In part 2 of the interview with Kirk Luedeke of the Bruins 2011 Draft Watch Blog we discuss the draft combine, how he thinks the top 4 picks in the draft will play out and he also offers a brief view of Devils goaltenders Maxime Clermont and Scott Wedgewood. Continue after the jump for more!
Tom: Kirk, let's change gears for a second. The NHL Draft Combine is coming up (which I believe you are attending). Is it possible for players to help themselves through the Combine or are they only affected if they have a poor performance at the Combine? For example what does a player like Duncan Siemens or Nathan Beaulieu (potential pick 5-15 players) hope to achieve when going to the Combine?
Kirk: Yes, I will attend the combine - it is scheduled for May 30th- June 4th in Toronto, with the final two days dedicated to physical testing.
The combine question can't really be answered in a conventional sense, because every team approaches it a little differently in terms of what kind of strategies they use and how much weight they put on the various test results and interviews.
For the most part, I would say that the combine confirms or rebuts what teams already know or believe about the players they are interested in and gives them one final chance to talk to them and see what kind of pure athletic ability they have/how much work they're going to need.
But as far as it having a major impact on where teams have the guys, that's not a question I can answer with a real degree of certainty beyond the knowledge I've gained from various NHL sources over the years.
I've heard that the combine helps with providing discriminators between players that the clubs have ranked closely in terms of talent/performance on the ice. It allows the team's staff to sit down with a kid and establish a basic connection/see if there is a fit and some instant chemistry. In some cases, it allows teams to confirm what they've been hearing about a player. The time they have for the individual interviews is limited, but it does open up a line of communication and gives management and staff the opportunity to look the player in the eye and see how he does depending on the approach they take.
Tom: I would imagine the interview process should then be a big ‘help' to the stock of University of North Dakota recruit Rocco Grimaldi who apparently comes across very well in person. Speaking of Grimaldi (and I am not asking you to divulge the contents of your upcoming top 50 prospect list) where does he land? Late 1st? Early 2nd? And if I am correct the only knock on him is his size, right? (Grimaldi is listed as 5'7").
Kirk: I don't know that the interview process does (give a player like Grimaldi a big boost), actually. Rocco is a pretty known commodity both for his elite hockey skills, passion and deep spirituality/religious beliefs. Teams who are thinking of drafting him aren't likely to be swayed significantly by anything he says and does, because Grimaldi's persona is pretty well defined given the attention he's received and the access teams and scouts have to him beforehand.
I think the teams would use the interview process to either confirm what they already know about him, or in some cases, might attempt to get him out of his comfort zone a little bit. All of these interviews take place behind closed doors so I can only speculate as to what specific approach clubs might take with him, but in having talked to prospects from past draft combines, you get the sense that teams handle themselves differently, and in most cases, handle each interviewee in a unique fashion.
I spoke to one scout who referenced Jason Zucker, for example, as such an outstanding character kid that there was no grilling whatsoever involved with him a year ago. The team was eager to find out what motivated him to leave home in Las Vegas at such an early age in pursuit of elite hockey competition (in Los Angeles and later Michigan). It was a relaxed interview and more of a conversation and dialogue/exchange of ideas than anything else because that team knew what he brought to the table in terms of being a player and a respected teammate.
On the other hand, a prospect who comes into the combine with some red flags for attitude, behavior or a specific incident(s) might find the setting a bit more intense, as teams will probe and ask specific questions designed to elicit responses. Again, the teams know a player has had issues, but they want to see how he handles himself and whether he's contrite and learned from mistakes. If they're interviewing him, it means there is an interest, but it's all about where they *value* the player. If he convinces them that he's worth the investment in the meeting(s), then his place on their draft list will reflect that positive exchange. If not, then he's either very low or removed altogether. How this dynamic all plays out is one of the real arts of scouting and the draft and what makes predicting where some of these kids will go so difficult. Every team takes a slightly or even significantly different approach to their scouting process from the others.
Nobody in the media can account for some of the draft x-factors such as a simple lack of chemistry that might occur between player and team. It might make perfect sense for team a to draft player y on paper, but if team a's management and staff found him off-putting, then they're likely to take someone else they have more of a connection with, even if player y may have a slightly higher grade on talent. It's human nature, and with the high dollars and stakes involved, teams are looking beyond what players provide them on the ice. There's that human interaction and team ambassador thing that does figure into it, too.
