Ask the Nashville Predators who they are going to select with their first-round pick in the NHL Entry Draft and the answer is “the best player available.”
It’s an answer given by most teams. But who is this “best player available” and how is that designation determined? Like many things dealing with youth, it is an inexact science and with each team usually bestowing that title on a different player.
“You are always making lists and putting things in order from the best to the worst,” said David Poile, president of hockey operations/general manager for the Predators. “This is what scouting and evaluation is all about. What do you like about a player? Do you favor his size, his strength, his skating, his hockey sense or his toughness? What is his character? Is he always playing on winning teams?
“It is a little bit or a lot of all of those things. Every organization has a little bit different philosophy. The scouts for each team look at one specific area or another that is most important. That is why every team’s list is a little different. That is why that during the draft we will see players taken early that we think were rated too high by that team. We might draft someone and have teams think we chose a player too early.”
An example of looking at a total package is center Steven Stamkos, the consensus player to be picked first June 20 in first round of the Entry Draft in Ottawa, Ontario.
“Steven Stamkos is not the biggest player or the fastest skater,” Poile said. “He is not the best goal scorer. But package-wise he is pretty close to all of those things.”
Poile is hesitant to give our any trade secrets of what information he personally uses in determining whether or not someone fits the Predators’ program. But he will admit that hockey sense is always something to be considered.
“I want to know if they are able to see their way around the rink,” Poile said. “And then you get into the character things. Are they competitive?
“But hockey sense is right up there as one of the most important things. Look at the Stanley Cup Finals with players like Henrik Zetterberg and Nicklas Lidstrom for Detroit and Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin for Pittsburgh. They not only have great skills, but they all have a great instinct for the game.
“Then you look at the tangibles. Do they have speed? How much skill do they have?”
In the new world of the NHL skating is at a premium when determining the possible value of a prospect to a franchise.
“If you have problems with your skating then you are really going to have to be good in a lot of other areas or the deck is stacked against you,” Poile said.
The Predators have four picks in the first two rounds. In the first round they will make their first selection at No. 9, a draft selection they picked up last year as part of the trade of goaltender Tomas Vokoun to the Florida Panthers. The second first round pick is at No. 15.
Poile has been a student of the game since he was old enough to skate. The son of Hockey Hall of Famer Bud Poile, he did a lot of listening and watching. After finishing his playing career at Northeastern University where he was a two-time MVP, he went into hockey management where he continued to question scouts and coaches about players.
“Being in a hockey family I would listen to my Dad talk about a player who was going to be tough to play against in a certain game,” Poile said. “I would look for those situations.
“When I first started out doing this full time I would work with veteran scouts and ask them questions. I would ask them what they saw. Why did they think a player was a good skater when I might not think the same thing? What was I missing? It’s something you have to want to do.”
Poile still does a lot of listening as his scouts present their cases for various players. He has found not only a comfort zone with his scouts, but a confidence zone as well under the leadership of assistant general manager Paul Fenton and chief amateur scout Jeff Kealty.
“I hope that experience is worth something,” Poile said. “We have changed our scouting over the years. Right now, I know we have the best scouting staff we have ever had.
“We have some really good guys with some really good eyes for talent. From a management standpoint hopefully we are giving them the proper direction and creating certain parameters with what we are looking for in our players. I like to think that every player we take has the chance to play in the NHL.”