Colorado Avalanche Director of Amateur Scouting Rick Pracey held a conference call with members of the media on Wednesday, June 26. Pracey previewed the upcoming NHL Draft, which will be held on Sunday, June 30 in Newark, N.J. Below is the transcript of the call.
Our organization won the draft lottery back on April 29 and now we are only four days away from what we think is a special day for our franchise. Sunday we hold all our picks in every round and feel we have the advantage of picking very high in each round: 183rd in the seventh, 153rd in the sixth, 123rd in the fifth, the 93rd pick in the fourth round, the 63rd pick in the third round, and at our second round selection at number 32 overall, we see good opportunity here to potentially get in what our minds is considered perhaps two first round picks. My experience in 2009 when we had No. 3 and No. 33, we were able to get Matt [Duchene] and Ryan O'Reilly. We see an opportunity here where we actually take a player in the 20 range on our list. So for us, we are real excited about getting there and having the opportunity to potentially add two top players to our organization. And then finally, we have the first overall selection. Our philosophy hasn’t changed. Everything remains consistent. We will be selecting the prospect that is the best player available. We see an opportunity here to potentially add a core player. This is a building block, we're hoping for 10- or 15-year type of investment and a type of player that we believe is NHL ready.
On switching to Nathan MacKinnon as the top player
As [Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations] Joe [Sakic] and [Head Coach/Vice President of Hockey Operations] Patrick [Roy] have said recently, we are certainly leaning towards a forward when we are holding the first overall selection. But to answer the question, in terms as throughout the year, that’s something that we have experienced fluctuations at the top of the board. We believe these are good, good players. Certainly Seth Jones, Aleksander Barkov, Nathan MacKinnon, Jonathon Drouin; these players have all been at the top of our list, and for good reason. We think it’s an excellent group at the top. It has fluctuated throughout the year and we are certainly in discussion on a daily basis here.
On if the team is leaning towards MacKinnon
For sure. One thing about Nathan, his body of work throughout the year has looked very good. He is a player who has withstood the pressures of a draft year. He’s withstood the pressures of high expectations. The comparables that he has been held accountable to, not only this year but also the past couple years. I think his second half, coming off a minor-knee issue there and going into the playoffs and seeing that push, seeing him elevate his game and carry a team to the Quebec league championship and then into the Memorial Cup. Seeing that push is special and having this player handle the distractions, and the media and the scrutiny that goes with being a top player, and then being able to perform and raise his game. They are all key, key qualities. He is a player who is front and center and continues to be so.
On why not Seth Jones
Nothing in particular. We have run all our stats, all our rich rewards. We have done our diligence in every capacity and we believe Seth Jones is very, very good player. He has elite size and he elite weak skating ability. He can move the puck and main the transition game. He offers a second layer of offense coming up the ice. There’s a lot to like and he is going to be a very good player in this league and we still have a high amount of interest in him. This is one of these things where all of these players are good. It’s nothing in particular to say that this has happened or this didn’t happen. He is a very good player and our interest is there. There hasn’t been anything to shutting the door or anything in particular in terms of what Seth has done or hasn’t done. We continue to like him and we will continue to go along the process. He’s a good player.
On why the team leaning towards a forward
One thing in particular that we have looked at is transferable offense. These players, the forwards in particular, Mackinnon, Barkov and Drouin; we believe they offer transitional offense at the national league level, and that is something that is very coveted. We look even just recently at this year’s top five scorers in terms of point production in the league; four of the top five were first overall picks. If we look at the last five years in the top 20 scoring, around 48-50 percent of players were top five picks in the draft. That is something in particular that helps the forward’s cause. Finding that transitional offense and finding a No. 1 center, that is something not only us but the industry as whole, is something that is very attractive. We think we have quality centers with our organization, and picking the best player available will add to that.
