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Inside Look at the Penguins Draft Process

Thursday, 06.16.2011 / 10:30 AM / Features
By Michelle Crechiolo
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Inside Look at the Penguins Draft Process
With the 2011 NHL Entry Draft fast approaching, www.PittsburghPenguins.com sat down with Penguins assistant general manager Jason Botterill to discuss the mentality behind the team’s draft philosophy and the structure of the actual draft process.

Click on any of the links below to be taken to a detailed description of that aspect of the Penguins’ draft process.





Director of player personnel Dan MacKinnon, director of amateur scouting Jay Heinbuck and assistant director of amateur scouting Randy Sexton oversee a staff of 12 regional scouts that are divided mainly by league, sometimes by region.

A big part of our philosophy is players who are consistent. Our crossover scouts are going to come in and catch a game here or a game there, but they’re relying on the regional scout to tell them how this guy plays game in and game out. - Assistant GM Jason Botterill on the team's scouting process
Those scouts are asked to be the resident expert on their respective leagues, focusing solely on that one area. They need to know the background and tendencies of every single player and have relationships with the coaches.

The Penguins ask this of their regional scouts so the three members of Pittsburgh’s “crossover” staff see the right players when they are able to come in for a game.

MacKinnon, Heinbuck and Sexton are usually familiar with the top-end talents that have much higher profiles. But they, Penguins general manager Ray Shero and Botterill rely heavily on their amateur scouting staff scattered throughout North America and Europe to evaluate the consistency of every player in the league.

“A big part of our philosophy is players who are consistent,” Botterill said. “Our crossover scouts are going to come in and catch a game here or a game there, but they’re relying on the regional scout to tell them how this guy plays game in and game out.’”

With the immersion these amateur scouts have in their respective leagues and/or regions, their input becomes ever-more valuable when it comes to evaluating less high-profile players.

“You’ve really got to listen to your regional guys, especially in the later rounds,” Botterill said. “(The later rounds) are still such an important aspect of the draft. These are crucial pieces to a team moving forward, especially for a team like ourselves who have given up some higher-round picks in our quest to win Stanley Cups. It’s important that we try to make every pick count, whether it’s a second-round pick or a seventh-round pick.”




Botterill said the actual scouting process – compiling a “book” on a prospect – typically begins a year prior to the player’s draft year.

The early prep work gives the team plenty of background information and makes the overall process less hectic as the draft approaches.

“Sometimes you reflect back a bit on some of the background work you did two years ago on some of these players just in case someone really had a poor draft year,” Botterill said. “There’s a lot of pressure on these kids. You just want to make sure that if you can get at least a little bit of a feel for them two years out, I think it just makes it easier for the draft year in sort of filtering through players.”

Many top draft-eligible prospects were members of this year's Memorial Cup champions, the Saint John Sea Dogs of the QMJHL. (Getty Images)
But the scouts hone in a lot more on players once they actually become draft-eligible, and there are plenty of opportunities to see how the prospects perform on a big stage.

Of course, each league holds their own All-Star Games and playoff tournaments, with the Memorial Cup playoffs – a Canadian Hockey League mini-tournament between the champions of the Western, Ontario and Quebec Major Junior Hockey Leagues – capping it all off.

Among the most prestigious tournaments on an international level are the Four Nations Cup in November, the World Junior Championships (Under-20) in late December, the Five Nations Cup in February and the World Under-18 Championships in April.

Finally, one of the last chances to see a prospect before the draft rolls around is at the NHL Scouting Combine in Toronto.

A player’s performance at any one of the above will certainly be a factor in their final draft evaluation, but won’t make or break it.

“Our scouts have been watching these players for the last couple of years,” Botterill said. “We’ve done our due diligence. It’s just trying to get a little bit more information that can help you make a decision, because it is a very difficult decision for our amateur staff.”




The Penguins scouting staff spends the year leading up to the draft putting together the list that they’ll use come June 24-25.

