At this time of the season, Brent Flahr, the Flyers vice president/assistant general manager who heads the scouting department, and his staff are usually attending prospects’ games and tournaments all over North America and Europe to help them make informed draft decisions.
But hockey, and most of the world, has been shut down by the coronavirus pandemic, so Flahr and his staff have to hope they have gathered enough information on the prospects before the draft rolls around.
“The CHL playoffs would be starting and it would normally be one of the busiest times of the year for us,” Flahr said last week, referring to the Canadian Hockey League, which consists of the country’s three major junior hockey leagues. “You’re normally chasing games for the next month. Now, we’re pretty much watching a lot of video.”
The scouting combine — which gives scouts a look at the prospects in several physical-testing categories — was supposed to be held in Buffalo from June 1-6 but was postponed. So was the draft, scheduled for June 26-27 in Montreal.
There’s a good chance the combine will be scrapped this year and that the draft will be done on a conference call. The NHL still has to make a determination.
Typically, Flahr said, the Flyers would be scouting players who were in their expected draft range, which this year he estimated would be 18th to 31st in the first round. They don’t have a third-rounder (dealt in the Justin Braun trade) or one of their two fourth-rounders, the one acquired from Nashville in the Wayne Simmonds trade but sent to Anaheim in the Derek Grant deal. They do have their own fourth-round pick, and two seventh-round selections, including Montreal’s.
“So we’re kind of preparing for guys in that area,” Flahr said. “You obviously want to see playoff [junior] hockey. When everything’s on the line, you want to see who stands out and who performs. And a lot of it culminates with the under-18 tournament [in mid-April], which has been canceled. Usually, you get to see the top kids in junior and the U.S. program kids against the top players in Europe.”
Flahr and his scouts have “spent a lot of time in Europe this year, probably more than usual, so we have a pretty good feel for it,” he added. “But, again, you don’t get to see the top guys going head-to-head at the end of the season, and sometimes that clears things up.”
In other words, the draft, which is already an inexact science, will be an even bigger crapshoot than usual.
Scouts have to hope they’ve seen the players enough in the regular season and watch more video than usual to make their final evaluations.
“You want to make sure you have clarity,” Flahr said.
Each scout presents Flahr with his list of players, “and as I put them together, I’ll see if there are any outliers or differences of opinions on certain players," he said. "Unfortunately, I have nothing but time now to watch video.”
With the NHL season suspended and in limbo, it is unknown whether the regular season and playoffs will be held. The teams’ finish in the standings and playoffs, along with the draft lottery for the nonplayoff qualifiers, determines the order of the draft selections.
Flahr characterizes this year’s draft as “decent” and said the top 10 players are strong before there’s a drop. “I don’t think it’s the deepest draft — I’m not so sure it’s as deep as it was a year ago — but we’re confident we’re going to get a good player.”
If the regular season and playoffs were canceled, the Flyers (.645 points percentage, sixth in the NHL) would have the 26th overall pick in the first round, based on points percentage.
Highly regarded players who might be available in the 18-to-31 range: wingers Jack Quinn (OHL), Antonio Stranges (OHL), and Connor Zary (WHL); centers Hendrix Lapierre (QMJHL), Jacob Perreault (OHL), Dylan Holloway (NCAA), Jean-Luc Foudy (OHL), Jan Mysak (OHL), Mavrik Bourque (QMJHL), and Seth Jarvis (WHL); and defensemen Jake Sanderson (NTDP); Jeremie Poirier (QMJHL), William Wallinder (Sweden), Justin Barron (QMJHL), and Braden Schneider (WHL).
In the first round, where left winger Alexis Lafreniere (QMJHL) is expected to be taken No. 1 overall, the Flyers will draft the best player available, regardless of position.
“If you draft by position, that’s where you get into mistakes, especially where we’re [expected to be] picking,” Flahr said.
If the scouting combine is canceled, Flahr said, it wouldn’t be a significant blow. At the combine, players undergo several physical/athletic tests and are interviewed by teams.
“We have a list of players that we probably wouldn’t even have to meet there because we know them so well,” Flahr said, adding he doesn’t change his final rating of a player “because a kid had a good interview. The college kid is going to have a much better interview than a high school kid. That’s just the way it works.”
Most players were already interviewed during their seasons and are still being interviewed by scouts via Skype, FaceTime, or another communication platform.
There is an advantage at the combine, Flahr said, because several scouts and club executives can ask questions in a group setting, “and you get a feel for these players and see their personalities. Some are on the edge of their seats and have a lot of juice to them, and some are laid-back and you can see their personalities. Sometimes that translates into their play and sometimes it doesn’t.”