Canada’s Alexis Lafreniere smiles during practice at the World Junior Hockey Championships in Ostrava, Czech Republic, Friday, Dec. 27, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

Canada’s Alexis Lafreniere smiles during practice at the World Junior Hockey Championships in Ostrava, Czech Republic, Friday, Dec. 27, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz

‘The work is still getting done’: NHL teams preparing for unusual draft

There’s talk the NHL could hold its draft online next month even though the 2019-20 season has yet to finish

Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning and his NHL counterparts usually have the luxury of a picture that’s mostly come into focus.

A normal draft year will see scouts and executives spend the spring crisscrossing Europe and North America collecting every scrap of information possible on hockey’s next crop of high-end talent.

They watch games, talk to those closest to the prospects, conduct in-person interviews with players and examine physical testing results. The under-18 world championships, Canadian Hockey League playoffs and Memorial Cup are all on the list of must-see events.

The circumstances surrounding a 2020 NHL draft and the COVID-19 pandemic, however, aren’t anything resembling normal.

The culmination of junior seasons were cancelled, tournaments were nixed and the league’s annual combine — a crucial exercise where teenage hopefuls are put through physical exercises and mental hula hoops — was postponed and looks unlikely to go ahead.

There’s talk the NHL could hold its draft online next month even though the 2019-20 season has yet to be completed. But that’s far from the only unique aspect for teams poised to make franchise-altering decisions in this unprecedented era of social distancing.

READ MORE: NHL suspends 2019-20 season amid coronavirus pandemic

In short, the book on many of the youngsters in question won’t be fully written.

“It’s nice to see how players perform in the playoffs,” Benning said. ”That’s a big part, I think, of finding players that are winners … when it gets hard in the playoffs, if they step up. We’re going to miss out on all that.

“We’re trying to do the best we can under the circumstances to get to know the players and try to figure out what they’re going to be in three or four years time.”

Scouts logged plenty of kilometres until the novel coronavirus outbreak brought hockey to a halt in mid-March, but there was still lots of work to do, especially outside the top half of the first round headlined by Alexis Lafreniere and Quinton Byfield.

“Probably not as complete as it would be had it been a normal ending to the season,” Columbus Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen said of his team’s eventual draft list. ”You’re running around trying to (watch) the top guys one last time or guys that you had missed earlier in the year. Now we’re watching tape instead.

“It will be different coverage, not as good coverage … that’s the reason why we have the amateur scouts on the road. It’ll be a little bit different. It’ll be interesting and we’ll see how it goes.”

Winnipeg Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff said clubs will be forced to lean heavily on the work put in from September through early March heading into what’s expected to be a virtual draft similar to the one held by the NFL last month.

“We’ve always tried to keep a handle on times-seen of players … try to have a good balance,” he said. “Scouts, by their nature, live in the moment and go to the game and just hope the guy’s not hurt. They’ve always had to adjust.

“The interesting thing is we’re all in this same boat together. We all don’t have to pick or choose which game you’re going to, even though you’d love to be picking or choosing which game you’re going to.”

READ MORE: ‘Knowledge and creativity’ the only training limitations for goalies in pandemic

The NHL usually puts more than 100 draft prospects through physical testing at the combine in early June. It’s also an opportunity for teams to hold one-on-one meetings in hopes of getting to know the player on a different level.

Like businesses, families and friends separated during the pandemic, NHL front offices are getting creative with video conferencing platforms, but there will be blind spots in other areas.

“The biggest thing losing the combine is physical testing,” Calgary Flames GM Brad Treliving said. ”They all need to get stronger, but you get a sense of their frames and who needs what in terms of physical maturation.”

While teams will be at an obvious disadvantage, Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Jack Campbell said some players could be in the same boat, especially with the need for remote interviews.

“I just enjoy face-to-face no matter what scenario it is,” said the 11th pick in the 2010 draft. ”It’s just more real, I guess. But you’ve got to just make the most of what we’re given right now.

“It’s definitely a unique process for the prospects and the organizations.”

One that all involved, like the rest of society right now, will do their best to navigate.

