In an ideal world, Los Angeles Kings Amateur Scouting Director Mark Yannetti will now travel the world in search of the next brick for his team’s promising and busy pool. It will look at the 2021 NHL design class and gather player evaluations. Instead, he keeps an eye on the starting dates of the championships and checks if his scouts can make it to the matches. And he tries to remain optimistic that the 2020-21 season, whatever it is, will take long enough to provide his team with the best data and information to feed into next summer’s design.
Well, the road’s clear for you. Last year [since mid-March] there were no more live scouting sessions, according to Jannetti. You start this year with a similar way of thinking. Anything available for live scouting, you go.
Adaptability, flexibility and patience are perhaps the most important features this year for scouts like Yannetti. What they can do will be dictated more by them than by themselves. The term roller coaster is always the most appropriate and most commonly used term for the coming season. The daily uncertainty that arises in a world still gripped by the COWID 19 pandemic is a source of tension for all parties. The coaches want to train, the players want to play, and the scouts want to scout, but their ability to do so is completely out of their power.
At the moment there may not be any hockey group that is under more pressure than the heads and commissioners of the league. They are the ones who have to find a way to bridge the seasons between many legitimate issues, including a global pandemic with an increasing number of cases in many regions. While the European leagues have largely resumed their activities (some of them have not yet opened their regular season), most of North America is still at rest. However, this will soon change as the youth leagues in the United States, men’s university hockey and the big youth rides in Canada look for innovation. The process of making the season was no more than simple.
What are the planning perspectives for the competitions?
Josh Fenton, commissioner of the NCHC – one of the top men’s hockey conferences, with teams from Colorado to Ohio – worked with the athletic directors on one of the most exciting venues. For three weeks he works as a coaster in Omaha, Nebraska, where the eight teams in the conference – including North Dakota, Denver and Minnesota Duluth – come together to play the first part of their program in a schedule that simulates an NHL bubble in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
I think one of the most important things for us was the health and safety of the students of the athletes, said Mr. Fenton. I think we were all nervous about putting our teams in tourist mode, especially considering the geography of our conference. It was difficult for us to regionalize our schedule. So we decided to play in a central location to do at least part of this [journey] until the beginning of the season. Of course we can’t be on the podium all season, but it gives us a better start.
NCHC plans to start its season on the 1st. December on a stage with strict health protocols, with each of her teams having to play 10 games in three weeks. Most of these schools have already completed their autumn semester, while others will focus on virtual learning. The conference hopes that the teams can participate in the 26th edition. and the remaining matches after the 1. January in the Campus Arena.
The QMJHL was the first division in North America to play against 2. The month of October was fully open. The most important junior round in Quebec lasted a weekend before KOVID-19 stopped working for two teams due to positive test results. And within a few weeks, all teams in Quebec had to take a break, because virus concentrations had increased in cities that were close enough to the teams. However, the Canadian maritime teams from New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland continue to follow strict travel rules.
IHL recently announced that it will not open the game until January. Although IHL hopes to launch it in early December, rumors say Ontario’s first junior highway will not reopen until January. The AHL, EXL and SPHL still have indefinite return dates, but they all predict some kind of season in the 2020-21 years.
In the world of ice hockey, many financial considerations are at the centre of the concerns of the league commissioners. Some youth and junior teams have already refused to participate in the season, citing financial reasons and the inability to sell tickets. Fenton hopes that his conference will be able to recoup some of the revenue that is distributed in different ways across the eight schools that are members of the capsule. However, the motivation for the creative approach to the scenario with pods is the players who are so desperate to play.
We talked about the fact that last year, at the most important time of the year, their experience was torn apart very suddenly and that some of them were looking for congressional or national titles, Mr. Fenton said. We still live in this precarious area, but as I have told our members many times, all I do and all we do at the conference office is provide the competitive experience that these groups of student athletes have worked so hard to achieve and that they honestly deserve.
What is the timeline for this season’s outlook project?
The actors were among the powerless in this situation. While many NHL teams have been able to transfer many of their prospects to the European leagues, many other players have remained without options. And among those most concerned about the current situation are the prospects that are about to enter their design seasons.
An example is Matthew Beniers, my number 8 perspective for the class at this time of year. In the absence of a pandemic, a Harvard freshman preparing for his first university season was called all-around forward. However, when the Ivy League announced in July that all affiliated schools would hold all track and field competitions until 1 July, it was unable to offer a full range of services. In January the plans changed.
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Benjers, who has excellent skating and shuffleboarding skills, was forced to make a decision he didn’t want to make. The potential for zero hockey games in the 10-month season he predicted in the first round of the draft did not materialise, especially after missing the opportunity to play at last season’s U-18 World Championship.
I went all the way to Harvard, Beniers said. I took my time with the commitment, and then COVID came in and they postponed their season. It really didn’t look good. We told Coach [Ted Donato] openly that we would look at other options because it’s my call-up year, and although I really liked Harvard, we had to look around to see what was best for me this year and look to the future. I never wanted to be someone who didn’t work. I wanted to stay faithful, but it was a crazy time and that’s what I had to do.
Eventually Benierz landed at the University of Michigan, which could participate in the first round in 2021 (Benierz joins Owen Power and Kent Johnson). In the past the Wolverines used to train in small groups, but recently they started training as a full team. The Big Ten are expected to announce their season schedule this week, with the opening of the weekend on 14 and 15 September. November scheduled.