As for Grimaldi, skill, hockey sense and character-wise, he's a top-10 pick in my book. However, the reality of the draft and the way NHL teams operate makes it pretty tough to project where he will go. I remember watching him knock the much bigger Travis Ewanyk off the puck behind the Canada net, leading to a Reid Boucher goal during the U18 tourney last month, and that's the kind of hockey player's contribution where you say to yourself that this kid's drive, will and spirit will overcome his serious size deficit (closer to 5-6, with not a lot of room on the frame to add mass). On the flip side, there are times where Grimaldi will turn away from traffic and stay out on the perimeter, which gives reason for pause, as he won't have success at the NHL level trying to make a living on the outside. He's going to have to go to the dirty areas and play in traffic the way guys like Tyler Ennis and Nathan Gerbe do. If he's willing to do that, then he absolutely has the talent to be an impact player at the highest level.
So at the end of the day, it's going to come down to a team's willingness to make a real leap of faith that Grimaldi can be an exceptional player despite the lack of size/strength. Simply making the NHL is not good enough if he's going to be a high pick in the top-15 range- a team has to project him in a top-six forward's role. For that reason, I think you'll see him go either later in the first or early second because he does pose a risk. A prime candidate to take him is a team with extra picks who can afford to gamble with one of them with a huge reward/risk guy like Grimaldi.
Tom: I personally think Grimaldi will be a great asset to an organization, but when you start to talk about picks in the late 1st, 2nd, 3rd and later rounds how do teams approach those picks? Does the strategy go from best player available to most upside available? I partly ask because I always scratch my head when an ‘enforcer' type is drafted in later rounds. Why would a team not just draft a college player either starting in the NCAA the next year or one that has already played a year instead of (and this is my opinion) wasting the pick?
Kirk: Teams develop their own draft philosophies, so there isn't really a universal rule of thumb, but I've been told that the earlier the pick(s), the idea is to go BPA. Eventually, the team will look to filling needs. Drafting for "upside" tends to fall more in the BPA category as most of the time, your best players in class are also the ones who have the highest upside in the eyes of the scouts. The upside prospects are higher on the lists than the JAGs (just another guy) are, making them BPAs. Teams see value in the JAGs, especially if they are high in the character/intangibles department, but will usually have them down on the lists to fill out the rest of their draft classes with hopes that they'll be late-bloomers who can become more than the sums of their parts at draft time.
This is not to say that drafting for need is verboten for NHL teams in the first round or even second, but David Conte has gone on the record as saying what is a need for you at draft time may not be a need in 1-3 years when that player is ready to make an impact for the team (most of the time). You have to look back at previous drafts and then cross-reference where your prospects are within the system as opposed to looking at the NHL team at the end of the year and predicting possible draft trends based on what happened with the big club over the course of the season.
Now, it just could happen that a team's BPA also corresponds with a need, but I always get a chuckle out of fans on the internet or radio call-in shows who declare that there is "no way" a team will draft a center in a given year because the team doesn't "need" one or there is "no room" for another pivot in the organization. It's a much more complicated process than that, and the line of thought generally is - get the asset in the fold even at a deep position and if he outperforms someone on the depth chart ahead of him, then you can always trade the other guy for help at another need position. Passing on a superior player who could be a legitimate impact guy in 2 years because you don't "need" him right now is silly and not how NHL teams conduct business. Lots of things can change, and teams/their GMs try to take a deeper view than simply dealing in the here and now like a lot of fans tend to do.
As for drafting enforcers later, toughness is always something NHL teams look for, mainly because of the intensity of the game and the fact that physicality is still a big part of the equation. Much more coveted is the tough but skilled guy - the proverbial hockey player who can fight as opposed to the fighter who plays hockey - those guys are always going to be picked pretty early if a team sees some upside with them as opposed to the guy who can barely skate and who is just there to play a specific role on the bottom line/pairing.
