretty much locks.
Most have predicted that forward John Tavares and defenseman Victor Hedman will be the top two players selected. The question of which will go first and which will go second is answered in a needs-based fashion. The New York Islanders, who hold the top pick in this year’s Draft, could certainly use help both offensively and defensively. So the answer to whether it will be Tavares or Hedman walking to the stage first lies in whether GM Garth Snow chooses to address his goal scoring or his blue line needs (and all of that assumes that the Islanders hold the first-round pick and do not trade it away).
But in recent days, it has become clear that the third overall pick, which belongs to the Colorado Avalanche, will almost certainly be center Matt Duchene.
When asked how close Duchene was to being the No. 1 overall, Maguire’s response was “close.
“He’s in the [Steve] Stamkos (last year’s top Draft pick) ilk,” said Maguire. “The way he plays is very similar. He’ll be a wonderful all-around player. He’ll dazzle you with top-end skill.
“He’s close and in the hunt [for the No. 1] but it will be one-two [for Tavares and Hedman] and three [for Duchene.
High School Versus Junior
With future Boston College freshman Chris Kreider ranked among the top North American skaters, the debate raged on Thursday whether or not playing high school as opposed to junior hockey impacts a player’s draft value.
Kreider, who plays at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., was ranked 14th among North American skaters in the final ranking put out by the CSB.
According to E.J. Maguire, though, the fact that Kreider is a high school player certainly made it a challenge to rank.
“The toughest part of scouting is projecting,” said Maguire. “Being at a high school game in, say, Minnesota, you’re saying, ‘Where would he fit on the Brandon Wheat Kings [of the Western Hockey League]?’
But for Maguire and his staff, they are very comfortable making decisions based on the present. Rarely, he said, are they looking towards the player’s future. Their rankings are based on the present value of the player.
As for collegians, though, he said the upside of player development lends credence to justifying higher rankings.
“A tall, skinny kid who has a lot of development [left], the OHL, the CHL might not be best suited for him,” said Maguire. “A team that drafts an NCAA-bound player has his rights for the whole time he’s in that NCAA institution. You pick a kid in the CHL, you have to make a decision in two years. So if you pick that tall, skinny kid who is going to an NCAA program, you can watch him develop, you can pull him out at any time, but they have great strength trainers, they have a higher emphasis on practices than the CHL.
“It’s really about finding the right fit at the right time.”
Top Crop Ready to Make the Jump
This year’s Draft class hasn’t been touted as full of talent. But that didn’t keep Maguire from proclaiming that the first rounders have tremendous — and immediate — upside.
A year ago, 11 players made the immediate jump to the NHL. Maguire, when asked how this year would compare, said he expects that number to be similar.
Is it all about the talent, though? No, says Maguire.
“A lot of it is [collective bargaining agreement] driven,” Maguire said, referring to the salary cap that was put in place after the 2005 NHL lockout. “These guys are going to come in on entry-level contracts. I think that teams now that are watching the budget and want to have [salary] cap room towards the end of the year will probably gamble on a first-year kid more than, say, a questionable $2 million 10-year veteran where you know what he can do.”
What about talent, though? Is this year’s Draft class really ready?
“These kids are better able both physically and mentally,” said Maguire. “They all have sports psychologists, they all have strength coaches. They’re better able to step in than kids were 25 years ago.”