ST. LOUIS - The 2014 NHL Draft will be held June 27-28 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. Barring a trade, the Blues will have nine picks this year, beginning with the 21st overall pick in the first round.
We sat down with Director of Amateur Scouting Bill Armstrong to talk about his staff’s preparation, the depth of this year’s draft class, his drafting philosophy and more.
STLOUISBLUES.COM: You all do so much work behind the scenes, and your only time in the spotlight is at the draft in June. How much time would you say your staff spends traveling and scouting players to prepare for this moment?
BILL ARMSTRONG: Well let's put it this way. In a week (during the) season, we’re away 7-10 days on the road. It starts in September when we get to Traverse City and it takes off from there, right through to pretty much the end of April. Then you worry about (making) the list and all the research after that. We’re in the stage of building our final list for the draft and really gearing down on all the research and background and testing of the players that’s been done.
BLUES: After seeing a lot of games in the last year, describe the process now as the draft approaches.
BA: It’s in a phase for us right now where we’ve met as a staff and we’ve put the players on the board that we think we have a chance to acquire at our picks. We study that. There’s a lot to do at this point because you’ve got Europeans in there, different nationalities, (and questions such as) are these guys coming over right away? You want to make sure the background work is all done on them. We’re pretty extensive with that. You also have to look at the stuff from the Combine… what type of athlete are you getting, their size, are there any injuries? You want to make sure you’ve gone over all that.
BLUES: Based on what you’ve seen, how would you rate this year’s draft class?
BA: Well, it’s probably a little bit above average. It’s a good draft class. There’s a lot of depth that keeps running out of the first round, so it’s a decent draft for sure.
BLUES: Is there such a thing as a bad draft class? Good players seem to come out of every draft.
BA: As scouts, you work so hard during the course of the year, so whatever type of draft it is, there’s no excuses. You have to find a way to get the best possible players. I think there’s always that positive outlook that scouts have, that they’re always trying to get the best players. You always have to be positive about it, but in all honesty, there are stronger years and there are years where it’s just a dominant draft class when you have a Sidney Crosby or (Alex) Ovechkin. They come around few and far between, but there are those special years for sure.
BLUES: Would you describe your draft philosophy as one that always takes the best player available, or do you address specific team needs first?
BA: I think you look at the best player possible, the highest talent on the board that you want to take. If there’s a tie, then you lean towards the need of the team at that point.
BLUES: When you interview potential picks at the Combine, what sort of characteristics are you looking for in a player?
BA: Obviously we’re looking for strong character, the determination in the player, the ability to improve, the ability to fight through adversity. There are certain characteristics we want to make sure our players have when we draft them, and that’s a huge thing for us. As an organization, we play the Chicagos and the LAs and the Anaheims and San Joses…these are top, top clubs in the National Hockey League and they’re all bunched on one side of the NHL. We have to make sure that we get the highest amount of character and talent. Our goal is to win the Stanley Cup and you’ve got to go through some tremendous teams to do that, so you have to set the bar and the standards very high.
BLUES: After having just four picks last year, you now have nine picks for this year’s draft. Does the amount of picks you have change how you prepare?
BA: I think the biggest thing for us is you can be a little more aggressive in certain situations. There’s a little bit of a different thought process for us with those (additional) picks. It’s a good thing for our staff, because you travel all year and you get to this point and you want to pick. The more picks you have, the more excited you get. Our staff is well-prepared, they’ve traveled the world and they’re excited about, as we say in the business, taking a swing.
BLUES: When trades are made on the draft floor, how difficult is it to adjust on the fly?
BA: We have a certain structure that we operate out of. Doug (Armstrong) and I have a good chemistry on the floor with handing all that. It does come pretty fast, and you have to make quick decisions on the fly. Who are you going to take, is it better to trade back or trade up, who’s coming up…there’s a process we’ve used over the years and we stick to that process.
BLUES: A significant number of players on the Blues' roster have been drafted here. David Backes, T.J. Oshie, Jaden Schwartz, Vladimir Tarasenko, Alex Pietrangelo, to name a few. Is there a more rewarding feeling in your job than seeing a kid grow into an NHL player and excel?
BA: It’s a tremendous feeling to see one of the guys you pick get in there and be a regular. Not only that, but sometimes you draft kids that are difference-makers and they have a huge impact on the organization. We get to see them come in young as teenagers and leave as men. There’s a rewarding process for sure that goes along with it. It’s great to see that some of the guys you pick have impacts on your club and have the ability to determine whether you win or lose a Stanley Cup.
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