I can't really answer the question about not opting for an NCAA guy over an "enforcer" type because it all comes down to the specific team and their evaluation process. I can tell you that they aren't picking the player to just be a goon- they're likely doing it because they see some potential for more in that player. Some teams load up on smaller skill guys in the later rounds or very raw, rough project types. It tends to be pick your flavor, and there's no real rhyme or reason to it beyond the way the team built its list and what it sees in the players who are still on the board at the end of the draft. One man's trash is another man's treasure.
I still remember the raised eyebrows in Vancouver when Boston took Milan Lucic and his 19 points 50th in the 2nd round in '06. But in hindsight, if we re-do that draft is there any doubt he's a top-10 pick, closer to top-5? The legitimate power forwards who can score, hit and fight are elusive commodities- it's why teams are always looking to load up on them in the drafts because they're very rare and if you hit on just one, it can have a profound effect on how tough your team is to play against. Back in the 90s everyone was looking for the next Cam Neely or Brendan Shanahan. Now, you hear Lucic's and Ryan Getzlaf's names all the time in that context.
It might get to why guys you don't have hope for are getting picked late as opposed to others - because the teams picking them see some potential for a late-developing guy to have an impact.
Tom: OK, Kirk the question for most of Devils Nation right now is who will they take at #4? Put yourself in Lou Lamoriello's mind (although please don't throw any jelly items around your home or start handing out NTCs like they are PEZ) and give us your best guess as to how you think the top four picks play out. Who will I be writing about at 9pm on June 24th?
Kirk: That's the million dollar question, isn't it?
The good news for the Devils is that at four they are a lot closer to determining their own draft fate than they would have been at eight, which would have the other seven teams in front of them shaping the pick.
I have to believe that conventional thought will prevail Ryan Nugent-Hopkins will go first overall to Edmonton. He's a fan favorite already playing there in the province of Alberta and is the best forward in this draft.
At two, my heart tells me that the Avalanche should take Gabriel Landeskog. He would be the perfect fit on a line with Matt Duchene and is ready to contribute right away. My head says the pick will be Adam Larsson, however. They'll be thinking about a long-term Erik Johnson-Larsson 1-2 pairing and that's tough to pass up.
Florida is a critical pivot point- they could go with Sean Couturier for another big centerman to go with the longer-term project they took last year in Nick Bjugstad. But Landeskog would be hard to ignore - he's NHL-ready and Florida needs immediate help. Gabe is the guy at #3.
That means that the Devils get a beautiful gift at 4 in the form of Sean Couturier. He's got dual appeal in that he's likely their BPA and he fills a need for them up the middle. Couturier is also a big name- even many casual Devils fans have gotten wind of him, so getting Big Sean means an infusion of excitement all-around. He's advanced enough in his game that he could seriously compete for a job in Jersey next season. If he doesn't make it, hard to imagine he's more than 1-2 years away tops. The skating concerns aren't a huge deal to Lou and David because it's fixable with tweaking to the mechanics and Couturier has proven he's willing to work. With his size, strength, hands and skill, he's thunder to Ilya Kovalchuk's lightning and would be an excellent addition to the organization.
So there you have it.
Tom: Well, I hope you are right as I am fully embedded in Camp Couturier. In that scenario Colorado will be downright nasty with two top notch right-handed shot defensemen.
One final question, which is actually non-draft related. In a recent tweet you talked about how Maxime Clermont and Scott Wedgewood were two of the better goalies in the CHL playoffs this year. Can Devils fans feel at ease that those two goalies (plus Keith Kinkaid) can fill the void in net when #30 retires?
Kirk: Well, Martin Brodeur is one of the greatest goalies of all time, so it's almost an exercise in futility to try and project whether they can fill the void.
Neither guy had a great regular season, but both have been tremendous in the playoffs. Clermont was at one time seen as a 1st-round prospect before a lousy season dropped his stock, so the potential is there for him to be a stud. You have to like that they are gamers when pressure is highest, but we're talking about two junior goalies here. Tough to say whether either one can carry on the torch, but potential is there. Knowing the Devils, they'll try for a stopgap and hope one or the other can develop into that legit No. 1 down the road. Kinkaid I've hardly seen, so can't really talk to him/his mechanics. I'll get a look at him in training camp and share thoughts then. They're all a long way off, IMO.
Again I want to thank Kirk for his time and for participating in this interview!
Thanks for reading and sound off below!