On if any teams have made a quality trade offer
I think that is more kind of Joe and Patrick, but certainly as we get closer there is the potential for that to happen. "I remember in 2009 when we were picking No. 3, a team offered us a whole draft in exchange for the third overall pick. At being No. 1, I would anticipate offers, if there is enough there to get us to thinking or if there is enough of a package to intrigue us, that remains to be unseen. But certainly I know that part of the diligence, and part of making the organization better is to listen to offers and see what’s out there. So, I anticipate perhaps something happening in terms of offers, whether it’s enough to lure us into something, that I’m not sure of. At this point in time, I know there has been some sort of tire kicking, but nothing concrete to my knowledge.
On the difficulties of defenseman picking up the NHL game
I think a little bit is probably the nature of the position. Probably more than a little bit, I think it is the nature of the position. The ability to make impact right away, the development curve, the adjustment to the national league level in terms of size, strength, speed. It’s almost like the goaltender is a high risk, the defenseman is next in line. Then the forward, in terms of forward surrounding gaps, allow coaches to put them in situations and play them in a lineup to their strengths or to avoid situations that make them more vulnerable. I think a lot of it is the defenseman. When you are analyzing and evaluating the defensive position issues, it gets very difficult. Seth Jones does have that transitional skill. He’s a big man with extremely good mobility and a long reach. So overall, it serves him well in his transition. But the position itself I would say is probably the most concrete reason why it is difficult. It’s a process as a staff; we look at every angle and try to improve ourselves every year. It’s a position as a league as a whole and the industry as a whole is always trying to figure it out. But to answer the question, I would say the nature of the position and the responsibilities that go with it. And another thing that is key for Seth's argument rather is his ability to handle big minutes. He can handle big minutes. So that will also help him in his transition.
On Memorial Cup being a key factor in leaning towards MacKinnon
I would almost say no. We are very cautious with tournament play. Whether that’s on the international stage or whether that’s world junior. From the international point, we go to tournaments in November, February, April and they are key events. League play, that is something that overrides a lot of it. Consistency, the peer evaluations. I think that in saying that, it is difficult not to appreciate the way Nathan stepped up and delivered at key times. That is almost more just supporting evidence. We've seen him do it at levels throughout the Quebec league playoffs, in key games throughout the season and in Canada in the summer time. He had a different role with the [Canada] world junior team, but he embraced that role and those challenges. I don’t think the Memorial Cup was a 100 percent factor – there’s not a chance that was the case. Was it a factor? Maybe a shade, but we are very cautious with tournament play. But it’s speaking to what he is able to accomplish in terms of cementing what he has done in the past; clearly that was a factor, yes.
On the depth of this draft class
I think it’s more at the top of the board. So I would say, once you get into the mid and later rounds, I think it’s just like any other year. I don’t discount that, I have far too much respect for how difficult this job is and humbling it is; there is always good players that can be found in a later round. To answer the question directly, we see depth at the top. That’s the key for us when we look at our second round pick at 32 overall, and we look at from a position base, we look at it from an overall base, we look at it from a league base; and we keep coming up the same sort of equation is that not all these players can go in the first round. And when we get to that, we get into our healthy debates as a scouting staff and talk about potential players. We are getting into the debates that are in the early 30's in terms of these are players that can potentially go in the first round. Whether this player perhaps is 35 on our list, we think industry wise this player could be 15. That’s our indicator when we go over it and over it and discuss our options; we are finding basically there are too many players for the first round. So I think the depth is probably almost in that 1-45 or 1-50 slot, and after that – and certainly there is separation, certainly teams have their own ideas, but consensus wise I believe it’s a deep group at the top. Probably go in the first round and mid to late second round in my opinion.
On preparing for a one-day draft
Maybe more mentally. We took it upon ourselves for when we head into the draft, we are prepared and we’re organized as a group and we’re ready. That’s not only for our picks, but also for potential things that arise on draft day; whether that’s a trade or acquiring another pick along the way. That first round because of the media and everything that’s evolved with it, that will remain consistent, and then it’s just basically you get up and go. We’ve never gone into a situation where after the first round we’ve looked at it and changed our list, or made a judgment based on what has happened that first day. That’s something that we believe when the draft is ready to go, it is our job to be prepared. So now there won’t be that break in-between, it will be just carrying on. And honestly there may be some benefits to that as well.