“The work is still getting done,” Treliving said. “Ultimately you’re going to make decisions based on the information you have.”

-With files from Donna Spencer

___

Joshua Clipperton, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

CoronavirusNHL

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Langley Advance Times publisher Lisa Farquharson and Real Canadian Superstore Langley manager Jason Pietzarka presented Kristi Kocherkewych with her $200 prize in the third annual Win Everything You Didn’t Get for Christmas Contest. (Heather Colpitts/Langley Advance Times)
Walnut Grove woman spreads cheer as winner of Langley Advance Times and Superstore contest

The third annual Win Everything You Didn’t Get for Christmas Contest received thousands of entries

Township of Langley crews were called to a structure fire in the 7200blk 208th St in Willoughby on Friday, Jan. 22, 2020 (Curtis Kreklau/South Fraser News Services)
VIDEO: Two-alarm blaze in Langley’s Willoughby neighbourhood

Crews respond to multiple reports of a structure fire in the 7200 block of 208th Street on Friday

Black Press Media Files
BC Teacher’s Federation asks for vaccine prioritization

‘Hopefully more vaccines are approved and the immunization strategy will be adjusted and accelerated’

Theatre in the Country presents Lady Windermere’s Fan by Oscar Wilde. (TIC/Special to the Aldergrove Star)
Oscar Wilde, Kauffman and Hart, and adult acting classes all happening at Langley theatre

Theatre in the Country continues to showcase Zoom performances while now offering scene studies

Curator Kobi Christian with an exhibit on historic clothing that was on display at the Langley Centennial Museum last February. (Langley Advance Times files)
Langley museum gets $75,000 grant

The funding is to go towards improving facilities

Thursday, Jan. 28, 2021 is International Lego Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Jan. 24 to 30

Lego Day, Talk Like a Grizzled Prospector Day and Puzzle Day are all coming up this week

FILE - In this Nov. 20, 2017, file photo, Larry King attends the 45th International Emmy Awards at the New York Hilton, in New York. Former CNN talk show host King has been hospitalized with COVID-19 for more than a week, the news channel reported Saturday, Jan. 2, 2021. CNN reported the 87-year-old King contracted the coronavirus and was undergoing treatment at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. (Photo by Andy Kropa/Invision/AP, File)
Larry King, broadcasting giant for half-century, dies at 87

King conducted an estimated 50,000 on-air interviews

Kimberly Proctor, 18, was murdered in 2010. Her family has spent many of the years since pushing for a law in her honour, that they say would help to prevent similar tragedies. (Courtesy of Jo-Anne Landolt)
Proposed law honouring murdered B.C. teen at a standstill, lacks government support

Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions has concerns with involuntary detainment portion of act

BC Coroners Service is currently investigating a death at Canoe Cove Marina and Boatyard in North Saanich. (Black Press Media File)
Drowning death in North Saanich likely B.C.’s first in for 2021

Investigation into suspected drowning Monday night continues

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam speaks during a daily briefing in Ottawa. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)
31 cases of COVID-19 variants detected in Canada: Health officials

Dr. Theresa Tam made announces 13 more variant COVID-19 cases in Canada

Daily COVID-19 cases reported to each B.C. health region, to Jan. 20, 2021. Island Health in blue, Northern Health green, Interior Health orange, Vancouver Coastal in red and Fraser Health in purple. (B.C. Centre for Disease Control)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate stays stable with 508 cases Friday

Vaccine delivered to more than 110,000 high-risk people

The District of Saanich’s communications team decided to take part in a viral trend on Thursday and photoshopped U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders into a staff meeting photo. (District of Saanich/Twitter)
Bernie Sanders makes guest appearance municipal staff meeting in B.C.

Vancouver Island firefighters jump on viral trend of photoshopped U.S. senator

School District 57 headquarters in Prince George. (Mark Nielsen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter)
Prince George school district settles with sexual abuse victim

Terms were part of an out-of-court settlement reached with Michael Bruneau, nearly four years after he filed a lawsuit

Most Read