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A Scout's Life: Drafting in the late rounds

Erik Haula was selected 182nd overall by the Minnesota Wild at the 2009 draft.  (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Erik Haula was selected 182nd overall by the Minnesota Wild at the 2009 draft. (Photo by Andre Ringuette/NHLI via Getty Images)

“All those guys in the last round have something going for them, but then there’s a lot missing. And you never know which of them is going to put it all together.” – Eastern Conference amateur scout.

MONTREAL - When it comes to Day 2 of the draft, the bleachers thin out, interest in fandom wanes and the likelihood any of the picks surface again in an NHL uniform are thin and slim.

But don’t call these picks throw-aways. One look at a few late-round gems – Jonathan Ericsson, Pavel Datsyuk – and you can see why these picks can end up being very valuable.

“Really almost every pick up there has a chance,” said one amateur scout. “If a player gets picked someone has seen something special in them and are picking them for a reason.”

In the first round, each NHL team’s draft list is different as views and final evaluations of players vary from one team to another. As the selection process moves into the second, third, fourth round and beyond, the disparities become greater and some scouting staffs might snap up a kid another team can only scratch their heads about.

“One team might pick a kid in the fourth round and we had him ranked in the sixth round, but obviously that other team saw something in him,” one scout explained.

And it’s not easy. If you think the New York Islanders had a tough decision to make between John Tavares, Victor Hedman and Matt Duchene, sifting through all the players further down depth charts – some from remote areas – is a difficult task to do.

It’s tough to gauge if a player you have ranked to go in one round will be picked up by another team earlier, or if he will go undrafted altogether. For instance, Tomas Tatar, a world junior star for Slovakia went 60th overall to the draft-savvy Red Wings – not a huge drop to many – but one scout mentioned Tatar was ranked among their first-rounders.

“We picked some players we didn’t think were going to be there when we did,” one scout said. “Those last picks are a very weird deal. You work all year and you see all these kids and when you make your list at the end as a group…there are 70 kids who we knew of that got picked, but they didn’t make our final list at all because there was something we didn’t like.

“And there’s probably 20 kids still on our list who weren’t picked at all, but are too young to be free agents, so we’ll wait until next year.”

That’ll give everyone one more year to watch those kids and see if their game improves, because if it stagnates or erodes, obviously that player wouldn’t be worth picking even a year from now.

There are too many players for scouts to watch to be able to see each of them enough times to formulate a proper analysis, so it’s a challenge to pare down who needs to be seen, who has that special potential and which players you shouldn’t commit too much time to.

The final few rounds of the draft make it clearer as to what other teams see in a player and the ones who had their name called will be watched a little closer by area scouts next season.

“Especially the ones you’re not sure of that you thought maybe if there were nine rounds in the draft you might get him, but someone else picks him in the sixth round,” said one scout. “You think ‘ya, well, obviously I’m thinking along the same lines, but he had him ranked higher.’ ”

As far as surprises go, one scout who focuses mainly on the U.S. side thought Erik Haula would have gone much sooner than he did at 182nd overall. An average-sized player at 5-foot-11, 170 pounds (a nice frame to grow into) Haula racked up 24 goals and 79 points in 49 games at Shattuck-St. Mary’s prep school.

Another late-rounder who was a bit of a shock to some scouts was Tommi Kivisto, a 6-foot-1 Finnish kid playing with the Red Deer Rebels of the Western League, who scored 22 points in 65 games as a defenseman.

Both of those players were seventh-rounders and both are worth keeping an eye on. The only reason the surprised scouts’ teams didn’t take them was because they either didn’t have a selection then or because there was at least one player they had ranked higher still available when their pick did roll around.

Time will tell how many of these guys make it and how many of this year’s undrafted gems establish themselves next year and, perhaps, turn themselves into early-round players in 2010.

The final entry of A Scout's Life will appear next week, July 9.

A Scout's Life is a look at the world of minor and pro scouting throughout North America. We'll talk to different scouts from all levels of the game, getting a first-hand perspective of the different aspects of talent evaluation. A Scout's Life will appear bi-monthly through the playoffs until the NHL draft.

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