By JD Lagrange – Kent Hughes recently conducted an interview with Frank Seravalli and the folks at Daily Faceoff. The Canadiens’ General Manager had some interesting tidbits in that 20 minutes interview, mostly about the upcoming NHL Draft and shared some of his mindset with the NHL Insider.
Asked if the Canadiens had made a decision on who to pick with their number one overall selection, Hughes hasn’t changed his tune, nor will he announce it they had made a decision. But he seemed sincere when stating that a decision hasn’t been made.
“No, we have not made a decision on who we will pick at number one. And that is not a tactic. It’s truthful”, said Hughes.
The fact that, two weeks before the Draft, the team hasn’t made a decision and are still reviewing information should tell even the most hardcore Shane Wright fans that it’s not as much of a shoe-in as they want us to believe.
So what goes in the process, what are they looking at, or looking for, when evaluating all of the information they have available? Hughes can rely on his experience and connections while he was a players’ agent.
“I can remember early on in the agency days talking to a very experienced scout who’s still at it and very well known who said that they look at everything they do right at 16 and everything they do wrong at 17″, said Hughes.
But is there any specific criteria that differentiate players and trying to nail which ones will be the best pick?
“I always felt, when we were looking for players at an earlier age, that it was usually what they did better than everybody else that allowed them to have success at the next level. It wasn’t necessarily the player that was just really good at everything. I think when you move up in the ranks, from Bantam to Midget to Junior, there’s always that guy that was really good but just can’t make that leap because he didn’t have a differentiating aspect to his game”, added the Canadiens GM.
And that’s the difficult part of the job for amateur scouts and NHL teams. It’s hard enough to compare players who play in different leagues, against different opposition with different linemates at the same age. But they’re not trying to determine which player was best at 16-17-18 years old. Their job is to estimate which one(s) will be best at 23-24 years old, which one(s) will have the best career. When I was coaching and had selection camps, I usually took the players eager to learn and able to apply what was asked of them. It seems like Hughes thinks that way too.
“Then we’re looking at how are they capable and how are they willing to learn, because to me, hockey is such a fast sport, you go from offense to defense so quickly”, said Hughes. “I think it’s a very reactive game, a very instinctive game. And when you’re trying to make changes to somebody’s game that relies on instincts, it’s not a simple process. We’re trying to evaluate with their strengths, who has that high ceiling, who has that ability to add to their game and really be someone special.”
Does having his son Jack being projected as a late first round pick an advantage to Hughes and the Canadiens?
“I think it does. For this group and the next group, to be perfectly honest, because I coached the last five years with an ’05 age group with a really good team who travelled to play most of the best teams in North America”, said the Canadiens’ GM. “I don’t know everybody. But I’m also a big fan of familiarity when it comes to amateur scouting. In any one moment, a player can be great or have a poor weekend or stretch. So the longer runway you have to evaluate and understand the hockey player, understand the circumstances that are playing in, I think the better off you are. And in today’s day and age, you have the benefit they didn’t have 10-15 years ago, to go back watching videos from two years ago, just trying to see how players track, and maybe what they had or didn’t have in their game and they do now.”
Dealing with pressure
A few people told Hughes that they’re happy it’s not them who have to make that choice. How could the Canadiens go against the popular belief and select someone other than Shane Wright… at the Bell Centre?
“I’ve always said that it’s great to have a choice. We will make a choice and hope it’s the right choice”, added Hughes. “At the end of the day, it’s amateur scouting. We all know that it’s not a science, it’s not perfect. We’ll try to get the best player that we can for our team. From that point on, we do have a task to help manage expectations, protect the player, bring him along properly. I think my background, having worked with players, will be helpful in that regard. Over the years, I’ve had players call to talk about a number of issues in terms of the pressures dealing with their circumstances.”
Any pressure for the number one overall pick to stick with the big club in his first year?
“I sure the Montreal fan base would absolutely want the number one pick to be in Montreal next season”, answered Hughes. “As far as management is concerned, we’re going to make the right decision for that player’s development, just like with every other player that we have. We’ve got some good young defensemen that are coming and we will make the decisions that we think are best to ensure that the best player at 22-23-24 as opposed to who can be the best at 18 or 20.”
Carey Price’s input
This is a very interesting topic. Hughes spoke to Carey Price about the challenge of being a star player in Montreal, and ask for his advice.
“I actually spoke to Carey Price at one point this year and just said: ‘Look back at your experience here. As an organization, knowing what you know, and the pressure of being Carey Price in Montreal, what would you suggest that we can do to make it easier for the next Carey Price?’ He had some interesting insights. We’re going to do everything that we can to protect him. And it starts with a good coaching staff and a good locker room to do that.”
So folks, keep an open mind. No matter if the Canadiens select Shane Wright or someone else, give this management the benefit of the doubt and let them prove to you, to all of us, that they know what they’re doing. If they chose to send the young man back to junior, or to Europe, it’s not that this player was a bad pick either. They are focused on the big picture, on his development. I know it’s hard. I know it’s been since 1993. But now is not the time to skip crucial steps. Just a little more patience.