With the NHL season now suspended and more and more hockey leagues and tournaments canceled due to the global spread of the corona virus, there is a possibility that hockey will be practiced at amateur or professional level this season. While largely insignificant, this is a reality that NHL teams will face as they prepare to look for the draft and contract signing for freelance agents.
The next tournament that is expected to be canceled is the IIHF-U18 World Cup to be played April 16-26 in Plymouth and Ann Arbor, Michigan. (UPDATE: The tournament was canceled on Thursday afternoon.) The U18 are a top-notch event for evaluating players for the next two design classes. While teams are very knowledgeable about the players leading up to the event, top decision-makers and managers tend to show up to see players they may not be familiar with.
There are players at this event who always change their design inventory significantly. The last five players, who were recognized as the best strikers in the U18, were ranked 10th overall on average. The last five players who were awarded the best defender were selected as the 31st on average.
With the hockey calendar coming to a standstill in March rather than November, the teams largely feel that they can read the prospects well at both the amateur level for the NHL draft and the college and professional levels for signing free agents. I don’t feel that teams think they can’t cover their bases.
Most NHL teams are now asking their scouts to stay at home or keep them from traveling, and interesting questions are asked about how much they can achieve with a very strong video that is more like NFL- Teams lead their scout divisions.
The hockey community is known to be a bit dated on this front than other sports, but over the past five years I’ve seen teams that have invested a lot more in video scouting and technology. In my opinion, if scouts are prevented from traveling and / or hockey is not visible in the coming months, the hockey scout community can assess how well they can gather information outside the ice rink.
As a rule, scouting becomes more targeted at this point in the season. The teams focus on the people they think they want to choose. The decision makers show up to check. People evaluate each other to see who shows up on which ice rink. However, when there are no more games, they only have the data from their previous views and everything they can get from videos to tell them about a player’s skills. I think it will get some people out of their decision comfort zone or make them decide that they don’t have enough information about a player to make more choices for them.
Outside of the design, college players are also affected. NHL teams often Attract college-free agents to your organization by allowing them to play one or two NHL games at the end of a season to burn a year off their starter business.
On Thursday, the IIHF denied reports that the men’s World Cup had been canceled. The tournament will take place in Switzerland from May 8th to 24th.
The loss of a World Cup, an important scouting event for evaluating European free agents, would have an impact on free agent scouting for the next season. These competitions come closest to NHL quality hockey, especially when large countries play against each other. There are usually some intrigue designs for top-end guys at the event, but the opportunity to evaluate some top KHL and other European options would be missed. Players are still heavily explored and ranked in their leagues, but questions about how they will assert themselves against better players remain. For example, if a player like Tim Stutzle had turned up, it could have been an opportunity for him to become the second best perspective in the draft.
Many questions remain unanswered as the world is concerned with the serious effects of COVID-19.
Can teams meet before drafting? Most teams fly all of their scouts in for a large group meeting, where they discuss and sort out design perspectives to find out their design board. You can already see the problems in 1) flying all people from all over the world to one place and 2) calling up in a large group. It’s 2020 and the world is set up to make digital meetings easy, although some teams may find it uncomfortable to make important decisions this way. But teams I’ve spoken to say they can do their business this way.
Will there be an NHL combine? At this point, it’s hard to imagine people from all over the world training in front of coaches and being interviewed in groups. End of June is a way out, but teams need to consider the possibility of the NHL Draft as we know it – a packed venue with fans, players, families, agents, media, and teams all in one building – may not work. The design may need to be removed, with teams operating from war rooms as opposed to the design floor. If teams are still unable to meet in a group, additional questions are asked about a design where the scout and manager are not in the same room. In discussions with teams, they believed that this could be done if certain decision-makers, such as the director of amateur scouting (who is usually not located where their team is located), could travel as part of an “essential work trip” to be with the manager deputy manager.
(Photo: Jonathan Kozub / NHLI via Getty Images)