BUFFALO, N.Y. – Adam Fantilli spoke with 11 teams. Leo Carlsson chatted with the same number.
Connor Bedard, meanwhile, didn’t get specific when asked how many clubs — “a pretty good amount” — quizzed the presumptive No. 1 overall pick at the NHL scouting combine.
Three players expected to go in the top-5 picks at this month’s draft were poked, prodded and tested this week as the league’s 32 franchises prepare to select the next wave of talent.
But why would teams speak with players — Bedard is all but assured of going first to the Chicago Blackhawks, while Fantilli could go as high as No. 2 to the Anaheim Ducks — they have no realistic hope of selecting?
“I don’t think it’s always for right now,” said Fantilli, who sits behind only Bedard on NHL Central Scouting’s list of North American skaters. “Sometimes trades could happen down the line, picks could switch. You never know.
“They might be doing due diligence for further down the line … in my career and in theirs.”
Bedard, a 17-year-old phenom from North Vancouver, B.C., being mentioned in the same breath as Connor McDavid, enjoyed the banter with general managers and scouting staffs.
“Always exciting when you can talk to a team of the league you’re going to be playing in,” he said. “You can definitely learn some things … getting to talk to them and building some relationships.”
Columbus Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen, whose club is slated to pick third behind Chicago and Anaheim, said every organization has its process.
The interviews and dinners offer insight into the subject, but can also be about getting information on other prospects.
“Maybe some players that he played with on the national team or find out about his character — just in case,” Kekalainen said of chatting with Bedard. “You never know what happens down the road. We’ll get to know him a little bit, what makes him so good and why he’s become so good at what he does.”
Colby Barlow, the 12th-ranked North American skater, said there was plenty of talk about draft hopefuls he got to know playing at the world under-18 championship.
“A lot of that,” he said. “(About) their personalities and how good all those kids were.”
Kekalainen said he likes it when youngsters pose questions of their own. One exchange with a future three-time Stanley Cup champion and Conn Smythe Trophy winner still stands out more than two decades later.
“I remember Duncan Keith,” Kekalainen said of the two-time Norris Trophy winner as the NHL’s best defenceman. “He was all about asking questions and finding out how he can get better. I remember that like yesterday.
“Catches your attention.”
Teams also try to throw curveballs at players. The queries weren’t as off-the-wall as they’ve sometimes been in years past, although the Montreal Canadiens did ask prospects some variation of, “What kind of animal would you be?”
Brayden Yager, the 11th-ranked North American skater, answered “wolf” before justifying his response.
“A wolf is in a pack,” he explained. “I care about my family and my teammates.”
Fantilli, meanwhile, appreciated the glimpse at how nearly a dozen organizations operate — even if he has a pretty solid understanding of where he’ll be heading June 28.
“Getting in those rooms, feeling it out, getting to know them and (their) views was a really good experience,” he said.
“Really glad I was able to have that.”
Fantilli and Carlsson, the top-ranked European skater, skipped some of the off-ice fitness testing, but Bedard was in the middle of the fray wearing his usual No. 98.
While he has little, if anything, to prove, the Canadian Hockey League’s player of the year felt it was important to partake after his season with the Regina Pats ended in April’s first round of the playoffs.
“I’ve been off for a while, unfortunately,” Bedard said. “Never really a question for myself whether I was gonna (test) or not.”
The sons of former NHLers are peppered throughout every draft, and 2023 will be no different.
Among the prospects poised to be selected in Nashville are Gabriel Perreault (Yanic Perreault), Ethan Gauthier (Denis Gauthier), Oliver Bonk (Radek Bonk) and Cole Knuble (Mike Knuble).
Matteo Mann worked the draft floor as a runner at the 2016 event in Buffalo thanks to a family connection.
The son of now-Senators assistant GM Trent Mann has fond memories of scrambling around KeyBank Centre to get whatever Ottawa’s scouts needed the night Auston Matthews went No. 1 to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“I remember having a lot of blisters,” said the 84th-ranked North American skater. “I think it was the first time I wore dress shoes.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published June 10, 2023.
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