You’re going through these scenarios that are going to be at the table – if it’s between this guy or the guy right behind him, who do you feel comfortable with. So you’re making those difficult decisions in the meetings in May, not at the draft table in June. - Assistant GM Jason Botterill on the team's January scout meetings
They come together in Pittsburgh in January to begin the process of hammering out their draft board, putting together a preliminary list of sorts.

“You’re not having huge arguments over whether this guy is No. 3 or 4 on the list,” Botterill said. “It’s more of a situation of where they are ballpark-wise and also seeing if there’s a lot of discrepancy among the staff. And if there is, we realize we have to get more viewings on this player to make sure that there’s more of a consensus moving forward.”

After much communication in the ensuing months, the scouting staff descends on Pittsburgh once more in May to essentially finalize the list they will take with them to St. Paul.

“You’re going through these scenarios that are going to be at the table – if it’s between this guy or the guy right behind him, who do you feel comfortable with,” Botterill said. “So you’re making those difficult decisions in the meetings in May, not at the draft table in June."

This is where arguments like whether a player is No. 3 or No. 4 on the list become essential to settle.

 “In amateur scouting, that’s a difficult process,” Botterill said. “You may have your first 30 guys right, but if there’s one mistake on there and that’s the guy you pick, no one cares if you had the other 29 guys right. It’s whomever you end up picking that is the important player and that’s what you’re going to be based on.

“It’s a process that our scouts take extremely seriously, and what I like about our group right now is that there’s a lot of communication on it. … There’s a lot of debate because it’s a pretty subjective situation.”

The process is so difficult because the scouts are trying to project the type of player these 17- and 18-year olds will be when they’re 24 and 25 years old.

With the many factors that go into evaluating a prospect, the Penguins do the best they can to make sure each player is appraised correctly.

What you’re looking at is trying to get an asset into the organization, and it doesn't really matter at which position it is. - Assistant GM Jason Botterill on evaluating prospects
“Our scouts give them a letter grade on where they see them down the road in the National Hockey League, and then it’s a situation where you try to break down different skills packages,” Botterill said. “We have our scouts screening them on things like hockey sense, shooting, skating, defensive awareness – a lot of different skills categories.”

A prospect makes his way onto the Penguins list by being the type of player that fits the team’s philosophy and not because of the position he plays.

Although Pittsburgh’s current depth chart has Marc-Andre Fleury in goal, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal at center and one of the deepest blue lines in the league, the Penguins absolutely would not pass on drafting a potential No. 1 netminder, a skilled center or a top-four defenseman due to the length of the aforementioned developmental process.

“It’s a situation where we’re going with the best player available in almost every scenario just because things can change so quickly in free agency,” Botterill said. “By the time this player becomes an NHL player 3-5 years down the road, our team is going to look a lot different.

“What you’re looking at is trying to get an asset into the organization, and it doesn't really matter at which position it is.”




The draft itself may appear to be one big hectic flurry of activity, with teams making choices down to the wire as the clock winds down.

All of the work has already been done by the time Penguins GM Ray Shero steps up to the podium to announce the team's selection. (Getty Images)
But Botterill assured www.PittsburghPenguins.com that when the staff walks through the doors of the Xcel Energy Center on June 24, their work has already been done. Essentially, the Penguins have their list and they’re sticking to it.

“It’s not a huge panic there because the work is done,” Botterill said. “You trust your list. All the debates you’ve had internally (have been decided) and it’s a list the scouts agree on. They understand that this is a reflection of all their work and this is a reflection of the Pittsburgh Penguins. So the debates don’t really come on draft day.”

Botterill said any kinks in the plan come from trade possibilities, as the team has to calculate all of the potential scenarios that would come with moving up or down and parting with a pick or gaining one.

But for the most part, the Penguins stick to the list that is the result of years of hard work from their scouting staff in hopes of drafting the prospect that epitomizes the organization’s ideal player.
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