Michigan seemed like a great place. We’ll probably be one of the first teams to play and since I’m here I can skate and train. We have to work on different skills you’re not used to. It turned out to be a good decision for me. Of course, I don’t think that would have happened without Kovid.
Harvard has been hit particularly hard in the area of career closure. Several expected returnees have signed contracts with the NHL and one of the team’s top scorers, Jack Drury, has decided to sign a contract at professional level in Sweden to continue his development after the Ivy League has postponed autumn and winter sports. Some of Bagryanica’s young players, such as NHL coach Henry Trun and Sean Farrell, have returned to the USHL to train in virtual classes and play with teams. Expected after 1. January to go back to Harvard, provided the Ivy League schools have a plan to get back in the game.
Some North American leagues, such as VHL, relax restrictions on where players can play until the competition resumes. VHL players were allowed to play for other youth teams or teams under the age of 18 in the hope that they would return to their VHL clubs later. But players called upon to play in the youth leagues this year will have to wait until the training camp opens if the NHL parent clubs are unable to provide them with loan agreements.
How do NHL teams approach future development?
Regardless of the early days, NHL teams have some very important decisions to make about their key prospects and development. Most players have not lasted very long in their entire hockey career between games and even go back to hockey in their youth.
For teams like the Kings this becomes especially relevant because they have invested a lot in their future. It’s hard enough to know when the NHL will start, but with so many players unable to play in leagues below the NHL – at least not at this point – there are legitimate concerns.
If you have a perspective, then the most important moment in their development from conception to 22 years, Janetti said. These are the years in which there are more and more changes, physical changes. They can then adapt as much as possible, and their ability to learn and process, to accept information … that’s the stage. If they can’t do it now, they can’t bring him back later. So now it’s time to get creative.
Nelson Emerson is one of the front office employees at Kings who was commissioned to be creative. He is the director of the Player Personnel and has worked closely with the Player Development Team to ensure that current and future Kings have what they need to remain active.
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We make sure that our development team is in constant contact with these players, says Emerson. We tried to find out where the player is, where he can train, when the gym is open, when he has ice. We always knew. When a player was in a difficult situation, we intervened and helped him where he could experience positive moments.
Kings have the luxury that their wealth groups also belong to Eisbaren Berlin, a professional team in Germany DEL. The club sent five of its top candidates – Alex Turcott, Tyler Madden, Aidan Dudas, Aquil Thomas and Jacob Ingam – to do pre-season training with Berlin and attend pre-season matches. As a result, Madden broke his finger, necessitating surgery, and Turkott returned to Kings to train in the team’s training center. Other players have already been praised, as a number of royal players, including the major Swedish players Samuel FAGEMO and Tobias Bjornfot, are already playing in the professional competitions.
The perspective of the team is that of someone who probably gets as much or more attention from Emerson as anyone else. Quinton Bayfield, which was selected with the second overall selection in the 2020 project, has one of the best options for each perspective. He is one of those who train with former NHL defense coach Gary Roberts, one of the most respected individual coaches in today’s football world. On the ice and in the gym, Bayfield is close to some of the biggest stars of the NHL, including Connor McDavid. Emerson said that the Kings hope Bayfield will move into their team’s training centre as they approach the camp later this year.
Los Angeles has opened its NHL Protocol Training Center, where several NHL players and other interested parties are already preparing for next season. According to Emerson, everyone on the site is tested for the coronavirus three times a week.
One of the biggest problems is what happens with the AHL season. For many teams, the JHL is a primary school with better prospects. This is perhaps even more true for the Kings, as they have signed a number of young hopefuls to play for the AHL this season. Their top farmers’ club, Ontario Queen, shares a training facility with the NHL team to provide the NHL and interested parties with the most practical training possible. Turcott, ranked 5th in 2019, is one of the players likely to start their professional career there.
Where we are, Ontario is very important to us. We want our best players under our roof. The AHL and the timing of its launch are very important to us. We hope to receive good news on this subject. When the NHL starts at the beginning of the new year, I hope the AHL will be behind it, Emerson said. We want the team here in our facility. This allows our employees to be in constant contact with the players. We hope everything will be back to normal soon. It’s a problem, and we talk about it every day.
What will the Scouting look like in 2021?
While the teams are in the process of putting their current system of perspectives in order, they still need to focus on the future. The 2019-20 season has been shortened, but enough matches have been played to give the scouts a good picture of the league. This year, the threat of stopovers, travel restrictions and a number of additional issues will be a challenge for any NHL team.
If you all have access to the same things and you’re all in the same situation, there’s no advantage. No NHL team has the advantage today, Janetti said, of preparing for the 2021 design. You have to go far enough to find things to worry about. It is not that someone goes first to live games or that the teams have access to platforms and media that we do not have.
In terms of assessment, they will all work under very similar scenarios. You’d think at some point everything would open up again. Now that the live games are available, if you do it right, you can go.
Janetti said the Kings are well prepared to fill some gaps with video and analysis, but hopes to have more live performances in the future. Wherever hockey games are played in North America, the Kings have local scouts who monitor these games when they take place within driving distance – at least for a while. The European scouts have a little more freedom of movement.
We don’t really expect a normal season, but there is certainly hope for something close by. But until the teams know more, they’ll be back on the roller coaster.
It’s complicated for everyone, Emerson said. Every day we come looking for a start date and no answer. They all stand for the same thing. Just stay positive and hang in there.