The NHL Draft will begin on Tuesday and it is going to be unlike any draft we have seen before. This year, there was no combine and no interviews. Most of the leagues that teams were scouting stopped play in the spring and have not returned to action since. For the first time, the draft is going to be done completely virtually.
But, regardless of all the added challenges, there will be no re-dos, no mulligans. What's at stake for every team in the league is the future of their franchises as they try to find the best players available to help bring a Stanley Cup to their respective cities. There's noting for teams to do, but accept the challenges and adjust.
“It was still a good process to go through with the Zoom, but I would rather have done it in person. It just wasn’t possible," Capitals assistant general manager Ross Mahoney said of scouting the draft prospects.
Mahoney, who deals largely with the team's prospects, is satisfied with how the team has prepared for the upcoming draft.
"With the work that our scouts do, getting to know all these young players in the background and what they do, we are still very comfortable that we have a good read on their personalities.”
It was not until March that the coronavirus really began to spread through North America, forcing hockey leagues in both the United States and Canada to shut down. That means teams still were able to scout players somewhat, just not as much as they typically would. But no team was able to get the access to the players provided by the combine.
Though certainly teams would like that opportunity to talk to the players, Mahoney explained that the Caps' process requires the scouts to speak to the prospects long before the combine, meaning perhaps this will not be as detrimental to Washington's evaluation as you may think.
"All of our area scouts interview all these kids during the year," Mahoney said. "Anybody that they would like to draft out of the area, they have to interview them. So, we have done those interviews in a face-to-face situation."
For any additional interviews Mahoney has needed, he has turned to the same tool as the rest of us, he does it on Zoom.
"I've become a Zoomer," Mahoney said. "I was not a Zoomer before, but now I'm a Zoomer as far as doing all these interviews and interviewing these young men. It was still good, but it wasn't quite the same as doing it face to face."
With all the challenges that come with this year, there has been a benefit. While the coronavirus has meant the Caps have less tape to evaluate, they do have more time. Moving the draft from late June to early October has given teams an additional three months with which to work with.
"Having the extra time has allowed us more time to watch video, to have more meetings and more discussions," Mahoney said. "So I think it has been beneficial to have the extra time.”
Hopefully Mahoney enjoys that extra time now. When the 2020 draft is over, then it is time to begin preparations for the 2021 draft which will bring several new challenges unique to its year and to the circumstances surrounding it.
Mahoney said the team scouts players as young as 15 which has given them a good background knowledge of the prospects already. Then he just has to hope the junior leagues begin play soon so they can begin scouting again.
"The Quebec League is going to be starting up right away, on time, so our scouts will be able to watch those players," Mahoney said. "You know, Finland, Sweden, Russia, they're all playing right now, so we'll have the opportunity to do that. It's really more the college situations and the Western League and Ontario League that won't be going until around December 4. We'll adjust and it probably means that once we do get going, it'll be a lot of nights on the road, trying to catch up with everybody."