On if it was disappointing that some prospects didn’t take the physical test at the Scouting Combine
We talked about it as a the staff. I mean we are looking for as much information as we can possibly get. So there are things whether it’s a change of leagues or you know executive decisions. We are aware that players coming from the Memorial Cup have a very quick turnaround. Their results may be skewed based on it. We are well aware and we can make the adjustments. So to answer your question, it is something we did discuss, yes. Certain players on certain teams that did play in the Memorial Cup did test well, while others didn’t. It turned out to be a personal decision and a personal choice or there were some situations where injury exemption was allocated from Central Scouting. It serves as gathering the information and getting as much as we can. Sure I think we would have preferred [them testing], but that was a personal choice and we have had some discussions on the matter.
On MacKinnon playing the wing position early on in his NHL career
Obviously handling that center position in the national league at such a young age is difficult, regardless of whom you are, the challenges that go with it and much like what we talked about with the transition on the defensive side for Seth Jones and blue liners. I think we have experienced with Matt and Ryan. So there is nothing that saying that he needs to be pushed to the wing because of defensive liabilities or tracking or anything along those lines of his game. I think that there could certainly be an adjustment period with any 18-year-old. I think that comes with the coaching and Patrick's staff putting him in the best situation to succeed. There certainly isn’t anything that we are seeing in his game that we believe he would have to play on the wing, no.
On if the team will contact the player before telling that they will pick them
I don’t think we have ever done that in the past. Now saying that, in my tenure here of 13 years, we have never had this pick. I think it’s more a situation where Joe has reached out, we have had our internal meetings, and Joe has reached out to our fan base and had discussed some of our options and some of our thoughts. This is a talented group. A lot of the unknown is out there, in terms of Barkov, he’s another player, I think that maybe because of the European side of it, [not as much North American media has paid attention to him]. This is an individual who has elite size, elite hockey sense, transitional offense and high-end skill. So I think it was important, whether it was Nathan [MacKinnon], Seth [Jones], Jonathan Drouin or Aleksander Barkov. I think it was important for Joe to reach out to our fan base and then give them ideas and the direction that we are looking at going and that we are discussing. I’m not sure, it’s not my call, it’s not my way to tell what our organization would or wouldn’t do on reaching out to the agent or to the player prior.
On having a guy in mind for the team's second round pick
For sure. I think this speaks to a question that was asked earlier, we actually have a handful of players, and we are going over that [the second round pick] as much as we are going over our first overall selection. We are doing this exercise at 32 as well and that speaks to the depth we believe that the draft is at. We think there is a chance there could be four players there that are of great interest to us. We are having a difficult time separating that group in which one would be the best selection for us. But we have a player in mind, for sure.
On who makes the decision on the first overall pick
I think first off, the first overall selection, this is huge. That’s probably even an understatement using that description. This is an organizational call. We’ve had our meetings and we’ve had our discussions. Joe, Patrick, our pro group, we’ve discussed our options about our lineup. The first overall selection, that is clearly an organizational decision. And then as far as the draft goes, our scouting staff has always made the recommendation, we make the call, but clearly there is always discussions; Joe, Patrick need to be sort of kept to breath on what our thoughts are and what our recommendations are. We have those discussions, but that part doesn’t change. We make the decisions, recommendations, but at No. 1, obviously we have gone through several exercises that involve many different facets of the organization to make sure that we are all on the same page and headed in the right direction. This is an exciting time for the Avalanche.
On if it’s more difficult to have the first overall pick compared to No. 2 or No. 3
We talked about that as a group. We do have experience at No. 3 with Matt Duchene and then we have experience with Gabe Landeskog in 2011 with the second overall pick. The process for me has been very similar; mindset has been much different. You know the challenges mentally in terms of we know that we control the board, we don’t have to wait and look at the variables that are out there, it’s simply our call. We clearly, as of today, are leaning on Nathan MacKinnon and clearly there is discussions going forward, but as of now our organization has an idea of what we are doing.
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