The National Hockey League’s preseason will start on September 25th with the Columbus Blue Jackets and the St.Louis Blues playing a couple of split squad games. To Las Vegas, it’s a schedule highlighted by the Los Angeles Kings taking on the Dallas Stars to officially christen the T-Mobile Arena on October 7th followed by the traditional Kings/Avalanche match-up October 8th.
If you ask General Manager George McPhee or newly named assistant GM Kelly McCrimmon, the preseason started Monday with start of the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Cup held in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Although not an official tournament recognized by the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) it’s certainly the first chance for the Las Vegas brain trust to watch some of the best young talent. Though most are second rounders, that’s what makes the Hlinka Tournament so important. These are the players who will be the core of the Las Vegas franchise the kind of players you build around.
No offense to Misha Donskov the newly named Director of Hockey Operations who is bringing his strong analytics background to the Strip, nothing replaces a gut feeling based on watching a player perform. Numbers are useful, but until there is no way for a number to reflect a player’s state of emotion from day to day. You will always need educated eyes to evaluate talent.
I want to see how willing a player is to go in the corner to battle for a puck. I want to see how accurate a defensemen is with their first pass out of their own end. I want to see if a player make a good choice after they’ve made a bad one. To give proper credit, Donskov created the ‘Program of Excellence’ which is his way of putting proper emphasis on relevant numbers, but our organization will be be built McPhee’s (and McCrimmon’s) gut.
Kristian Vesalainen is mocked to Las Vegas with the 4th pick in 2017 by DraftSite.com and Owen Tippett is Hockey Prospect’s projected selection based on Vegas selecting fourth, neither will take part this week. No one denies that Nolan Patrick will be taken first overall, but it takes hockey common sense to project how good Kailer Yamamoto will be at just 5’8, 159 lbs. The question for Yamamoto is how easily does he get knocked off his skates as he did a few times at the National Junior Evaluation camp last week. None of this can be measured by a Corsi statistic.
I suspect when McPhee and McCrimmon return they will have the blueprint of our first draft penciled in their minds. The only remaining question will be how the ping pong balls fall.