Friday, June 10, 2011

NHL Draft Combine Valuable for Isles GM

He started our conversation by razzing me. He doesn’t like my tape recorder, even on the phone. We review the ground rules for our chat (for the 25th time) and I push the red button to start.

The Isles GM was just back from the NHL Entry Draft combine in Toronto, so I felt that was a good place to begin. “How much weight does the Combine hold in making your draft choice?” I asked.

I was curious if these grueling tests of physical and mental agility held more weight than a players’ season when it comes to the selection process. For the Islanders GM, they do not. “…decisions are based more on the scouting reports and viewings than the actual combine. I do think it’s a worthwhile week in regards to getting a feel for the player. But it could probably hurt the player more in the meetings if he doesn’t have a good interview. I wouldn’t say it could catapult a player, but the way he carries himself or handles the interview in a negative manner, it could hurt him”

However, these youngsters are well coached by their agents to handle these 15 - 20 minute Q&A sessions with interested clubs. Garth Snow did not conduct the interviews, but he did sit in on them. He explained, “The questions range from ones about their family to certain games or certain shifts; what the thought process was t making a certain play, to where the player trains in the off season. What trainer does he use? Does he train with other athletes. Questions like that.”

I had read that some organizations can ask some pretty bizarre questions. I asked Garth what the strangest question he had ever heard of being asked, but he couldn’t think of one. He did, however, relate a story he heard about a prospect’s answer.

“I heard one funny story about a scout who asked a player about what had been a chippy game and the scout had asked ‘Why didn’t you hold the other player accountable, why didn’t you stand up for yourself?’ You know, engage in a confrontation. And he said ‘I’ll fight YOU right now!’” We both got a good chuckle out of that one. I don’t know how much that scout laughed though.

In recent years, the key factor in who gets to wear an Islanders sweater is “character.” I asked if that is what they were looking for when they conduct these interviews at the combine.

“We have a good idea of the players’ character before we go to the combine. That’s from the scouts doing their due diligence throughout the year whether it’s talking to their head coaches, former team mates, teachers, there are various ways to get a good read on a player.”

That being said, when I asked Garth about the grueling physical testing at the combine and whether he felt it was necessary, he brought up something I hadn’t even thought of. “I think it’s worthwhile in the fact that you get to see the battle level of the draft eligible player. When he’s doing the VO2test or the Wingate test and not necessarily how good his score is, but does he fighting through it or does he give up. So, in that regard it’s helpful to get a read on the mental toughness of going through some of the tests.”

I found that interesting since I only looked at it through a mother’s eyes and wasn’t happy that these kids worked themselves so hard they puked in a corner. Garth understood where I was coming from but continued to give me food for thought.

“There are two schools of thought too, and this is more a question for you (and you too readers) than an answer; would you rather have the 18-year-old who is built like a 25-year-old and has already matured physically? Or, would you rather have the kid that looks like a 15-year-old in regard to his body who has room to grow? All things being equal, which one would you rather have?”

Now, that was an interesting question. He waited for me to answer, but I really wasn’t sure how to. I won’t tell you his answer, I’d rather have you speculate about it for awhile.

“Is it worthwhile -- the combine? It’s not an end-all-be-all, but it’s definitely an ingredient that goes into the recipe of selecting the correct player.”

Another part of the recipe is bringing prospects to Long Island and showing them around. The choices were made long before the combine. I asked if he would tell me who would be coming, but that didn’t go over well. So I asked how many prospects would be heading to Long Island to tee off at Tam O’Shanter golf course, “How many is several?” Garth was going to be difficult. He asked my definition of several. “Is that more than three?”

I conceded, “Yeah, several is more than three.” So the answer is “several.” As luck would have it, while I was home sick from work typing this up, SNY’s Point Blank reported that prospect Ryan Strome is one of those “several.” He will be here this weekend.

Remembering how often the message boards would light up over who was sitting where at the draft table, I asked the General Manager if there was any real importance the seating arrangements. He was a little surprised. “No, not really. When I do the seating at the draft table, the people that I lean on the most usually are in close proximity to me.”

When I told him that seating arrangements had been message board fodder, he was actually happy about that. “To me, that just shows the passion of our fan base. That’s a good thing. That puts a smile on my face.”

Now there may be a few new faces at the draft table this year. Hopefully people won’t go bonkers over them.

I admitted that I have not done my own research into the prospects for the draft because I’ve have always felt it the draft was a crap shoot. But it is a good place for the General Managers to do their wheeling and dealing. Right Garth?

“You know what, the deals that usually happen at the draft -- player movement -- those seeds have been planted weeks prior. They usually get finalized on draft day. In the history that I’ve had, doing this in the last five years, you don’t see a trade just happen out of the blue. It’s something that’s been cultivated over a period of weeks. As for trades that are primarily draft picks, those can happen in the moment. So when we trade up to get a Calvin DeHaahn, obviously those get finalized right there on the floor. Usually, I’d say, instead of weeks, days prior, the seeds have been planted by both clubs or either club. But that might be an avenue that we take. I don’t know if you remember when we traded back from 5 to 7, 7 to 9; those are conversations that happen in the days leading up to the draft. Depending on what players are available, that would be a route we may take if player A, B, or C or in that case D, are selected we’ll look to make that maneuver.”

It seems not only is the draft a crap shoot, but it is also a game of chess and strategies have to be worked out for numerous scenarios all of which determine what the Islanders General Manager will ultimately do on Draft Day with his picks.

“You have to have several different plans. Especially at number five, we’ll have to wait to see where players one through four are before we can even attempt to make any kind of move like that.” However, he said, as of the day of the interview, he fully intended on using the pick.

While Mr. Snow doesn’t have a favorite Draft Day memory, he really enjoys the work involved. “There are really three times as a General Manager when your juices get flowing and it’s really “game night.” One is the trade deadline, two is July 1 and to me the one that is the most fun is Draft Day and preparing for the draft. When you asked me if there is one particular moment at the draft that I relished, I don’t want to point to just one, but the moves that we made, for me, starting in ’08 because we didn’t have a first or second round pick in ’07. So, in ‘08 when we went 5 to 7, 7 to 9 that was a fun moment for me as General Manager and then accumulating the picks to get several players later on in the draft. On the flip side, when we moved up to get Brock Nelsen, those are all fun times."

For me, my favorite draft moment was having the cameras catch Brian Burke walking away from the table saying “Garth said no.” I laughed.

“Was that Johnny’s draft?” he questioned. Yep, it certainly was.

Let’s see what sort of memories the 2011 NHL Entry Draft will hold for the NY Islanders. Only two more weeks away and the Draft party at the Coliseum looks like it’s going to be great fun.

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