Canadiens refining tools they use to assess NHL prospects

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Canadiens have added a few wrinkles to their preparations for the NHL Entry Draft, including a question about the time a player devotes to video games.

The downside of video games was brought to light this year when Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek suggested an unnamed player was struggling because he was spending too much time playing video games. Many players at the NHL combine last week were asked about Fortnite and other online battle games.

Trevor Timmins, the Canadiens’ director of player personnel, said prospects were asked about their off-ice hobbies and playing video games was a red flag.

“A lot of young people are playing through the night, not getting enough rest and recuperation,” Timmins said Saturday during a break in the NHL combine. “It’s been an issue for years and, with the advent of technology you can play at all hours and you can play online with your friends and that can be a problem, especially if some of your friends are in Europe.”

Timmins has been in the scouting business for 26 years and he said the Canadiens are constantly trying to refine the tools used to assess players. The combine brought together 104 of the top prospects for fitness testing and interviews, and Timmins said University of New Brunswick psychologist David Scott was part of the process.

“Dr. Scott developed an online personality behavioural assessment tool, which the players fill out during the season and Dr. Scott takes all that information into our interview room with myself and Shane Churla, our director of amateur scouting,” said Timmins. “Dr. Scott will highlight things, like maybe a player lacks confidence and he’s devised questions about the confidence and try to flesh out whether what we see in the interview matches up with what we see on the ice.”

Collecting as much information as possible about a prospect is important but it’s the on-ice performance that’s most important.

“It’s like playing golf,” explained Timmins. “Every piece of information we gather is like a club in your bag. You need to use all of them to have the most complete picture of a player. But what’s the most important club in your bag, what do you make all your money with? The putter. As an analogy to the putter, for those of us in the hockey profession is what we see on the ice. We’ve seen many games and that’s what’s the most important in our final projection of the players.”

The Canadiens have the No. 3 overall pick and Timmins said there’s no guarantee that player will provide an instant cure for the Canadiens’ current woes.

“We have a saying in the scouting industry — it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon,” said Timmins. “There are always surprises, but there’s only a few of these players who are going to play in he NHL next year. What’s most important for the Montreal Canadiens is what players are going to do for us not just next year but in years to come when they’re fully mature and ready to lead the Montreal Canadiens. We’re not looking for a quick fix.”

The emphasis will be on finding players with an upside.

“We want players with character and we’ll be looking at speed because it’s a fast game,” said Timmins. “Size isn’t as important. Look at Victor Mete. He was a fourth-round draft choice and who could have predicted he would be playing in the NHL as a 19-year-old?”

The Canadiens will have nine selections, including four in the second round.

“It’s like having two Christmases in the same day; Santa Claus is coming twice,” Timmins said of the second-round bonanza. “It gives us a lot of weapons. It allows us to add depth. You always find some players you value as first-round prospects who for some reason are there in the second round.”

Timmins said those picks could also be assets in a potential trade.

“We have the ammunition to move up and down in the draft and that includes the third overall pick,” said Timmins, who went on to note that trades aren’t as easy as they seem. “We all go to the dance as singles, but we still have to find a partner on the dance floor.”

A total of 217 players will be drafted in Dallas on June 22-23, which means there are prospects who were not at the combine. The Canadiens will fill in some information gaps with combines of their own. Twenty-eight players, mostly from the QMJHL, will be in Montreal for testing Thursday. The Canadiens will also send a delegation to Stockholm to meet with 16 European prospects.

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