Game reports, video viewing and working the phone lines each was as vital this time as watching games in person, traditionally the life blood of scouting but seriously curtailed due to concerns surrounding the coronavirus.
The list, which will be released Tuesday, compiles the top prospects for the draft from major development leagues throughout North America and Europe.
Unlike past seasons, when hockey is in full swing by late October, many leagues are playing limited schedules or waiting to start their delayed seasons.
“A lot of networking and video and, in the areas where they are playing, we have been able to scout,” said director of NHL Central Scouting Dan Marr. “We have game reports from last year, so we have a history of the player, and we’ve had the ability to reach out to some of the coaches to get a little bit more in-depth on those players.
“We’ve received unbelievable cooperation from the various leagues and teams throughout North America. We share with them the players we’ve identified, and they’ve assisted us.”
Scouts have used video provided by coaches and teams and conversations with players’ coaches, which Central Scouting used to adjust the ratings of some players.
“I expect that’s how we’re going to be proceeding for the next little while,” Marr said. “It’ll just be a combination of those factors that would go into making any changes on our PTW.”
Players on the list are rated on an A to C scale. A-rated prospects are considered potential first-round picks. B-rated players are projected to be selected in the second or third round. C-rated prospects are projected to go in rounds 3 through 6. There is also a limited-viewing rating for players of interest who have yet to be scouted extensively.
The PTW is updated throughout the season as evaluation reports from scouts grow. Central Scouting decided to keep its traditional cycle of public scouting evaluations, which are provided as a service to each of the 31 NHL teams to help with the scouting process despite the current difficulties in seeing some players in person.
“We’re putting the PTW out there because some leagues are playing,” Marr said. “It’s just a really brief glimpse of the 2021 draft class. Because the majority haven’t played, the names aren’t going to change much from our summer Futures List.”
The Futures List, released in April, is traditionally used to monitor the summer scouting season and based extensively on offseason viewings of players while they prepare for the upcoming season, particularly during showcases and national team camps in preparation for the IIHF World Junior Championship, played in December and January.
With so many league postponements and the cancellation of showcases and under-20 national team gatherings, Central Scouting pivoted.
“We got on a call with our staff, and we assigned A, B, and C-letter grades to players and provided it to our NHL member clubs a couple weeks prior to the 2020 NHL Draft (Oct. 6-7) to give them a sense of what the really preliminary outlook of the 2021 Draft was,” Marr said. “As you know, there’s significant trading of picks at the draft, so we did that part.”
Central Scouting continues to improvise as it faces a talent evaluating environment radically altered by COVID-19 protocols.
Travel for scouts has been impacted in numerous ways and remains limited, including an inability to conduct crossover viewings of players not within each scout’s assigned territory.
In-person conversations with players and coaches have been replaced by video conferences.
Central scouting hopes to release another Player to Watch list in December before the more comprehensive midterm rankings of North American and International skaters and goalies are released. The midterm list puts prospects in numerical order for the first time.
“We would need all leagues to really be in play (to build a midterm ranking release), and, truth be told, the NHL clubs are fine with the A-B-C format right now,” Marr said. “It’s a good guide for them. Whenever you put out a numerical chronological (midterm) ranking, those are only good until the player plays his next game.”
The Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, British Columbia Hockey League, Alberta Junior Hockey League and Manitoba Junior Hockey League are among the leagues that have restarted in Canada. The Minnesota Elite League, which includes traditional powerhouse Shattuck-St. Mary’s, is playing and the National Collegiate Development Conference of the United States Premier Hockey League has also restarted. The Western Hockey League and Ontario Hockey League, two of the top providers of draft-eligible talent, have yet to start playing.
Internationally, the Kontinental Hockey League, Swedish Hockey League and Liiga, the top professional league in Finland, have begun.
“The coronavirus is growing in Europe and disturbing scouting a lot,” said Goran Stubb, NHL director of European scouting. “Only 50 spectators are allowed in some countries and a lot of games have been postponed because players are in quarantine. There have been no international tournaments and there are travel restrictions.
“Our International players to watch list is based on comments from local scouts in Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Russia, Sweden and Switzerland.”
Central Scouting senior manager David Gregory, who has driven extensively to do live scouting of potential draft picks on the East Coast, said it’s been frustrating and challenging to make the most of a difficult situation.
“In a normal year, a few of us would travel to Buffalo to do the Select Under-17’s camp after the NHL Draft, and then go to the Ivan Hlinka camp and the Hlinka Gretzky tournament,” Gregory said. “You’d have all these things in the summer, taking in three or four scouting events, before kicking into the season in September. But with so many things canceled, that didn’t happen, so you’re just champing at the bit. You realize how much you miss it. You want to be out there, so it’s frustrating because you can’t do as much or there’s no games to see.”
Listen: New episode of NHL Draft Class