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Predicting the Future

Friday, 05.25.2007 / 10:00 AM ET / News
Florida Panthers
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Predicting the Future
by Dave Joseph for floridapanthers.com

Scott Luce is expected to predict the future.

Easy, right? All he has to do is watch a 17-year-old kid play junior hockey, predict how much he’ll grow physically and mentally over the next five years, and then decide whether he has a future in the National Hockey League.

“There’s so much that goes into this,” said Luce, the Panthers’ director of scouting and the man who will help lead the Panthers at the NHL Entry Draft June 22 in Columbus, Ohio.

“The most difficult part is projecting what a player is going to be like at 22 when he’s more filled out and mature.”

It’s no easy task. Consider Alexandre Daigle being drafted No. 1 overall in the 1993 draft ahead of Chris Pronger, Paul Kariya, Jason Arnott and Chris Gratton. Future Hall of Famer Joe Nieuwendyk was the 27th overall pick in the ’85 draft and Chris Chelios, still going strong at 45 for the Red Wings, was the 40th pick in 1981.

“It’s not like the NFL or NBA drafts,” said Luce, who has helped the Panthers select Stephen Weiss, Nathan Horton and Rostislav Olesz at previous drafts. “What you’re drafting in those leagues is what you're getting. In the NHL, what you’re drafting is not necessarily what you’re getting four or five years down the road.”

In an effort to select a future star – and those in this year’s draft could include forwards Patrick Kane, Kyle Turris or Alexei Cherepanov or defenseman Karl Alzner - Luce and his staff spend endless hours on the road driving to arenas from Kamloops to Kladno watching players, interviewing coaches and taking notes.

“Our first round pick, we’ll see collectively as a staff between 30 and 40 times,” Luce said. “I’ll see the high-end picks six to eight times. We’ll see them in different circumstances, too, and at different levels of play.”

Luce said the Panther staff identifies ‘prospects of interest’ in November during the team’s regional meetings and begins interviewing them and checking their character references.

“We’ll talk to them three or four times each, and that includes a lengthy interview at the NHL Combine,” Luce said. “Then, the Tuesday or Wednesday before the draft, we may talk to a prospect one more time...we’ll sort of kick the tire one more time. We’re still cultivating information the day before the draft.”

Panther coach Jacques Martin says the team is putting more emphasis on researching the character of players at the draft and also those becoming unrestricted free agents. The added emphasis will include hiring additional scouts.

“Character and attitude becomes an important ingredient,” Martin said. “An athlete has a skill set when he’s drafted but sometimes he doesn’t understand that only opens the door for him. Talking with coaches and educators is critical. It’s not only in amateur scouting but in pro scouting.

“You make a mistake on a free agent signing and it’s costly. Sometimes you’re signing free agents to three or four year deals for $12 million. That’s why we’re going to spend more money on scouts to do a better job all around.”

Making the right selections come draft day can turn any team into a Stanley Cup contender. The Sabres went into the Eastern Conference Finals with 13 of their players having come through the draft. Their opponents, Stanley Cup finalists the Senators, selected 12 of their players in the draft.

Over the past nine years, Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Evgeni Malkin, Vincent Lecavalier, Eric and Jordan Staal and Ilya Kovalchuk have all been selected first or second in the draft. The Panthers have added to their lineup by selecting at recent drafts Stephen Weiss, Rostislav Olesz, Nathan Horton, Jay Bouwmeester, David Booth and Gregory Campbell.

Luce is one of many draft experts who don’t see a consensus top pick in this year’s draft. E.J. McGuire, head of the NHL’s Central Scouting Bureau, said, “This year’s draft is very even at the top with no clear-cut number one.”

Said Luce: “There’s four players who could go first overall. There’s not a lot of separation at the high end. And after the first round I think it will become a little scattered, with people going off the board earlier and focusing on priorities.”

Central Scouting, which provides scouting and evaluation of draft eligible players, ranked the top 210 skaters and 30 goaltenders in North America and top 175 skaters and 16 goalies from Europe. Turris, a 6-1, 170-pound center, became the first Canadian Provincial Junior Hockey player to be ranked No. 1 by Central Scouting. Cherepanov, who won a gold medal at the Under-18 World Championships with Russia, as its top-ranked European player.




1 p - WSH 82 56 18 8 252 193 120
2 x - PIT 82 48 26 8 245 203 104
3 y - FLA 82 47 26 9 239 203 103
4 x - NYR 82 46 27 9 236 217 101
5 x - NYI 82 45 27 10 232 216 100
6 x - TBL 82 46 31 5 227 201 97
7 x - PHI 82 41 27 14 214 218 96
8 x - DET 82 41 30 11 211 224 93
9 BOS 82 42 31 9 240 230 93
10 CAR 82 35 31 16 198 226 86
11 OTT 82 38 35 9 236 247 85
12 NJD 82 38 36 8 184 208 84
13 MTL 82 38 38 6 221 236 82
14 BUF 82 35 36 11 201 222 81
15 CBJ 82 34 40 8 219 252 76
16 TOR 82 29 42 11 198 246 69


J. Jagr 79 27 39 23 66
J. Jokinen 81 18 42 25 60
A. Barkov 66 28 31 18 59
J. Huberdeau 76 20 39 17 59
V. Trocheck 76 25 28 15 53
R. Smith 82 25 25 19 50
A. Ekblad 78 15 21 18 36
N. Bjugstad 67 15 19 -8 34
B. Campbell 82 6 25 31 31
B. Pirri 52 11 13 -4 24
R. Luongo 35 19 6 .922 2.35
A. Montoya 12 7 3 .919 2.18

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