Jared Cowen is ranked No. 7 by ISS for this year's NHL Draft. (Claus Anderson/Getty Images)
“These injured guys, we have doctors who go to the combine and draft and we assess these players with specialists that come in. I mean, there’s so much money at risk here – the risk of having your pick fail, it’s costly; costly in time and in money.” – Western Conference scout.
How much impact can a serious injury have on a player’s draft stock?
The 2009 draft will include a couple of high-end players who sustained major injuries this season, the most highly regarded being Jared Cowen of the Western League’s Spokane Chiefs – ranked No. 7 in May by International Scouting Services – who’s been out with a knee injury since the end of January.
Another, more obscure prospect is Zach Budish, a mammoth-sized power forward from Edina High School in Minnesota who tore his ACL this season. Both went through terrible setbacks, but when you ask whose draft stock was affected more, it all depends on what scout you talk to.
For instance, one crossover scout who spent a lot of time in Western Canada over the past two years knows exactly what Cowen brings to the table and as long as the doctor reports from the combine and draft have a positive tone to them, there is no way Cowen will slip out of the top seven.
Budish, on the other hand, is coming out of a much less intense high school league that doesn’t test a player as much; especially a player with Budish’s gigantic 6-foot-3, 225-pound frame he’s stood on since his junior year.
“I saw him play in Slovakia in the summertime and I liked what he represented,” said one Western Conference scout. “He’s a big, strong guy – a straight-ahead forward, go to the net guy; a little like (Dustin) Byfuglien there in Chicago. But am I ready to take a risk on him? Absolutely not.”
Budish is an interesting case. The MVP and captain of his school’s hockey team in his junior year – where they lost in the state final – Budish’s size alone is tantalizing, but he hasn’t played against the toughest competition like most of the rest of his draft class. Up until now, Budish has been a two-sport guy, swinging between hockey and football – where he was a star fullback – which is how he ripped up his ACL.
“That was his last shot at football, it’s hockey from here on out,” reported one Eastern Conference scout. “He’s already told the coaches. He wanted to play football because he and one of his teammates – Anders Lee – they’re good buddies and they grew up playing football and hockey together and they wanted to try and win a state championship in both. Edina would have won the state tourney if Zach was there because he was their best player, far and away.”
Even though he missed the entire high school hockey season, scouts were still able to get a glimpse of big Budish at the Upper Midwest High School Elite League that runs through September. It’s a league of regional teams – from Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Dakotas for example – and precedes the high school season. It’s designed for players serious about taking their hockey careers to the next level.
The thing for Budish was, he played football at the same time, which is a testament to just how skilled and athletic he is.
“He’d practice football all week long and play a Friday night game in front of the whole school,” said one scout. “Then Saturday morning he shows up and they have two games for the Elite League.
“He wasn’t the best player in the Elite League – he was one of them for sure – but everybody kind of gave him a pass because he played football the night before and all week.”
With the draft combine set to go in Mississauga, Ont., May 29-30, teams will get a chance to look for any lingering effects of Budish’s knee injury, like a weak vertical jump.
But because Budish is back skating, you can’t get too caught up in his injury woes and ignore his potential.
“He’s got a good head on his shoulders athletically,” one scout said. “In hockey you don’t expect the real big guys to necessarily make crafty plays, but he does.”
At the beginning of the year Budish was expected to be a late first-rounder or perhaps an early second-rounder, but because he missed an entire year it makes the decision to select him that much riskier. Currently ranked 51st by ISS, a plus for Budish is that he is committed to attend and play for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers next year, so whichever team drafts him has up to four years to watch him develop and rebound before they have to make a decision on whether to offer him a contract or not.
So where will this draft-day dark horse end up?
“In every draft you’re hoping for one or two guys to pan out and, for the most part, you’re banking on your first round guy,” explained one scout. “That’s the only reason why I see him going in the second round, but I see no chance of him slipping to the third round. I think, had he played this year, he would have been for sure first round consideration – late first or maybe even middle depending on who was drafting. But I think that injury pushed him out of the first round.”
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.