The scouting and hockey operations staffs of all thirty NHL teams are experiencing the most stressful few days of the year. For a year and maybe longer, the scouts, traveling by commercial airline and rental car, have gone from one hotel to the next, as they covered hockey rinks in North America, Europe and parts of Asia looking for the next generation of the world's best hockey players.
In the past year, each of these staffs have collectively filed 3-4000 reports about hundreds of prospects. Each of the most interesting prospects has had hundreds of reports filed about him. There have been further interviews with flesh and blood families and billet families, as well as teachers, teammates and, of course, coaches.
For several days now, the hockey ops and scouting people have been huddled in their hotel rooms eating room service while the prospects have photo opportunities around Pittsburgh. On top of the thousands of interviews conducted in the past year and the hundreds done at the Scouting Combine and in the weeks since, the teams are each conducting many more interviews of prospects in their hotel rooms and holding meeting after meeting.
The point of all the traveling, the interviews, the meetings and the bad hotel food is to compile "The List". This List will contain the names of 100 or so prospects that the team likes best, in the order the team thinks they should be picked.
In their meetings, the teams will discuss everything from Nail Yakupov's concussion history, to the ACL injuries of Slater Koekkoek, Morgan Rielly and Alex Galchenyuk, to when Mikhail Grigorenko was really born. They will also discuss more mundane things like the attitude of a coach, the body language of a prospect during an interview, or something the billet mom said.
Sometime tomorrow afternoon, they will hold one final meeting. At this meeting, the names on that list and their ranking will be finalized. Some teams will undoubtedly have Filip Forsberg, Ryan Murray, Alex Galchenyuk, Mikhail Grigorenko or some prospect other than Nail Yakupov, the consensus favorite, as their number one. In any event, they will have their list and they'll be ready to select the future of their franchise.
Each team approaches the draft with a particular philosophy that guides its choices. My team, the New York Islanders, has several keys to its selection process.
The overarching theme to that process is safety. They do not want draft busts early. Rule No. 1, accordingly, is that they do not draft defense early. The one dramatic exception was Calvin de Haan in 2009. Of course, he followed John Tavares and his selection may have been due, as much as anything, to the fact that he was Tavares' junior teammate.
Defensemen, like goalies, tend to be late bloomers and are thus very hard to accurately prognosticate. Many Islander fans were upset with Garth Snow for not drafting Luke Schenn in 2008. Schenn was selected 5th that year while the Islanders took Travis Hamonic 53rd and Matt Donovan 96th in that draft. I can guarantee you that Snow would not trade either player for Schenn today.
The Islanders also tend to focus on North American prospects and, more specifically, prospects from the Ontario Hockey League. They have shied away from drafting Russian prospects early no doubt because of the KHL factor.
This year, the Islanders have a dilemma. There are two prominent North American prospects who may be available at #4, but both are of Russian origin. Alex Galchenyuk is not a big worry because of the Russian factor, but he is coming off a season which saw him play only a handful of games due to an ACL injury.
In Mikhail Grigorenko's case, there are some red flags. Some scouts have questioned his character, saying he doesn't always show up for games. There is also a question of whether he is actually older than claimed. The big concern, of course, is that he might jump to the KHL.
The safe pick here is probably Filip Forsberg of Leksands, Sweden. He promises to be a tremendous two-way front line forward who can play all three forward positions. He has tons of character, is well-spoken and would likely make an excellent captain some day. Being one of the youngest players in this draft class and having already played against men, he has tremendous upside. The Islanders would have to wait at least a year for him as he is still under contract with Leksands, but that is generally expected with newly drafted players.
Actually if Gally had not been injured, he might have beaten out teammate Nail Yakupov for the number one pick honors. He may well be the best player in this draft.
His injury is a worry, but modern ACL reconstruction techniques are very effective and even very physical NHL players like Evgenyi Malkin and James Wisniewski have come back even better than before and have not been re-injured.
The one prominent exception is Andrei Markov. The fact that he plays with Montreal and his career may be over, or at least shortened, might induce them to pass on Gally and take Grigorenko instead.
Although I like Forsberg and could not fault the Islanders for taking him if he is on the board, Gally is my favorite prospect in this draft.
Columbus just hired defensive prospect Ryan Murray's former junior coach as an associate coach. Some have taken this as a sign that the Blue Jackets will pick Murray with the #2 selection. If this happens, the Isles will likely wind up with their safe pick of Filip Forsberg.
It could be, however, that the Jackets will go for Forsberg instead. If so, that would create a very interesting situation as both they and the Oilers are known to covet Murray. The Islanders are very unlikely to draft Murray themselves as they don't draft defense early and Murray does not have a lot of the offensive prowess that is preferred in an early defensive pick.
Having Murray on the board might open the door to a trade. Sam Gagner has long been rumored to be on the block for a defenseman. These rumors have intensified since the Oilers won the first overall pick and the chance to draft Nail Yakupov.
Gagner would be very appealing to the Islanders for one special reason: he is a VERY close friend of John Tavares and the Islanders have a history of bringing in JT's buds to play with him. De Haan, Matt Moulson, and Ryan Strome are all close friends.
Gagner would initially be the second line center, but when Strome makes the roster, Gagner would no doubt move into PA Parenteau's role as first line set up man.
The Oilers would have to add a few pieces. Perhaps defensive prospect Colton Teubert and the #32 pick. Teubert might be ready to start as a third pair defender alongside Matt Donovan.
Another option would be trading the #4 pick down. Carolina has been rumored to be anxious to trade up for a big center. It has also been suggested that Carolina might give up last year's offensive powerhouse defensive pick, Ryan Murphy, to move up.
At the eighth spot, Finnish forward Teuvo Teravainen will likely be available. He is said to be the most skilled player in this draft. He has been compared to Pavel Datsyuk and Marian Hossa, so adding him AND Murphy would be quite a haul for the Islanders.
On the fun side of things, Coach Capuano would have the option of putting Teuvo on a line with Nino Niederreiter. They would give announcers across the NHL fits!
Mikhail Grigorenko has some risk attached to him as noted above. The Islanders have been averse to drafting players with "issues" or at least potential issues.
Grigo does have enormous potential and is the only forward other than Yakupov likely to be able to jump straight into the NHL. Putting him on the roster next season would enable the Islanders to move Frans Nielsen back to his more natural position of third line center. Grigo could really make that second line produce.
Many have downgraded Grigo as a prospect, but their concerns are overblown in my opinion. I expect that whoever drafts him will have a very good center.
The objective of all of the thousands of profiles, interviews, and meetings is to win the Stanley Cup. The Islanders have been waiting to get it back since 1983. On the other hand, teams like Vancouver, St. Louis and Buffalo have never won it.
The Kings had never won a Cup before this year and had more futility than the Islanders have had prior to the 2009-2010 season. This draft could be a big stepping stone back to sports glory for the Islanders.